Representatives from a number of counties in Northwest Oklahoma discussed a variety of 911 service issues during the town hall meeting held by the state’s 911 Advisory Board in Woodward Tuesday.

Officials from Caddo, Garfield, Grant, Kingfisher, Texas, Woods and Woodward County talked about issues ranging from funding to how to keep up with ever changing communication technology.

Gene Thaxton, chairman of the 911 Advisory Board, opened the meeting by explaining the purpose of the advisory board. Thaxton said the 21-member board was created a few years ago with the purpose of identifying the 911 issues throughout the state and then generating a report listing recommendations to be presented to the state legislature on how to address those issues.

“Our goal,” he said, “is for everybody in the state of Oklahoma to have good, reliable 911 service.”

Thaxton said the popularity of cell phones has led to many reliability problems, noting “cell phone coverage is not good in Oklahoma.”

He said because of the way cell phone companies now operate, when a 911 call is made from a cell phone in certain areas there is no way for the 911 responder to know where the call is coming from unless the person calling 911 knows, which is not always the case.

For example, he said “if you are north of Guthrie on I-35 then there is no telling where the call is coming from.”

John Farris, the 911/Safety director for Woods County, and Rita Hill, with the Guymon Police Department, brought up questions about how further advances in technology, such as voice-over IP, could further complicate a city’s or county’s ability to offer reliable 911 service.

David Gold, a senior consultant for Intrado, the company in charge of compiling the recommendation report, explained that some of those issues will just have to be addressed at a later date since the focus right now is to be able to provide basic service to each citizen.

However, funding seemed to be one of the biggest issues, especially for counties with small populations.

In fact, even most of the conversation surrounding wireless issues centered around how the increased use of cell phones has led to a drop in revenue as there are less and less landlines.

Ted Craighead, a Woodward County Commissioner, said while Woodward has passed a resolution that cell phone users be charged a 50 cent fee to cover 911 services, that fee is not enough to account for the revenue losses.

“The surcharge is just a fraction of what we need,” he said.

When Craighead asked whether the state could mandate a higher fee, Gold replied that it was the state that set the 50 cent fee. However, he also noted that the 50 cent fee wasn’t achieved without a fight with the cell phone providers.

But it is an issue that will probably come up again, Gold said, as cell phone use continues to increase.

Several officials from counties with small populations discussed how even with the cell phone surcharges as well as landline fees, they cannot collect enough money to update their 911 systems.

However, Sherri Eulberg, the executive assistant to the Grant County Commissioners, said was able to overcome that issue by teaming up with Woods County in order to update their 911 system, since neither county could afford to do it alone.

After the meeting was over both Thaxton and Gold said they were impressed by the amount of input given at the meeting.

Gold said it was the best of the four town hall meetings that the board held this month. (The other meetings were held in Ardmore, Claremore and Antlers.)

“It had the best back and forth,” he said, “the best communication.”

Thaxton agreed, saying “it was a good discussion.”

“We got a lot of good comments we can put in the report to the legislators,” he said.

Thaxton also noted that they hope to have the report finished by the end of October so that it will be ready to present to the state representatives and senators during the upcoming legislative session.

Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, was in attendance, and before leaving he noted that he was “anxious” to read the report.

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