Gearing up for E 9-1-1: Municipal addressing is critical first step
(from Maine Townsman, November 1997)
by Michael L. Starn, Editor

It seems like such a long time ago. Actually, it was nine years ago. In November 1988, Maine voters approved the establishment of a statewide Enhanced 9-1-1 system and authorized a $3.2 million bond issue to get it going. Almost a decade later, the statewide E 9-1-1 system has yet to receive its first emergency phone call.

No one ever thought it would take this long to get started. The cover of the November 1989 issue of the TOWNSMAN proclaimed "Statewide E 9-1-1 On Five Year Implementation Plan". A feature article in that issue discussed how Maine was on a fast track to implement its statewide E 9-1-1 program and how a few other states had already established their E 9-1-1 systems.

Despite all the setbacks, missed deadlines and unforeseen challenges, there now appears to be light at the end of the E 9-1-1 tunnel. Within the next two years, a statewide enhanced 9-1-1 system should begin, according to staff from the Maine Department of Public Safety’s Emergency Services Communications Bureau (ESCB), the agency in charge of implementing this program.

"It’s crunch time," says ESCB Director Stephan Bunker.

What Is E 9-1-1?

Technology has dramatically changed the telephone industry. It wasn’t all that long ago, perhaps 20 to 30 years, that in emergency situations people would dial "0" to get the telephone operator. The operator, being local and probably knowing the caller and where the caller lived, would contact the appropriate emergency service provider.

That process ended for two compelling reasons. First, most telephone company operators are no longer local. In fact they may be many states away and would have no idea who you are or who your emergency service providers are. Second, telephone companies don’t pay their operators to do emergency dispatching and certainly don’t want the liability that would come with it.

Dispatching allows emergency telephone calls to be received at a single answering point. Dialing 9-1-1 for emergencies came about because it was a fast and easy-to-remember way of contacting these dispatching centers. An Enhanced 9-1-1 system enables emergency calls to be properly routed to the correct public safety answering point location where trained personnel are prepared to handle the call.

The primary difference between basic 9-1-1 and enhanced 9-1-1 is the way information is made available to the public safety dispatching or call answering center. With a Basic 9-1-1 call, the dispatcher has to get all information about the incident from the caller. Who the caller is and where the caller lives (or where the emergency is occurring) must come during that telephone conversation. Enhanced 9-1-1 allows the dispatcher to know automatically where the call is coming from. The telephone number is linked to a location which is displayed on a computer screen.

Enhanced 9-1-1 is particularly valuable when callers are hysterical, become unconscious or hang up. In any of these situations, the dispatcher retains information about the location of the caller. Emergency responders can be sent whether or not the conversation is completed or even takes place.

Where Are We Now?

Maine legislators and voters chose the statewide path for an E 9-1-1 system in the late 1980’s because it seemed the most reasonable and affordable for a rural state like Maine. Telecommunications technology in the 1980’s was expensive, particularly if purchased and used on a small scale. When the statewide 9-1-1 referendum question passed, 18 Maine communities had basic 9-1-1. Enhanced 9-1-1, requiring expensive computer software and hardware, was out of the reach of any single Maine municipality.

The statewide system, envisioned by the early advocates of E 9-1-1, was a regional network of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). These PSAPs would handle all the emergency calls. They would be equipped at State expense (from the bond issue) and staffed with trained individuals capable of handling emergency calls. Operating costs for the PSAPs would come from the municipalities that formed that PSAP. Funding to maintain the E 9-1-1 database was to be provided through a surcharge on people’s telephone bills (In this past session, the legislature approved an increase in the surcharge on telephone bills to support the E 9-1-1 system. The new 32-cent fee begins on August 1, 1998.).

From the beginning of Maine’s E 9-1-1 implementation plan, the number of PSAPs required, or considered to be cost-effective, to handle the emergency calls has been a contentious issue. Prior to a 1992 (E 9-1-1) Implementation Study report, the commonly referred to number of PSAPs needed was 92, which allowed for a PSAP in all 16 counties, four state police communications centers and all municipalities that had dispatch centers. The 1992 report recommended that the State pay to equip between 50 and 60 PSAPs, not 92. This change meant that some municipalities currently dispatching might have their 9-1-1 calls answered at another location and then transferred to them for dispatching. (for an article on Dispatch Consolidation, see the October 1996 issue of the MAINE TOWNSMAN).

