Merced County 911 System Changes

October 24, 2008 11:07:26 PM PDT
Help will soon be on the way faster for people who dial 911 from cell phones in Merced County.Right now most 911 calls from cell phones across California are answered first by the Highway Patrol. But the Merced County Sheriff's Department is working to take matters into its own hands.

This California Highway Patrol Communication Center in Atwater handles about 70 thousand 911 calls from cell phones every month. When an emergency call comes in from one of five surrounding counties, the service desk operator contacts the nearest local law enforcement dispatch office.

Sgt. Jim Woodle said, "Once a dispatcher receives it from the service center, they'll dispatch it out to the proper officer at the closest location."

But now the Merced County Sheriff's Office is in the process of having 911 cell phone calls within its jurisdiction sent directly to its own dispatchers.

Sheriff Mark Pazin said, "The closest tower that call quote, "pings off of" will go to that law enforcement jurisdiction. Basically what it does is cut down the middle man so to speak."

911 calls from landlines are already answered by the nearest local agency.

But with more households going without home phones to save money, and the ever-growing popularity of cell phones, Sheriff Mark Pazin says its time to make the cell tower switch.

Sheriff Pazin said, "The public won't even know that this is taking place other than the fact that there will be a more immediate response from that law enforcement jurisdiction."

The sheriff's department is hoping the seconds it saves by taking calls directly will help save lives.

Sheriff Pazin said, "30 seconds, 60 seconds, every second is critical."

County and city agencies across the state now have the opportunity to take over 911 calls from cell phones in their area.

But the CHP says some departments may choose not to make the switch because of funding or staffing shortages.

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