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Only a few attend E911 public hearing

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

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public hearing held on Monday to educate Fayette County residents about the Enhanced 911 referendum on the general election ballot drew only several people, the majority of whom are already well educated on the emergency phone system.

“It (the turnout) was quite disappointing,” Fayette County Board Chairman Steve Knebel said at Tuesday’s county board meeting.

Knebel said he doesn’t know what the light turnout means, “but I hope it means that people have already decided to pass it.”

The attendees included Knebel, Fayette County Sheriff Aaron Lay, St. Peter Police Chief Kevin Jenne, county board member Dean Bernhardt and former county board chairman Dean Black and his wife, Elloise.

At the Nov. 4 election, county residents will be asked to approve a $2.75 monthly surcharge on their landline phone bills for the implementation and operation of an Enhanced 911 emergency phone system.

With Enhanced 911, residents provide local law enforcement with information about their family members and property. Included in that is any pertinent medical information about family members, as well as any fire or hazardous materials information about their property.

When an emergency call is placed with Enhanced 911, all of the information provided by the caller is immediately displayed on the computer screen of the police and fire dispatcher. It remains on the screen even if the caller hangs up the phone.

The county currently has basic 911 service, which means that the caller must provide the dispatcher with all pertinent information, including the location of the emergency and which emergency response agencies are to be dispatched for the emergency.

Fayette County is one of 14 Illinois counties that does not have E911 service. Four of the state’s 102 counties are in the process of implementing the service.

Knebel formed a county committee to study putting Enhanced 911 on the ballot for the third time after Lockport-based GenDesign approached the county about providing assistance in getting the issue on the ballot.

The county proceeded on its own, with Knebel heading up a committee that included county board members Darrell Schaal and John Daniels Jr., Lay, Vandalia Police Chief Larry Eason, Vandalia Fire Chief Merle Adermann and Amy Schaal of Fayette County Hospital.

The committee has received assistance from Mike Schabbing, the E911 coordinator for Jasper County. Schabbing’s aid has included leading the county to the receipt of a $7,500 grant that can be used to advertise the issue prior to the election.

Schabbing was present at Monday’s meeting, as was Rhett Beekman, a 911 operations manager for AT&T.

Beekman explained that county residents are already paying an E911 charge on their cellular phone bills, and that that money is not going to Fayette County. If the E911 referendum passes in November, the county will begin receiving that money, to help pay for implementation and ongoing operations of E911 service in this county.

Beekman said that if the referendum passes, county residents would begin paying the $2.75 monthly surcharge within 90 days of the vote. It will take five or six years to get the service up and running, he said.

Schabbing agreed. “It takes a lot of work to get it going,” he said.

That work includes compiling all pertinent information from county residents and feeding it into the county’s E911 database and establishing addresses for all county residents.

Through the implementation of the service, each rural residence is given an address, like homes located within communities, Schabbing said.

The county would have the option of naming each road, but Knebel said he prefers working off of the current system used for rural roads in the county.

That’s because, he said, if an emergency response agency is traveling to a residence on County Road 1500 and comes up on County Road 1200, it knows that it’s three miles from its destination.

Beekman said that with basic 911 service, cell phone calls that are made in Fayette County are received by the Illinois State Police at District 12 headquarters in Effingham. If that ISP tower is busy at the time, the call goes to another ISP headquarters.

“It’s just like make a plain old phone call,” Beekman said, explaining that the caller must provide all information to a dispatcher.

With Phase I 911 service, the tower closest to the caller is displayed on the dispatcher’s computer screen. That gives emergency response teams a 400-yard area in which to search for the emergency.

With Enhanced Phase II service, the longitude and latitude of the location from which the call is made is displayed on the screen, Beekman said.

Also, Schabbing said, if a motorist continues to travel after making the call, the Enhanced 911 system can track the motorist.

At Monday’s meeting, Knebel continued to voice strong support for passage of the E911 referendum on Nov. 4.

“It’s a life or death matter,” Knebel said, talking about how the service helps speed up the arrival of emergency responders on the scene of an emergency.

“I think it’s a necessity,” Knebel said at a county board meeting this summer.

“If you ever have to use it, you’ll be thankful that you have it,” he said, comparing the monthly surcharge to an insurance premium payment.

“That’s pretty cheap insurance,” he said. “That’s how I’m approaching it.”

This is the third time that Enhanced 911 has appeared on the ballot in Fayette County.

In 1991, a $1.25 monthly surcharge was voted down, and in 1995, a $2.50 surcharge was rejected.