Emergency Agency Checking to Ensure More 911 Calls Aren’t Misrouted

An audit of cell phone towers is happening, and answers sought from the cell phone companies involved.

by Kimball Perry, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / March 8, 2017
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(TNS) - After discovering a cell phone call to 911 from Hilliard was sent to the wrong dispatching center, Franklin County, Ohio, officials want to know why as they seek to ensure emergency calls are sent to correct locations.

"That's what we're going to find out," said Cecilia Weirick, Franklin County regional 911 communications coordinator.

That Feb. 11 call by Hilliard resident Marc Barraco was supposed to go to the Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center in Dublin. Instead, it was misrouted to the Franklin County Sheriff's Office. It took 17 seconds for the Sheriff's dispatcher to send the call to the Dublin dispatcher. The call was about 72-year-old Howard Hartman who was found slumped over the steering wheel of his car, not breathing.

While no one, including Hartman's family, has suggested that 17-second delay contributed to his death, officials were concerned that the call didn't go directly to the proper dispatch center. They investigated the call and tower, a newer one erected near Hilliard Darby High School in the 4200 block of Leppert Road.

"Verizon improperly routed that tower to the Sheriff," Jay Somerville said. He is the manager of the Northwest Regional Emergency Communications Center that serves as the 911 dispatching center for Dublin, Hilliard, and Norwich and Washington townships. Next year, it begins taking calls for Upper Arlington.

Verizon was "very forthcoming" about the misrouted call, Somerville added. Verizon didn't respond to a call and email to its corporate headquarters.

Because of that incident, Somerville requested an audit of cell phone towers in Franklin County to determine whether they are sending calls to the correct 911 center. He said there are up to 800 cell phone towers in Franklin County.

The audit is happening, Weirick said, and they want answers from the cell phone companies involved.

"When they put up towers, who do they tell?" Weirick asked, suggesting the phone companies provide more information to the governments about towers and where they route calls.

She wants to tell wireless companies: "Tell me what you've done so I can keep track of it."

Those wireless companies, Weirick said, shouldn't make the Sheriff's Office the default location for 911 calls, as is done in 60 of Ohio's 88 counties, but not Franklin County.

It could take until the end of summer to complete the audit, Somerville said, but it's been seven years since the last an audit.

"We haven't had cause until now" for such an audit, he said.

Now, 911 calls from cell phones don't show the location of the caller. They show the location of the tower where the call is routed. Somerville said the technology to provide dispatchers with the physical location of cell phone callers to 911 is three to five years away.

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©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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