October 22, 2014

Medina
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Medina officials look to make 911 calls more efficient

MEDINA — Officials are considering changing the way 911 calls from cell phones are handled in Medina County.

All the cell phone towers in the county send 911 calls to the Medina County Sheriff’s Office. Dispatchers there determine where the call originated. If it’s in an area served by another dispatch center in the county, the Sheriff’s Office transfers the call .

However, some officials at a meeting Wednesday said that process creates confusion.

They have proposed send­ing 911 calls from each cell phone tower to the dispatch center that serves that area.

For example, calls originat­ing in Brunswick would go directly to Brunswick dis­patch.

“It would be a more effi­cient system for users,” said Brunswick Interim City Man­ager Carl DeForest.

He’s one of three people who sit on the 911 Planning Committee that’s looking at the issue. Medina Mayor Den­nis Hanwell and county Com­missioner Sharon Ray also sit on the board.

They will decide in the coming weeks how to pro­ceed.

The plan

The wireless 911 plan was developed in 2006 when the county implemented enhanced technology that allowed cell phone towers to send 911 calls to a specific dispatch center. Prior to its use, the physical location of the cell phone was not used to decide where the 911 phone call went, county Administra­tor Chris Jakab explained.

Under the plan, all wireless 911 phone calls in the county start at the Sheriff’s Office. Many then are quickly passed along to the appropriate dis­patch centers in the county.

Besides the Sheriff’s Office, there are three full-time dis­patch centers in the area.

Brunswick’s serves the city and Brunswick Hills and Hinckley townships. Medina’s serves the city and Medina and Montville townships. Wadsworth’s serves the city and Wadsworth Township. The Sheriff’s Office serves all other parts of the county.

Hanwell, who helped with the 2006 plan, said sending all wireless 911 calls to the Sher-iff’s Office seemed like the easiest plan several years ago since the technology was new. “Because of the uncertainty … we thought, ‘it’s going to get pretty confusing,’ ” he said. “Now having worked through it for the last three to five years, we have a better grasp on it.”

DeForest and Wadsworth Safety Director Matt Hiscock, who also attended the meet­ing, agreed sending calls directly to the closest dis­patch center may be the best solution.

However, they noted the proposed system would not be perfect.

Some calls still might go to the wrong dispatch center. For example, a 911 wireless call from a person at the edge of Medina Township might end up at a cell phone tower in Brunswick Hills.

In that case, Brunswick would have to transfer the call to Medina.

“It will actually be a lot less than what’s transferred now,” said Rob Marok, Brunswick’s information technology administrator who attended Wednesday’s meeting to pro­vide some technical back­ground.

911 wireless funds

Changing the plan would involve altering the way the county’s 911 wireless fees are dispersed.

Cell phone users in the state are assessed by the Pub­lic Utilities Commission of Ohio a 32-cent fee on their monthly cell phone bill, Jakab explained. The PUCO distrib­utes that money annually to county governments.

Jakab said the county has received about $415,000 a year since 2006.

He explained that money can be used for equipment, software, training and other costs associated with provid­ing wireless 911 services.

Jakab said the bulk of the money has been spent on Sheriff’s Office expenses, since that department has been responsible for much of that service. However, the Sheriff’s Office would not have as much responsibility under the proposed plan.

“There needs to be some equity in the plan,” DeForest said.

Hanwell suggested the money could be split equally among the four dispatch cen­ters or be divvied up by the population each center serves.

Contact Maria Kacik Kula at (330) 721-4049 or mkacik@medina-gazette.com.