by Kate Shunney
Several dozen Hancock residents attended last Tuesday’s public meeting about proposed changes to addresses and road names here as part of a countywide 911 system upgrade.
Residents were vocal about the impact the changes would have on them, from forcing them to redo legal documents to changing utility and pension accounts.
Washington County emergency officials, along with local fire officers, were on hand at the meeting on February 25 at the Hancock Town Hall to answer questions.
The two-hour meeting began with an overview of the NextGen 911 system by Bud Gudmundson, Washington County’s GIS manager.
Gudmundson said the new 911 system will be all digital, able to accept texts and videos and not just phone calls to report emergencies. He said the Next Gen 911 is the “new standard nationwide.”
Changes to Hancock street names and to some address numbers are required for the new system as the county tries to pin down the exact location of every address in digital maps, said Gudmundson.
“They must be accurate enough to rely on in life and death situations,” he said.
Corrections to any irregular address numbers, duplicate road names or incorrect addresses have to be made before the county imports its mapping information into the dispatch system, county officials said.
“We understand any changes are disruptive. We don’t take this lightly,” Gudmundson told Hancock residents at the meeting.
He pointed out that new paid fire and EMS staffing plans around the county are another reason for removing any errors from 911 maps.
“Your local responders may not be the ones responding to emergency calls,” Gudmundson said. “New staffing models will put people in stations that don’t live in Hancock.”
Residents were divided into three main groups for the remainder of the public meeting – those living on Maryland Avenue, those on Virginia Avenue and residents along Grove Circle and Fleming Drive.
Before breaking out into those groups, David Hays, Washington County’s Director of Emergency Services, told residents that changes in technology have made in necessary for 911 systems to change to digital addressing and mapping.
He said 20 years ago when he worked in the dispatch center, all 911 calls came from a landline phone. Those lines were tied to physical addresses, which made it easier for first responders to find those who called for help.
“Now, 78 percent of all 911 calls originate from a cell phone. We don’t have the technology to know exactly where you are at that moment,” Hays said.
He said there are ways to pinpoint a cell phone’s location, but that process can take minutes to complete.
“I guarantee that if you’re not breathing, time matters,” said Hays.
“We want to eliminate any possibility of error in getting an ambulance to you,” Gudmundson said.
Commissioners Wayne Keefer and Jeff Kline attended the meeting, saying they wanted to listen to the public’s concerns and learn more about the upgrade process.
Half a dozen residents of the Quaker Creek apartments gathered to ask questions about the proposed addressing changes in their location. One resident said they received a letter from the county saying they wanted to renumber the apartment buildings and add unit numbers. No road name changes are proposed there. Residents said it would be a big inconvenience to change all of their mailing addresses, accounts and identification documents if the county moves ahead with the renumbering. Several said they didn’t feel they had a say in the change, which looked likely to happen no matter what.
That feeling was repeated among a group of homeowners and residents along Grove Circle and Fleming Drive. Both of those road names are targeted for a change, along with updates to individual house numbers.
Jennifer Kinzer, GIS coordinator with the Washington County Department of Planning and Zoning, told residents the county is proposing to change the house numbers to make sure the even and odd numbers are not on the same side of the street.
Since there are duplicate Grove and Fleming street names in the county, emergency officials are also proposing to change the names of those two Hancock streets at the same time they change house numbers.
Kinzer said 27 addresses on Fleming and Grove are wrong and have to be fixed.
Diana Bowman said Grove Circle has been in existence for 50 years, and no emergency unit has had trouble finding homes there before.
“There’s only 12 houses there. How hard can it be?”
She said she had just received a new passport, and now faces the cost and time of replacing it at a cost of $110, just to change her address even though she hasn’t moved.
Kinzer said she understood the inconvenience that homeowners will bear with the changes.
“Everybody that goes through the change will have to pay,” she said.
Kinzer said the county will provide an official address change letter on county letterhead that residents can use to notify account holders, Social Security officials, utilities and others of the 911-address change. She said residents will have a year to change their address on documents. The county will provide individual homeowners with new address numbers to affix to their homes and will put up new road name signs.
“I understand what you’re saying about not wanting to change, pay for it,” said Tom Brown, Washington County’s Assistant Director of Emergency Management & Communications.
“We just want the person at 911 to get it right,” he said.
“But we’re the ones paying to change it,” said resident Tammy Smith.
“You’re right. You’re paying to make it right,” Brown said.
Harold Bowman noted that many residents in Grove Circle and Fleming Drive are older.
“That’s a lot of hassle to put on someone who’s 85,” Bowman said.
Resident Tom Winebrenner ticked off a list of places he’d have to send notification of the change.
“I’m going to have to change my driver’s license, registration, retirement, Social Security and every credit card in my wallet – all that has to be changed,” said Winebrenner.
Brown said he understood the inconvenience the change would cause. He said in areas with older residents, “that’s all the more reason to make sure it’s accurate.”
“I’ve been in the same house for 40 years. They can find me. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Winebrenner said.
Kinzer told residents they have until this Friday, March 6 to propose new names for roads that are being targeted for change. Residents can call 240-313-2436 with name suggestions or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to a letter sent to residents, the address changes will go into effect on March 16.
County officials said the NextGen 911 system is expected to be implemented within the next year or 18 months. All address changes have to be made prior to the system going live.