Residents: Go Slow on Address Change

City wants to rename some streets to improve response to 911 cell calls

By Ralph Ellis, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Roswell, Ga. — The woman, gasping for breath and slurring her words, telephoned the Roswell 911 Center from her car. Before she stopped talking, the woman said she was on Maxwell Road.

Roswell has two streets with that name, so dispatchers sent units to both locations. Rescuers found her at the Maxwell Road near the eastern city limits. She’d forgotten to take her meds and recovered.

To avoid this kind of confusion, Roswell is talking about renaming about 30 streets that have identical or similar names. The Maxwell Road in the middle of town, for instance, might become Maxwell Street.

But instead of welcoming improved public safety, many residents are upset. Petitions have been signed and complaints voiced at public meetings.

“There’s no public outcry,” said resident Kurt Miller, whose street name might change. “We’ve never experienced a problem with delayed response time. We feel it’s kind of a sledge hammer solution to a problem that will have very little gain.”

The confusion on street names happens only when the 911 center answers cell phone calls. Unlike land-line calls, cell calls don’t always automatically provide the caller’s location. Dispatchers have to obtain addresses through conversation, which may be difficult if the caller is injured or excited.

Police Chief Ed Williams, the point man on the project, said public safety must trump convenience.

“I don’t want to wait until there’s a tragedy and say, ‘Now we can fix it,’ ” Williams said. “I’ve got to get in front of this.”

The key to handling 911 calls is location, location, location — of the caller. Other 911 centers in metro Atlanta had worse experiences because addresses were mishandled.

Earlier this year, DeKalb County updated software for its Computer-aided Dispatch Center, which handles all 911 calls, and lost an unknown number of addresses. After going into anaphylactic shock because of an allergic reaction to pine nuts, one man waited 34 minutes for an ambulance. The man said he was forced to give himself an injection while waiting for the paramedics.

In August 2008, a Fulton County 911 dispatcher sent an ambulance to Wells Street in Atlanta rather than Wales Street in Johns Creek. A 39-year-old woman died of a blocked artery. Johns Creek decided to join forces with Sandy Springs to start their own 911 center.

Williams said Roswell dispatchers have never caused big problems by sending a fire truck or ambulance to a wrong address.

Miller, a resident of Richfield Court for 10 years, says the city is overreacting to what is only a potential problem. Richfield Court might become Richfield Way, the better to distinguish it from Ridgefield Court and Ridgefield Drive on the other side of this town. All 10 households on Richfield Court have land lines and every resident opposes the idea, he said.

Barbara Durham, a resident of Brooks Glen near the Brookfield Country Club, said the city needs to take responsibility for finding a solution, by improved equipment or training.

“Don’t put the burden on the residents,” she said. “You did it, you correct. That’s something I’ve always lived by.”

Williams said Roswell has so many streets with similar or the same names because of annexations and because developers used to name their own subdivision streets without city clearance. Seven of the confusing street names on Williams’ list are in Mountain Park, the town of about 500 next door to Roswell. Roswell contracts to provide police and 911 services.

The street name problem only concerns cell phones, which account for about three-fourths of the 100,000 calls answered annually at the Roswell 911 Center.

When someone calls from a land line, the address of the call automatically pops up on a computer screen in the 911 center. With a cell phone call, getting the location of the caller is uncertain.

The Federal Communications Commission has required cell hone carriers since 2005 to provide a means so 911 centers can determine the location of an emergency cell phone call. In reality, that doesn’t happen all the time. Roswell has up-to-date equipment, Williams said, but the dispatchers usually see nothing more than the caller’s cell phone number and the location of the tower the call bounced off.

Only about 15 percent of cell calls received at the Roswell 911 Center provide the caller’s longitude and latitude, he said. When a reporter visited the 911 center for about 30 minutes last week, half a dozen cell calls were answered and none showed the caller’s location.

Elaine Sexton, 911 program administrator for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said cell phone reception at a 911 center is affected by the age and maker of the phone, the equipment at the 911 center, the location of the caller and other factors.

“It’s never going to be 100 percent accurate with a cell phone,” she said.

Residents opposed to changing their street names say technology will improve soon and make it needless to change street names. Eventually all cell phones will provide specific locations, they predict.

But nobody is sure when the cell phone companies will actually reach that point, said Nancy Diamond, a city council member. If it’s two years, waiting might be the best thing to do, she said. If it’s 10 years, maybe not.

Council member Betty Price said it’s hard to turn down an idea that’s supposed to improve public safety, but she doesn’t see a real problem yet. Government too often tries to fix things that aren’t broken, she said.

“You’re injecting potentially more confusion than already exists,” she said. “It’s the law of unintended consequences.”

The city still has a lot of questions, so no decision is expected soon. Mayor Jere Wood had only one prediction: “We’re going to upset people either way.”

After a name change
Some of the documents, organizations and people that would need to be notified if a street name changes:

  • Social Security and pension plans
  • Insurance companies Investments, IRAs, Roths and education funds Medical plans, doctors, dentists
  • Driver licenses
  • Colleges and schools Professional and alumni organizations
  • Employers, business contacts and attorneys Deeds and legal documents for selling a house
  • Magazines and catalogs Utilities.

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7 Responses to “Residents: Go Slow on Address Change”

  1. xav September 10, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    “Residents opposed to changing their street names say technology will improve soon and make it needless to change street names. Eventually all cell phones will provide specific locations, they predict.”nnThese residents predict technology will solve the problem… Riiiiiiight. They have no clue. nnAs soon as the problem the 911 people are trying to preempt happens, the same residents will be lining up screaming for answers. nn

  2. Diana September 11, 2010 at 3:07 am #

    They will awnt more than answers, they’ll demand the same fix they are blocking now.

  3. Joe September 14, 2010 at 4:59 pm #

    Wow talk about ignorant.
    That’s the problem with this country, they don’t want to stop anything bad from happening. It’s called preventive messures for a reason. Why wait till a little girl dies in order to fix it?

  4. Guest September 24, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    1st choice: Use Land Line for 911 call, gives instant location to Emergency Responders.

    2nd choice: Use Updated cell phone since 2005, that meets FCC requirements for 911 call origination location to be sent to Emergency Responders.

    Easy Solution

  5. Jengiismitty24 December 13, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    “All 10 households on Richfield Court have land lines and every resident opposes the idea, he said.”
    So maybe the residents across town DO want it fixed so when they call 911 help is not sent to your street instead of theirs… it’s not only about what 10 people want.

  6. Jengiismitty24 December 13, 2010 at 9:30 pm #

    and, just because you all have landlines you cannot always count on that. What if there is a storm and phone lines are knocked out? Or you have a break in to your home while you are inside and all you can manage to grab is your cell phone and you are not able to speak to the 911 operator because you dont want the intruder to hear you… there are many possibilities.

  7. guest May 13, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    I’m not going to get the quote exact but here goes:  If you don’t know where you are & your 911 Dispatcher doesn’t know where you are, you better hope you’re on good terms with God!

    Technology sure helps but it isn’t infallible!  In the end, the information the 911 Dispatcher receives is only as good as what’s given to them.  We’re all required to make people repeat their address  /  location and the city or township it’s in, twice.  People get all kinds of mad about that but I’d rather you be mad at me as a dispatcher for making you repeat yourself then have you be mad at me for sending the help to the wrong address!

    You want help from 911, be proactive and help 911 help you!

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