9-1-1 service improves for some Island County cell phone users

Calling 911 in an emergency will get a little easier for T-mobile customers in two weeks.

They will be joining Qwest, Verizon and AT&T cell phone customers in having direct 911 service to Island County Emergency Communication Center, or ICOM, in Oak Harbor.

One by one cell phone companies serving Island County will be routed directly to ICOM rather than dispatched through the Washington State Patrol dispatch center in Marysville.

Because cell phones used in Island County do not have a local area code or prefix, in the past most 911 calls made from them were routed to off-island to central state patrol dispatch centers.

When this happens, it can slow down response while the off-island call-taker acts as a middleman for emergency personnel in Island County.

"We will be out at the T-Mobile tower sites next week just make sure everything works," said Tom Shaughnessy, director ICOM.

Customers of several other cell phone companies, Sprint and Cingular will have to wait a bit longer.

"I expect Cingular to up in six weeks and I am waiting to hear from Sprint.

The only one I am concerned about is Nextel because their equipment needs updating," said Shanghnessy.

The greatest number of cell phones users in Island County, according to Shanghnessy are Verizon customers. The other company's customers are considerably fewer in number.

Phase 2 of the enhanced 911 service includes being able to pinpoint exactly where the cell phone user is calling from.

To implement that phase requires updating mapping coordinates of Island County.

But once it's completed and online, the ICOM operator will see an electronic map with the caller's exact location.

"We began the mapping coordinates last October and won't be finished until the end of this year.

"The process involves driving down many driveways for house numbers," Shanghnessy said.

Only two counties in Washington, King and Clallam have this pinpoint service online.

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