November 1, 2014

Arenac commissioners approve new 911 mapping

FOIA requests for maps also approved

By Kevin Bunch
Staff Writer | news@arenacindependent.com
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ARENAC COUNTY — The Arenac County Board of Commissioners approved signing an agreement to participate in a Geographical Information System (GIS) with other entities within the state on April 3, which would map out 911 system boundaries for cellular calls.

Commissioner Robert Luce said using a traditional land line when making a 911 call makes it easy to determine which 911 office is nearest to respond, since the phone’s address can be easily tracked.

With a cell phone, however, it can be more difficult to figure out which office has jurisdiction. Steve Wuelfing, 911 director for Arenac County, said under the current system, the location of the cell tower that takes the call is used to determine which 911 office receives the call. These towers are not necessarily nearby, and Wuelfing said offices in Bay City or Iosco and Ogemaw counties could take a 911 call.

“”Sometimes we get a 911 call from Huron County,” Wuelfing said.

The GIS program would create a map based on political boundaries and major road centerlines, and utilize the coordinates of the cell phone being used to route the 911 calls to the nearest office.

Commissioner Joe Sancimino said the GIS funding would come through the state from the federal government, so if the county does it now, it would not cost anything. As a state directive, the county would need to approve it eventually.

“If we don’t do it now, we have to pay later,” Commissioner Jeff Trombley said.

Wuelfing said the state’s Department of Technology Management and Budget has already started the GIS mapping, with assistance from the Center for Shared Solutions and Technology Partnerships. There is no timetable for completion, though Wuelfing said he would be surprised if it was not completed within the year.

About 33 counties are participating in the grant program in Michigan, with a goal of eventually upgrading the 911 systems across the country.

The mapping is the first step in a wider series of 911 system upgrades, Wuelfing said, called Next Generation 911. The ultimate goal of that project is to allow the nation’s 911 infrastructure to better utilize new communication methods that utilize cellular technology, such as text messages, photos, and data.

The commissioners also approved amending its Freedom of Information Act policy to account for the GIS, so members of the public can request copies of the maps. It is required to participate in the GIS grant.

Wuelfing explained the original FOIA policy did not account for electronic records, and it was not spelled out very well what was available for the public to request.

“It more clearly defines what is exempt,” Wuelfing said, though while GIS mapping data would largely be available, he said the emergency service zone data should not.

Luce said the cost for making a copy had not been determined yet, though the policy states it would have to be a “reasonable fee.”

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