Ready for E 911

Though other jurisdictions still have to worry about preparing themselves for enhanced 911 guidelines, St. Clair County, Ill., can take a little break.

The county is one of the first in the country to be able to locate somebody using a cellular phone to make a 911 call. It's been a long road since the county's 911 call centers first began taking 911 calls from wireless phones in 1994.

"Last year, we filed [our first request] for phase two [compliance] -- the location of a cellular device within certain parameters established by the FCC -- and it took us until Oct. 20, 2001, to get our first carrier phase two compliant," said Norman Forshee, 911 coordinator of the St. Clair County emergency-telephone-system board.

Forshee said the challenges his county faced are the same problems other counties faced -- network carriers have petitioned the FCC for waivers and various changes to the enhanced 911 services, thereby delaying the roll out of those services.

But the real fun for call centers is yet to come, Forshee said, because new technologies promise new headaches.

"We need to now start talking about receiving the calls from OnStar, ATX and AAA, then computerized phones and satellite phones," he said.

Forshee said the National Emergency Number Association held meetings in December to discuss the ramifications of evolving telecommunications technologies and such issues as voice over IP; how 911 equipment will need to be changed to adapt to new technologies; how 911 service providers will have to change their networks; and what formats or standards will have to be adopted to make it all happen.

Taxing Wireless Towers

Pasco County, Fla., is in the throes of devising a wireless master plan to handle the proliferation of cellular-phone towers plaguing the county and to make sure wireless providers are assessed the appropriate taxes.

"It's a different approach to regulating the wireless industry," said David Goldstein, assistant county attorney. "[The plan] looks at the wireless providers instead of looking at the towers themselves that the carriers locate their equipment on. The only other county to pass this type of ordinance is Alachua County. We're still in the early stages of doing what they've already done."

Ted Kreines, the consultant hired by Pasco County, also drafted Alachua County's ordinance.

"The Pasco County issue is certainly transferable to everywhere in the United States," Kreines said. "In Pasco County, we have an aggravated case; it's particularly blatant - we have what we call 'bootlegging' going on. It's a widespread problem."

"Governments are aware that they may not have control of the situation," he said. "Carriers are aware that they may not be going through each and every step that they should be. They're aware that they're not paying their fair share of property taxes."

He said counties and cities should be worrying about making sure carriers are paying their fair share, given the number of towers and cell sites that will be necessary to meet cellular demand.

"The biggest problem with bootlegging is that not all of the carriers have ever come in for the kind of permit that [county officials] need to issue to know that they're there," he said. "As we get more and more into the lost revenue aspects of this, it becomes that much more important. People are losing revenue, big time."

Texas Tests E-Plan System

The University of Texas at Dallas began tests on a university-designed electronic system that will help emergency responders react more quickly to hazardous materials disasters.

The E-Plan is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), said Steve Hamm, project manager of TNRCC.