Communities that choose to keep their own local dispatching will still be able to participate in the E 9-1-1 system by being linked to a servicing PSAP. The PSAP will quickly process the 9-1-1 call and route the caller to the local center. Rapidly changing technology may allow the local dispatching centers to receive the same caller information as the PSAP.

Municipalities must bear the equipment and personnel training costs associated with their own dispatching centers that are linked to the E 9-1-1 system.

Why The Delays?

PSAP designation and municipal addressing have been two of the greatest challenges for the ESCB staff.

"The technology challenge is fascinating," says ESCB’s Bunker, "but it is the people challenge that has taken the most energy."

Bunker is referring to the difficulty that E 9-1-1 planners have faced in trying to build trust among state, county, and municipal officials. Their job has been to get 50 or so county commissioners, 186 legislators, 16 county sheriffs, 140 municipal police chiefs, about 500 fire chiefs, and a few hundred heads of rescue agencies to agree to work together. More than just agreeing to work together; these officials have needed to agree on how they will work together.

While "turf battles" over PSAP designations have slowed down the E 9-1-1 implementation plan, the ESCB has decided that they need not get in the way of the E 9-1-1 startup.

Early in the system’s development, E 9-1-1 planners envisioned a statewide network that would be initiated with the flip of a switch. Now, ESCB staff are looking at communities and regions in terms of their readiness to get the E 9-1-1 system up and running.

"Pockets of the state are developing their readiness," says Bunker. When a PSAP is ready and the telephone service provider is ready, the system can start.

An incremental approach is now planned for the statewide 911 system. "I have no particular bias about who will be our first up and running site," says the E 9-1-1 director.

Bunker cites three things that the ESCB will be looking for:

The readiness of the PSAP (in terms of equipment and trained personnel).

The readiness of the telephone service provider.

The completeness of the addressing conversion for the municipalities served by the PSAP.

Why Is Addressing So Important?

Creating unique and identifiable, physical addresses for Maine street naming and numbering falls in the laps of municipalities. The local legislative body town meeting or council has the authority to create physical addresses by naming and numbering its roads.

The first step in the naming and numbering process is to enact an addressing ordinance. The ordinance lays out the process of the naming and numbering. Generally, the ordinance will create an addressing committee and delegate the administrative authority to conduct the naming and numbering to a particular municipal official, department or board. Once the work has been done on the addressing, the completed project must come back before the legislative body for final approval. (Some communities delegate the authority to approve road names to the board of selectmen or Addressing Committee as part of their addressing ordinance).

ESCB staff say that the average municipal addressing project takes about two years. However, with such a short time before E 9-1-1 startup, municipal officials will need to expedite the process.

The E 9-1-1 Bureau has an Addressing Guidebook for Local Governments that is available for the asking. The guidebook walks the municipality through the process in a step-by-step way.

In addition to the guidebook, mapping and technical assistance is also available from the state. The Maine Office of Geographic Information Systems (OGIS) supports municipal addressing efforts with its GPS (Global Positioning System) capabilities, a satellite-based measurement technology that accurately locates structures, finds missing roads, and prepares addressing maps. The Maine OGIS support is provided free of charge to the municipality.

Base maps are an essential component of the municipal addressing project. The ESCB has set October 1, 1998 as the deadline for receiving updated base maps from communities participating in the E 9-1-1 system. This means that communities will need to have their addressing ordinance approved and all roads in the community named before that date, if they are going to participate.

"I want to reduce the dilemma of communities not having accurate addresses for their citizens (when E 9-1-1 gets underway)," says ESCB’s Bunker.

Bunker admits that it will probably take a year or two to get all municipalities on board with their addressing. He says that when the E 9-1-1 system is up and running and residents of a community see that they cannot fully utilize the system without physical addresses, momentum for addressing projects will grow.

"The most important and immediate need for getting E 9-1-1 going is the addressing," says Bunker.

Municipal Addressing Officers

All municipalities need to appoint a Municipal Addressing Officer (MAO) who will be responsible for approving and providing address information to the E 9-1-1 Bureau. The MAO will be the liaison with the ESCB staff who will work with the service providers who will create and maintain the E 9-1-1 database.

