GPS Speeds Emergency Response in N.Y. - @

GPS Speeds Emergency Response in N.Y.


Aaron Gifford | | Friday, February 1, 2008

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- After crash-landing his helicopter near the Fenner wind farm Jan. 15, pilot Zachariah Bowers told emergency dispatchers that he thought he was in the town of Madison.

But a computer screen in the Madison County 911 center showed in detail that the helicopter was actually in the town of Fenner, about 20 miles west of the pilot's estimated location. Bowers, of Jacksonville, Fla., may have confused the area with a similar wind farm in the town of Madison when he made the call from his cell phone.

"The guys were from out of state," said the dispatcher, Robert Durfee. "He only knew he was in Madison County."

But firefighters and ambulance crews were sent to the exact location immediately after the call. Help arrived quickly, though everyone in the aircraft escaped with minor injuries.

It was one of the more notable calls since the county installed global positioning system technology for tracking wireless calls two years ago. And during that time period, said 911 Communications Director Paul Hartnett, the balance of cell phone calls handled by dispatchers has skyrocketed from about 25 percent of all calls in 2005 to nearly 70 percent these days.

"When we started out, all we could do was ask where they are and if there are any landmarks they could describe," Hartnett said. "It really was a shot in the dark."

The technology is especially important in southern Madison County, home to Cazenovia College, Colgate University and Morrisville State College. Students are likely to have cell phones, but they're less likely to know an exact location if they're involved in an accident or incident away from their campus.

In 2004, for example, 911 workers had to ask a hunting party to get to a main road and flag down emergency crews that were responding to an accidental shooting in nearby woods.

Back then, dispatchers didn't have the ability to pinpoint locations that weren't on a road. Now, with GPS, dispatchers can use detailed overlay maps to pinpoint cell phone signals sent from anywhere in the county.

All wireless phones made within the last few years come with built-in GPS capabilities, Durfee said. To track down the location of older cell phones, the communications system has three towers positioned around the perimeter of the county, allowing emergency crews to track signals within 100 meters.

GPS is working well, but the existing towers that police and fire use for radio communications are still problematic. The outdated towers are scheduled to be replaced during the next two years to the tune of $17 million.

Some of the equipment in the county's three towers is more than 30 years old and transmits obsolete frequencies. Replacement parts, like vacuum tubes, were phased out years ago.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Communications and Dispatch

What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide Featured Companies

Featured Careers & Jobs in EMS

Get JEMS in Your Inbox


Fire EMS Blogs

Blogger Browser

Today's Featured Posts


EMS Airway Clinic

Improving Survival from Cardiac Arrest Using ACD-CPR + ITD

Using active compression-decompression CPR with an ITD has been shown to improve 1-year survival from cardiac arrest by 33%.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

FDNY Rescues Boy on Frozen River

Video captures rescue on the Bronx River.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Three Injured in Philadelphia Collapse

Parapet wall falls through roof of store.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

Explosion Shakes Mexico Hospital

Rescuers search ruins of children’s hospital.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Hands On February 2015

Here’s a look at this month’s product hands on.
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Nightwatch Series Premiere Party

JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman attends the series premiere of A&E's new reality show, "Nightwatch."
More >

Multimedia Thumb

Braun Ambulances' EZ Door Forward

Helps to create a safer ambulance module.
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

The AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher Conversion Kit - EMS Today 2013

AmbuBus®, Bus Stretcher all-hazards preparedness & response tool
Watch It >

Multimedia Thumb

LMA MAD Nasal™

Needle-free intranasal drug delivery.
Watch It >

More Product Videos >