BENTON -- A life or death emergency is no time to find out E-911 doesn't know how to find your house.
County commissioners discussed addressing problems in the county with Joe Burton, Scott County E-911 administrator, during their regular meeting Tuesday.
One of the major problems E-911 dispatchers have is unofficial streets - those that have not been named and addressed by E-911 officials.
"It starts out as a novelty," said Commissioner Jamie Burger. Residents of private lanes put up a "John Deere Lane" sign on their own, for example, because they think it's cute or to help family and friends find their road.
"Next thing you know, everybody calls it John Deere Lane," said Presiding Commissioner Martin Priggel.
This isn't a problem when an emergency call originates from a traditional wire line at the location of the emergency because these calls usually light up the location on the E-911 dispatching map, Burton said.
If the call is placed from elsewhere, however, or from a cellular phone and the caller tries to tell the dispatcher the unofficial street name, "we may not know where you are," Burton said.
More and more county residents are opting to not have wire lines in their homes. If an emergency call is placed using a cell phone, however, "we're not going to see that on the screen," Burton said.
With more people dropping wire lines for wireless services, "that problem's going to keep expanding," he said.
Burton related to commissioners how recently an emergency call came in "and it really didn't exist in our database or anybody else." While the street was not officially named, it looked like it. "The sign looks exactly like the ones we have made," Burton said.
Many emergency callers won't stay on the line long enough for dispatchers to get missing information from them.
"If they're going to name their street, I need to know it so I can get it on the map," he said. "I need to know every unofficial street name out there."
Burton said it is surprising how many people in the county don't know the number of the county road they live on. "They don't have a clue," he said.
Another significant problem affecting E-911 dispatching is duplicate street names.
Burton said ideally they would only have one street in the entire county with one particular name. Nearly every town has their own Main Street, however, and "Main Streets were here before 9-1-1," he acknowledged.
The real problem is that residents all over the unincorporated county have named streets on their own and put signs up without advising or consulting with E-911 officials.
There are, for example, two unofficial "Dirnberger Lanes" only about two miles apart "and that can really create a major problem," Burton said.
"The first thing we need to do is establish a rule," he said. "Duplicate street names are killing us. We've got to be able to stop that."
Burton said the addressing problems are not unique to Scott County. "It is going on in every county," he said. Many counties have an ordinance in place requiring residents to post their assigned E-911 address.
Phone companies are not supposed to put phone service in without a valid E
-911 address, Burton said. "But they do - they do it all the time."
The county does have authority to require proper addressing, according to Burton, but enforcing it can be an issue.
Commissioners said they would like to bring residents into compliance without forcing them. "It's for their benefit," said Commissioner Dennis Ziegenhorn.
Commissioners said they need to educate county residents on how important it is to have their address matched up with E-911.
Those who have any doubts about their address are encouraged to call the Scott County Communications Center at 545-9113 to confirm their address matches what E-911 has.
Burton said he will tackle this problem by researching how many private lanes are in the county and drawing up a list. "I need to keep a master list of all street names I know of," he said, "and the private ones that aren't official."
Dispatchers are trained to think of the map as a tool - not as an infallible reference, Burton said.
"The map's unreliable," he said. "It is not a bible, set in stone."
As with all computer systems, data entry is crucial - garbage in results in garbage out.
"Our addressing is only as good as the information they give us," Burger said.
"It will never be 100 percent fixed," Burton said.