Responsibilities of the Addressing Officer include:

Providing an old-to-new address conversion list to the ESCB. The same list that your municipality gives to the Post Office to convert rural routes to street-like addresses will be given to ESCB, with changes, if needed, made to it. The list will be used to update telephone subscriber information.

Approving and providing correct road name and number range information. Through the Maine OGIS process, the MAO will receive a base map and printout with road names and address ranges to verify. Towns not using OGIS will still need to provide ESCB with this information.

Indicating the community’s Emergency Service Zone(s). An ESZ is a geographic area comprised of a specific range of addresses served by a unique combination of police, fire and EMS agencies. Most towns will have one ESZ for police, fire and rescue; however, a few may have multiple ESZs (e.g., two or more ambulance companies serve different parts of a town).

Providing updates on changes to address ranges and ESZs as they occur or providing verification at least annually. Every year, the E 9-1-1 Bureau will ask a town to verify the address ranges of each road in town and to verify or update the ESZ designation(s). However, any time a town adds a new road or changes an address range (i.e., a road is extended or closed), emergency service providers and the E 9-1-1 Bureau should be notified immediately.

Resolving any discrepancies that arise with any addressing information in the E 9-1-1 database. The Addressing Officer will be asked to resolve any problems or discrepancies with the E 9-1-1 addressing information discovered by PSAP personnel. For example, a caller’s address on the E 9-1-1 equipment may not match the address reported by the caller, or the address may be missing altogether. The MAO will also be involved in correcting problems found during the development of the E 9-1-1 database.

Acting as a local guide for collection of new or missing road data. The ESCB will periodically collect information on new or missing roads in a given town. The MAO will assist the Bureau in the collection of this information.

Other responsibilities that a Municipal Addressing Officer may have include: answering citizen questions about addressing; monitoring local development activities and assigning new addresses during the creation of roads and subdivisions; calculating property numbers; and updating the community’s database as needed.

An official form must be filled out when the municipality designates the Municipal Addressing Officer and be sent to the ESCB. Each time the addressing officer changes, a new form must be completed and sent to ESCB.

Other E 9-1-1 Issues

During the past few years, some new issues have surfaced regarding the E 9-1-1 system. They include ADA compliance for PSAPs and dispatching centers, confidentiality of E 9-1-1 records and governmental liability under this emergency services program.

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires all 9-1-1 numbers to be both voice and TDD/TTY (telecommunications devices for the deaf) accessible. The Bureau plans to provide TDD/TTY equipment and the necessary training to operate this equipment in all PSAPs.

If an emergency number is a seven or ten digit number, an alternative TDD number may be used but it must be publicized as prominently as the voice number. Requiring the use of voice relay is not acceptable in any case, says ESCB's Maria Jacques.

The ADA is a "here and now" issue, according to Jacques. "All publicly-funded emergency call answering centers must have TDD capability now and should not wait for E 9-1-1 to meet the requirements of the law," she says.

Communities that do not dispatch their emergency calls out of the PSAP will also need to have TDD/TTY equipment installed at their emergency call answering point. Personnel trained in the use of TDD/TTY equipment will be critical.

The 118th Maine Legislature added two new sections to the E 9-1-1 statutes dealing with confidentiality of records, immunity from liability, and misuse of the system. Those new sections are found in 25 MRSA sections 2929 through 2931.

Provisions of the revised statutes: (1) specify what information in the E 9-1-1 database, the reports, or the audio recordings is confidential, or, conversely, when disclosure is required; (2) reiterate and cross-reference the immunity provided under the Maine Tort Claims Act for governmental entities that participate in the E 9-1-1 system; and (3) establish misuses of the E 9-1-1 system as a Class E crime.

Resources

The address for the Emergency Services Communications Bureau is 42 State House Station, Augusta ME 04333-0042. Stephan Bunker is the E 9-1-1 director and Maria Jacques is public information coordinator. They can be contacted by calling (207) 287-9911; the fax number is (207) 624-7118.

The Maine Office of GIS contact is Bob White, Addressing Coordinator, (207) 287-6145.