ST. ANTHONY (WCCO) — When Andrea Peel felt what she thought were the symptoms of a heart attack, the software manager did what anyone is taught to do. She called 911. However, she would have never expected them to have trouble finding her.
Her call on the morning of Jan. 17 was routed into Ramsey County’s emergency communications center in St. Paul. The 911 dispatchers there would be responsible for sending an ambulance and police. And since Peel was calling for help using a cell phone, it was imperative to confirm her exact location. Even with modern GPS technology, cell phones aren’t as easily traced as the conventional land line.
“I said, ‘I’m in Hennepin County, in St. Anthony,” she said. “And when I said ‘St. Anthony’ it confused her and she said,’you’re in Roseville.’ ‘No, I’m in St. Anthony.’”
Immediately, the young woman knew there was something confusing about her location. While she was reciting the building’s address correctly, 3055 Old Highway 8, it wasn’t showing up correctly on the 911 center’s computerized mapping system. The dispatcher handling the call initially placed Peel’s location in Roseville, not St. Anthony.
The confusion is immediately apparent when performed on a mapping search using Google, Yahoo or any other mapping software. A simple web search will reveal the address in at least four other Twin Cities locations.
With each passing second, Peel became more frustrated and concerned, saying, “she (911 operator) didn’t seem to have any idea where I was.”
Part of the confusion can be blamed on the fact that the property is intersected by the Hennepin and Ramsey County border. The building itself along Old Highway 8 sits entirely within Hennepin County. However the parking lot is partially within Ramsey County.
Furthermore, the area’s street numbering system is seriously out of sequence, as pointed out by the head of Ramsey County’s Emergency Communications System.
“In one or two cases we do have on both sides of the border the exact same address of house or building number on both sides of the line,” said Emergency Communications Director Scott Williams
Williams says the problem with Andrea’s confusing call can be blamed on the nearly identical address further up the highway.
“We had a match for the address range that was in Roseville that was close to where the caller verbally said she was,” said Williams.
The communications center’s computer aided dispatching software has now been fixed to plug this so-called “black hole.” And fortunately for Andrea, help arrived without delay. But she wants to make sure any future 911 calls from the building don’t lead to costly confusion.
“What about somebody in the future, that’s what I was thinking,” said Peel. “I was fine and I didn’t pass out. But what if somebody else did and they couldn’t find them?”
Williams added that 70 percent of all 911 calls are now made on a personal cell phone. Despite GPS technology on most smart phones, pinpointing the caller’s location remains a huge challenge for emergency dispatchers.