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Porter County 911 Celebrates 10th Anniversary

PORTER COUNTY 911:

Countless people have been saved, helped in system's first decade.
BY KEN KOSKY Times Staff Writer

February 28, 2004

A short time after Porter County put its 911 telephone system in place, a child dialed the emergency number and hung up.  Because the caller's information shows up on a screen, police called back, and the man who answered said everything was fine. Officers checked the home anyway as part of their policy and discovered the man had bound, gagged and beaten his wife.  "That's an example of how things changed from before 911 to the 911 days," said Dave Sheibels, the county's 911 director.  Today is the 10th anniversary of Porter County's 911 system.  The success stories are plentiful, like a few years ago when a 3-year-old Burns Harbor boy called 911 to summon help for his mother, who had passed out from an epileptic seizure.  The advent of 911 meant children could be taught to call for help. It meant people visiting from out of the area could call 911 just like they did back home. It also meant panicked people didn't have to remember a seven-digit number or waste valuable minutes calling the operator and waiting for the call to be transferred.  Sheibels said areas without 911 service are now rare. Martin County, the last Indiana county without 911, just got funding for a system.  Porter County's first 911 call, a ceremonial call from the County Commissioners' chambers to the Valparaiso Police Department, came Feb. 28, 1994. The first real call -- someone reporting an accident -- came a short time later.  The number of 911 calls has doubled during the past four to six years, mostly because of cellular phones. When 911 first became available in Porter County, a traffic accident might result in three people reporting it via a land-line phone. Now, it's common for a dozen people to whip out cellular phones, dial 911 and report an accident, Sheibels said. Cases of reckless drivers or drunken drivers being reported are on the rise.  In 2003, the county answered 54,038 911 calls, up from 28,577 in 2000. Those numbers include calls answered by all three dispatching sites -- Valparaiso, Portage and the Porter County Sheriff's Department.  Despite the growing volume of calls, 911 calls are still answered "in one second or less," Sheibels said. Dispatchers know exactly where a land-line caller is calling from. With some cellular phone calls, dispatchers can determine the general area from which the call originated.  Although Porter County's 911 system is state-of-the-art, one problem Sheibels sees on the horizon is people switching from a regular phone company to an Internet phone company. Such phone subscribers don't pay the monthly fee to support their local 911 system. When those people call 911, there's no telling where the call will go, if anywhere.  Sheibels said people also need to be reminded to only use 911 to report accidents or for other emergencies. Routine business calls should be directed to the police departments' seven-digit numbers.  Sheibels, one of the original planners of the system, said officials once promoted the system by publicizing the number and handing out coloring books to children. It's become so mainstream now that people just know to call 911, he said.

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