When we say something moves at lightning speed, it is meant to illustrate that whatever “it” is, it’s moving fast, fast, fast.

Today, it might be more accurate to say that something moves at Internet speed, which gives us instantaneous, if not always the most current, information. Technology is a good example of moving at Internet speed: today’s new cell will be upstaged by a competitor tomorrow, and your new LED TV will be replaced by 3-D technology by the end of the week.

Keeping up with technology is a challenge for the local 911 call answering center, too, because we have to balance today’s demands of a generation that uses a cell phone as its only phone, with a generation that would never consider giving up their traditional, “landline” phone. Add to the mix voice-over-Internet protocols used by cable companies, companies that promise telephone service for $20 per year and no-contract cell phones, and finding someone lost in the snow or the correct address of an emergency can be a challenge.

In a letter to the editor (Feb. 1), Gary Haskell recounted such a challenge when an emergency at his home required a call to 911. Though the call was generated from a traditional landline phone in Mr. Haskell’s home in Auburn, the state-wide database that maintains address and location information on all phone lines showed his address to be on the same street but in Minot, and his call was automatically routed to the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department’s 911 Center instead of the Lewiston-Auburn 911 Emergency Communications Center.

Thankfully, this error is easy to correct and has been corrected. The Sheriff’s Department communication center quickly submitted the paperwork to correct the address, and a pre-arranged test call from the Haskell home proved to be successfully routed to the correct center with accurate location information.

However, like the fast but sometimes out-of-date Internet, the database that manages name and location information (which had an extremely low error rate of 0.47 percent in 2010) is only as good as the quality and timeliness of the information entered.

For instance, residents who sign up for telephone service via Internet companies, commonly known as VOIP, must make sure the address they provide is accurate to the physical location of the phone service. Furthermore, when residents move and take their phone service with them, it is prudent to make sure the new address location is updated. Some 911 callers move across town and make sure their cable and Internet services move with them, but forget to update the physical location of their new home.

In instances where a single street keeps its name as it runs from one town to the next, there could be a problem with duplicate addresses, such as two 52 Main Streets on the same road in different towns. Other situations that may impact the accuracy of location information include the renaming and renumbering of streets, changes in phone service providers and changes in account holder information.

Regardless of the many variables that go into identifying the location from which a 911 call has been dialed, the emergency information associated with individual telephone lines is easy to verify and, if found to be inaccurate, easy to correct. It requires just two phone calls.

Residents of Lewiston and Auburn should first call the dispatch center’s business line at 784-7331 to ask a shift supervisor if it is a good time to perform a 911 test call. If no medical, fire or police emergencies are currently active, the supervisor will let the caller know to hang up and dial 911, and the telecommunications specialist who answers the phone will verify the data received is correctly associated with the number from which the 911 call was generated.

It is extremely important that residents call the business line before making a 911 test call. The Lewiston-Auburn 911 Center is one of the busiest 911 centers in the state, handling more than 500 business and 911 calls a day, and while it may appear to be quiet in one city, the other could be in the middle of a major event that requires an all-hands-on-deck emergency response. If the supervisor on duty feels a test call would interfere with active emergency response operations, the caller will be asked to please call back at a later date and time.

The next generation of 911 will examine how 911 calls sent via text message, e-mail, Skype, social networks, automatic crash notification networks such as OnStar and other cutting-edge technologies will interface with emergency call takers and responders and, like your new cell phone and television, it will have to be built with future capabilities in mind.

By making two brief phone calls, citizens of Auburn and Lewiston can be certain their emergency information is current today and will ensure the fastest, most appropriate emergency response when it is needed in the future.

Phyllis Gamache-Jensen is director of the Lewiston-Auburn Emergency Communications Center.


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