with Jerry Hickman
According to Dispatch Magazine On-Line, the first 911 emergency phone number system in the US was implemented with the local phone company in Haleyville, AL, in 1968. In 1999 President Clinton officially designated 911 as the national emergency number. Progress in technology over the years has provided dispatchers and responders with advances in mapping software, Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) displays, and other capabilities. These ensure that the call is routed to the right public safety answering points (PSAP), to the local community, and to the right agency to respond to an emergency.
Not all agencies have advanced mapping capability to assist them in locating the address of an emergency call. A street address alone may not be enough. Streets with the same name may have different designators, such as “Street,” “Drive,” or “Place,” and if a caller hangs up having reported incorrectly, the response will be delayed. In rural areas, long driveways to multiple buildings may cause confusion, as may cul-de-sacs or loops with multiple entrances. Apartment complexes with expansive, winding layouts may create difficulty in locating the correct building. Some rural communities have no street addresses at all. These scenarios highlight the challenges responders may face when trying to locate the call. Enter the 911 Locator Beacon. This beacon can be installed in fixed locations with a landline phone. Future systems will facilitate beacon activation from a cellular phone.
At the Ready sat down with Jerry Hickman, President and CEO of 911 Locator Systems, Inc., to discuss his system. It is available to consumers through about 17 distributors and four major retailers nationwide. If not in your jurisdiction yet, it will be soon. In addition to the obvious benefit of potentially shortened response times, this 911 locator system can also keep responders safe, as Jerry, who has a long fire service background, explains. “Besides expediting them to a location, it will also ensure they are at the correct location. On a fire call it could possibly mean the difference between a ‘room & contents’ call vs. one that is fully involved.” In an apartment complex or other multiple residence structure, walking into “4E” instead of “4D” could have tragic consequences. With the flashing beacon activated, responders can be certain.
The beacons are highly visible, located on mailboxes, poles, or signs next to the house number. The 1.2 million-candlepower beacon strobe is visible up to one and a half miles away at night. For hard- to-find residences, one can be put at the corner of a critical turnoff, on a pole, as well. The bright strobe can also alert local community responders that 911 was called. Jerry tells us, “It also notifies neighbors and off- duty public safety workers to a possible emergency and therefore expedites help.”
This is a consumer product; homeowners, property managers, and other interested parties, such as home builders and Homeowner’s Associations, would be the purchaser. But community awareness of the beacon locator system starts with the local first responder agencies. Currently the technology is hard-wired to the residence, and the call must be made from a landline. Jerry now is developing the next generation of systems. “Although the current models are extremely easy to install, there is a wire between the unit and the strobe. The new model will be totally wireless and a ‘plug & play’ model.” This version may be hitting the market “hopefully within the next 90-120 days. We currently have a working prototype model without the output. We are currently testing several options.” Jerry also is working with a model that will function with cell phone technology.
Integration with existing home monitoring systems is available, but the strobe itself has no monthly monitoring cost. Future upgrades will include a “Next of Kin feature” to automatically alert relatives or other persons “in the event of an emergency.”
A first responder since 1992, Jerry’s passion for his product was inspired by his family of long-time responders. “I grew up in and around the fire service. If my father had lived 4 more months he would have had 50 years in the fire service. My mother was a nurse.” His father spoke of difficulties finding houses in emergency situations; Jerry faced the same challenge when he began his service. Jerry lists testimonials to his product on his website www.2help911.com. Take the time to get to know the 911 Locator System so you will recognize the beacon when you see it in your jurisdiction. Consider locations in your community that might benefit from this technology. “Help the Heroes… Help You.”