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Thursday, December 21, 2000

Separate 911
system planned
for military

The automated system
will save money, time --
and lives, officials say

By Crystal Kua

The military is looking to set up its own 911 emergency telephone system on Oahu so help can reach its residents in 22,000 military housing units faster than with the current delay-plagued system, officials say.

Plans call for the creation of a $3.3 million consolidated, centralized emergency dispatch center that would serve all military residential areas in an effort to cut down on the amount of time it takes police, fire and ambulances to arrive at the scene of an emergency.

The military has seven-digit telephone numbers and several dispatching centers that housing residents can call in emergencies, but it doesn't have a way to answer calls from residents on base who dial 911, the more commonly known telephone number for emergencies.

When military housing residents dial 911 now, their calls are initially handled by city dispatchers.

Because there's no way currently for those kinds of calls to be automatically transferred from the city dispatcher to a military dispatcher, a city dispatcher must take down the information and then manually call a military operator to relay the information. The military operator dispatches its police, fire or ambulance units to the scene.

As a result, delays of four to seven minutes are common.

The problem was first identified in 1987 when an ambulance took 22 minutes to reach a military home on Hickam Air Force Base.

It's not known why it has taken 13 years for the military to find a solution, but as a result of the Hickam incident the Air Force looked into solving the problem.

Ten years later, the Air Force began an audit of the emergency telephone operations and found that the current civilian 911 system didn't meet the needs of military housing residents.

Several attempts to get official comment from military public-affairs officials were unsuccessful.

However, in a story about the project in a military publication, officials said the new automated system is needed to save lives.

"This project is a big deal," Maj. Ken Bautista, special projects officer, told the Army Times newspaper. "We're hoping to shave four to seven minutes in response time. That's a great amount of time when you're talking about a life-and-death situation."

The project is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year.

Under the new system, military housing residents will be able to talk to a military operator when they call 911 and that operator will be able to automatically transfer the call to the appropriate military emergency agency.

Service members "will be able to get a faster response time when they dial 911," Bautista told the Army Times. "This new system will definitely save time and money to all five services."

Another related problem is an outdated master street address guide, which is a street mapping database that contains street addresses and location information. All branches of the military are currently redoing all street addresses.

Emergency vehicles spend time looking for correct addresses because house addresses aren't clearly identified.

Street names are being changed according to U.S. Postal Service and City and County standards.

The updated street guide is necessary so that the correct locator information can be placed in the automated emergency telephone system and be accessed more quickly by military operators.

City officials were briefed in October on the military's plans.

"Any cooperation we can give them, we will," said Honolulu police Capt. William Chur, of the Communications Division which houses the city's 911 operations. "We're not actively working with them ... (but) we support their efforts."

E-mail to City Desk

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