The guessing game for Cambria 911 dispatchers in pinpointing a cell-phone caller's location is coming to an end.
By early this month, all five companies offering cellular service in Cambria County will be "plugged in" so dispatchers will be able to locate emergency callers and send help quickly, said Carol Peretin, county 911 director.
Somerset 911 has had the pinpointing capability since March, Director David Fox said.
Quick response by police, fire and emergency medical services can mean the difference between life and death in situations such as a motorist hurt in a highway wreck or a deer hunter wounded in the woods.
Until now, the Cambria center could locate only which tower was providing the caller's service; the caller had to describe their location.
But a $2.6 million equipment upgrade has made it possible for dispatchers to determine the caller's precise location within 15 seconds, Peretin said.
The new system is different from Enhanced 911, in which the address and name of the landline caller instantly come up on a dispatcher's console screen when the call is answered.
For cell calls, dispatchers have to retransmit the call to get the caller's latitude and longitude, which are used to bring up exact site location on a still photo on the computer screen.
Today, AT&T Cingular, the last of the five call phone companies that serve Cambria County, will complete its testing and, in effect, "flip the switch" for the service, Peretin said. The others are Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint and Nextel.
The money to pay for the upgrade came with money raised by the $1-a-month charged to each cell phone for 911 service.
Fox said the Somerset County system has been "a big assistance, especially with the Pennsylvania Turnpike cell calls."
While they may know their direction, he said, many turnpike callers have no idea of their general location."(The system) eliminates a guessing game on the part of the operators."