Enhanced 911 vote is next Tuesday

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

An elderly woman living alone awakes in the middle of the night after hearing noises in her home. Realizing that someone is in her house, she wants to call the police, but thinks that the intruder may hear her making the call and attack her.

But making that phone call is her only way of getting assistance, and – with basic 911 service – she can’t get police to her home without telling them her address.

“With the basic 911 that we have know, 911 is just a phone number, just like every other phone number,” said Vandalia Police Chief Larry Eason.

“The person making the 911 call still has to tell us who they are and where they are,” Eason said.

“That can be a major problem with many types of emergencies,” he said. “It could be a person who has suffered a heart attack and stroke, and that person collapses before he or she can give us any information.”

“With Enhanced 911, as soon as the person places the call, we know where the person is calling from, and we can get an officer on the way to that location right away,” Eason said.

“That elderly woman who has an intruder, with Enhanced 911, all she has to do is dial 911 and set the phone down,” he said. “When we get that call, we’re sending someone to her house.”

Right now, Fayette County is one of only 14 counties among the 102 in Illinois not to have the Enhanced 911 emergency phone system available to its residents.

Next Tuesday, residents of Fayette County will decide whether the Enhanced 911 service will be added here.

Before the voters is $2.75 monthly surcharge for landline phones. All people with cell phones already pay an E911 surcharge, but those surcharge monies do not come to Fayette County; they would begin coming to Fayette County if voters approve the E911 referendum.

The E911 issue was placed on the ballot at the recommendation of a E911 committee formed by Fayette County Board Chairman Steve Knebel late last year. Knebel decided the issue was worth studying after a Lockport-based company approached the county board about assisting the county with getting the service in place.

This is the third time that E911 has gone before the voters. A $1.25 surcharge was rejected in 1991, and in 1995, a referendum with a $2.50 monthly surcharge was voted down.

The committee that recommended that the county board put the issue on the ballot included county board members Knebel, Darrell Schaal and John Daniels Jr., Fayette County Sheriff Aaron Lay, Eason, Vandalia Fire Department Chief Merle Adermann and Amy Schaal.

Of the committee members, Eason is the only one who has worked with an Enhanced 911 system. A retired master sergeant with the Illinois State Police, Eason has experienced first-hand the benefits of E911.

“It’s a phone number that everyone, even young children, know to call when there’s a fire or medical emergency,” Eason said.

“But with basic 911, we still have to depend on the caller to give us even the basic information that we need to get help on the way,” he said.

“With Enhanced 911, not a word has to be spoken,” Eason said.

Knebel has been outspoken in his support for Enhanced 911.

“Time, that’s what this is all about – saving time and saving lives,” Knebel said.

“The cost per line,” Knebel said, “ try to weigh that against the cost of a life (that can be saved with Enhanced 911) – you can’t do it.”

“Even a young child knows to call 911 in an emergency, but a lot of times, they are so scared or shook up that they can’t give an address or directions,” Knebel said. “With E911, that pops up on the (dispatcher’s) computer screen as soon as the call is placed.”

Along with the name and address of the person making the call from a landline, the dispatcher’s screen also displays the appropriate law enforcement, fire and emergency medical agencies to dispatch to the scene of an emergency.

Today’s technology even helps to find the caller when the call is placed on a cellular phone.

“The technology is just wonderful, and it’s going to get even better,” said Mickie Ryan, the E911 administrator in Christian County.

“A few years ago, we had an insurance adjustor who fell from the top of a grain bin,” Ryan said. “He couldn’t speak, but we were able to get to him because he had dialed 911 on his cell phone.”

Christian County has had E911 in operation since 1992, about a year after voters approved a surcharge for the system. That county’s ability to get the system up and running in such a short time was possible, Ryan said, because county officials began addressing work when they still had basic 911 service.

“We knew that we were going to go with Enhanced 911, so they started getting ready,” she said, adding that it normally takes three or four years to get a system operational without that preliminary work.

One of the other factors that expedited things for Christian County, Ryan said, was that county officials decided to use the existing grid system for addressing, meaning that it stayed with the county road numbering system instead of renaming roads in rural areas.

Christian County residents have been paying a $2 monthly surcharge since the Enhanced 911 referendum was passed in 1991, she said.

The sheriff in that county, Bob Kindermann, has worked as a law enforcement officer both with and without Enhanced 911 service.

“It’s been a great benefit,” Kindermann said. “With it, we know exactly where we’re going, and when you have a life-threatening emergency, the seconds and minutes that this can save can mean the difference between life and death.”