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August 31, 2004
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911 System Gets Upgrade for Cell Phones in Clark County, Wash.

By John Branton, The Columbian

Clark County, WA. - Cell phone users who call 911 in Clark County can benefit from the latest high-tech safety net, including a system that automatically displays the caller''s location on dispatchers'' screens.

But there''s one possible snag. Cell phones more than two years old might not be capable of working with the location display.

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All six wireless carriers doing business in Clark County now provide dispatchers with a cell phone''s call-back number as well as longitude and latitude, said Tom Griffith, director of Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency.

That information can save lives when someone calls 911 in an emergency and the call is disconnected, or when the caller needs help but doesn''t know where he or she is, officials say.

In Clark County, the updated system works with cell phone service provided by AT&T Wireless, Nextel Communications, Qwest Wireless, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless, according to a bulletin from the Washington Military Department''s Emergency Management Division. Location accuracy is often within 50 to 100 yards.

"We have tested it with all the carriers and it works" with newer cell phones, Griffith said.

There''s no additional cost to taxpayers, said assistant 911 director John Talbot.

The display of call-back numbers and addresses, called enhanced 911, has been available in Clark County since 1991 for regular, wire-line phones.

But unlike Clark County, many counties in Washington don''t yet provide automatic location display for cell phone callers, Griffith said.

By the end of the year, the dispatch center also will be able to track the locations of police cars and fire engines.

The system will use radio modems to communicate information from Global Positioning System units in the emergency vehicles, Griffith said. Besides showing the location on dispatchers'' computer maps, the system also will recommend to dispatchers which vehicles could get to an emergency quickest.

There is a one-time startup cost of about $200,000. The service will be available countywide except for some small fire districts.



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