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New era begins with NG 911

Posted on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 10:10 am

Gathering data

Ernie Qualls, GIS specialist in charge of the E911 Board’s GIS Mapping Department, demonstrates how the digital mapping system can zero in on an address in the county. (Click here to purchase photo.)

A new era of emergency communication system, Next Generation 911 (NG 9-1-1), is being implemented across the nation, and in Lincoln County, the E911 Board’s GIS Mapping Department is in the process of fine tuning digital maps.

While the E911 system is telephone wire based, Next Generation 911 uses Inter-Protocol (IP) based technology to manage 911.  This system will bridge the gap between the current 911 system and the ever-evolving technological environment.

NG 9-1-1 is responsive to

Internet type phones and represents the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau’s next step in implementing the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan.

In the early 1990’s Robert Strope and Joe Vann started addressing and mapping, but in April, Ernie Qualls, GIS specialist, was hired full-time to head the GIS Mapping Department. There, he gathers accurate data by developing addresses, measuring roads (aided by Joe Vann) and assigning addresses.

“We’re tweaking the system. Me and Mr.  Vann are going to be verifying the addresses,” said Qualls. “Before the project is completely done, me and Mr. Vann will probably drive every road in Lincoln County.

“There are approximately 1,188 roads in the county and close to 20,000 address points,” says Qualls.

He also noted, “There are a lot of private roads in Lincoln County.”

Addresses are determined by establishing a starting point and then measuring to another point every 52.8 feet. 

  With that accomplished, digital maps are built for dispatchers to be used, not only in this county, but for use nationwide – if necessary.  That way, in the event communications are knocked out in one area or get snarled up as a result of a natural or man-made disaster, another county has the ability to route the calls and dispatch responders to assist. 

 “The idea behind Next Generation is they wanted very accurate data to match what was in the field,” said Qualls.

Each address is assigned an Emergency Service Number (ESN). The FCC is mandating that all communication centers have the same standards.

Tennessee is ahead of the game, Qualls noted.

“Our state 911 board got on the band wagon quickly and hired the people that they needed to get the data collected for Tennessee.

“We are working to the accuracy of 98-percent or better, which is state standard. Our existing roads and address points are there at this time.

“As technology gets better, we can always tweak these lines – it’s kind of a never-ending project.

“The ESN (Emergency Service Number) all has to be accurate to what it is in the field.

“If someone needs a new 911 address, call 433-8404 – then we can start the process.” 

Qualls emphasized the need for everyone to have a house number on their house, mailbox or fence, to save time and eliminate the guesswork during an emergency.

Ideally, he would like to see the numbers four-inches tall, if they are placed on the residence, so emergency responders can easily read them.

One source a person can obtain an address sign from is by contacting Mike Hopson with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) at 433-3649. The numbers are white on reflective green and are 3-inches high.

GIS software technology has changed greatly since Qualls first started working with it, from the 2.1 version to 10.1 currently. 

Qualls started a career in public safety service in 1985 in Warren County as an EMT. In 1998, he began working with TCI in Huntsville, Ala., as a lab technician and installer of 911 equipment across the United States.

“I learned how to do GIS mapping while working there,” he said.