Local officials say there is still a ways to go before the level of efficiency they expect for 911 addresses arrives.
An address provided by Cherokee County 911 will give residents the basic information needed to establish utility services and mailing services with the U.S. Postal Service. An address is crucial for emergencies in providing the quickest response possible.
Darryl Maggard, regional 911 coordinator for the Indian Nations Council of Governments, said there were no 911 services in Cherokee County or Tahlequah prior to the late 1990s. He became the county's first 911 coordinator.
“If you dialed 911 at that time, you just got a recording that said 911 is not a working number,” Maggard said. “There was a need, of course, to implement that service in some way, and at the time, cell phones were a luxury item and not considered a necessity because of the costs.”
The Cherokee County 911 emergency response system was approved by voters and formed in 1994. The county's nine-member 911 trust authority, which was originally a committee composed of emergency members, was chosen by county commissioners in 1995, and in 1996, mapping and readdressing of the county began.
Cherokee County 911 contracted with Miller Management to execute the mapping and addressing. However, the contract was terminated after local officials discovered the company wasn't performing up to snuff.
“That’s when I got involved and I was hired as a contractor, to the county, and I supplied a vehicle and myself to have the company that they had hired, [which] needed to be driven on every road in front of every house in the county," Maggard said. "They would sit in the passenger seat with a laptop that was collecting dots for the streets, and that would designate where a driveway was located."
The phone company needed an address that was formatted in a way that would mesh with a postal address.
“They wouldn’t take just a GPS location or a standard street-style address, and we would give them a range on that road. It was all tabular data and we would create tabular data that said, ‘Loss City Road has a range of 1,000 to 10,000,’ and then we had to convert the addresses,” Maggard said.
Hypothetically, if the address was in a range of 1,000 to 10,000, then it fell within a certain point along that route, Maggard said.
“That would make their address 5674, because it was odds on one side and evens on the other, so we had to decide on a convention on how it was going to be done. We had to start where it was 1000 and 1000 block and started in the county,” he said.
Maggard said mappers started in the northwest corner of the county and went through 1,000 addresses per mile, which was industry standard at the time.
“That gives you enough addresses to add additional addresses and for further growth,” he said.
Miller Management went bankrupt in the middle of the process, and Maggard said approximately 18,000 structures had been completed.
“We had to quickly learn on how to assign those addresses ourselves, because there were 16,000 addresses left to send out notices to,” said Maggard.
The county would then send the notices of new addresses to the phone company, then to the post office, and then to the resident.
“We were rocking along great and we had it under control, and then cell phones came along. We were routing cell phones on a 10-digit line because there was no way to route them in on the 911 system,” Maggard said.
When a call was made from a cell phone, Maggard said they were able to determine which cell tower the call was hitting. However, that gave them a five-mile radius to work with, and changes were made as time progressed.
“Each cell tower has three sectors for each carrier, so you get a pie shape where the sector would be on. Wireless 911 calls actually tell you which tower the cell came in off of and the sector. So you had a general idea of the area in the county it was located and where it came from,” he said.
That was Phase 1 implementation; Phase 2 actually gave 911 dispatchers the exact location of the caller, which then was pinpointed on a map in the 911 center.
“That doesn’t always work, and it's all dependent on the strength of the cell tower. There are a lot of things that come into play there, and they haven’t improved that,” said Maggard.
Maggard said there is push for the “Next Generation 911,” which would be more efficient through the use of dynamic mapping.
“The state is working on this as well, but the local 911 center uploads its maps to the state and their geographic areas of boundaries for their 911 center, boundaries for all of their services, and it would route based off of that,” he said. “The state would then upload to a national database, and that’s kind of where we’ve been ever since initial wireless calls have came across.”
Maggard said the local 911 center is further along than it's ever been in these past 23 years.