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Bollinger County's emergency switch
MARBLE HILL, Mo.
Pop quiz, Bollinger County residents: What is the sheriff department's phone number?
The ambulance phone number?
While 98 percent of the U.S. population can answer those questions with three numbers, 911, residents in Bollinger County must remember 21 digits -- excluding the area code -- for those three emergency departments.
But that's about to change.
As mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, Bollinger County -- along with every non-911 jurisdiction in the country -- will have at least basic 911 service by Sept. 11 of this year.
"I tell you, most people in the area don't know the sheriff's phone number without looking it up," said Glenallen resident Loris Lincoln.
Jerry Marquis, a Marble Hill resident, said 911 service "needs to be here, no question about it. There's definitely a safety value to 911. My grandkids are what I worry about now."
Ann Wedemeyer, a spokeswoman for Southwestern Bell, said the basic service could be implemented some time in August, but she couldn't pinpoint an exact date. She said the basic service will be no extra cost to the residents of Bollinger County.
Wedemeyer refused to say how much Southwestern Bell would have to spend to provide the service, but Ken Trentham, presiding commissioner of Bollinger County, said the county would incur no extra costs as a result of getting 911 service.
However, Trentham said the county will take steps for an upgrade from basic service to enhanced 911, including possibly asking phone users for the money to do it.
Basic 911 means dispatchers have no way to tell from where a call is coming. Basic service allows the consolidation of all emergency calls to one number, but the caller would still have to give an address and directions to the location.
Enhanced 911 allows dispatchers to pinpoint exact locations of the emergencies with advanced mapping systems and software. In some cases, firefighters can pull the directions from a printer as they head out to their truck, said Jim Bollinger, director of emergency management in the county.
Trentham said the county is taking bids to do grid mapping. That could cost up to $50,000. An upgrade could be taken to the voters and a tax of about 50 cents per month would be charged on the phone bill, Bollinger said.
Sheriff Terry Wiseman said his department has a hard enough time serving court papers, never mind responding to emergencies.
"You'll get an address like Route 4, Box 2814 and you say 'Where is that at?'" he said. "And the address may say Marble Hill, but that could be anywhere around here. And it's hard to get good directions over the phone."
In the short term, Bollinger County residents will have to settle for the basic service. But having a simple number to remember for all emergencies is an upgrade in itself, considering Bollinger County officials have been trying to get the system for many years.
All the 911 calls will come into the sheriff's office. Commissioners considered but rejected the idea of contracting 911 centers in Stoddard or Madison counties to take the calls and dispatch the sheriff's department, fire departments or ambulance service in Bollinger County.
Joyce Weakley, a dispatcher of 14 years with the Bollinger County Sheriff's Department, said the switch to basic 911 will make her job much easier. Instead of manning four phones, she will answer only one.
"This will be much better," she said. "It's a start in the right direction."
Bollinger, who wears several hats in the county, including Marble Hill fire chief, says he wants to see the day when he will have precise directions to fires.
"We'd love to get the enhanced service," he said. "It would be nice to know when you roll out the truck, you'll know exactly where you're going. It would be great."
335-6611, extension 127
OTHER 911 FACTS
Percentage of territory covered by 911: 94
Most populated Missouri County without 911: Barry (pop. 33,189)
Number of Missouri counties with populations over 15,000 without 911 service: 7
Number of Illinois counties without 911: 22 (Including La Salle with a population of 110,248)
Total number of counties in nation without 911 service: 174
Most populated county in the nation without 911: Anchorage, Alaska (pop. 257,000)