Addressing project almost complete

Assigning new addresses to 127,000 Sussex county homes is apparently a small task when it is compared with gathering the phone numbers for those homes. County officials need to receive — and are now working on getting — 127,000 phone numbers to complete the decade-old re-addressing project, designed to allow for more efficient emergency response.

“If we don’t get (the phone numbers), what we’ve done so far won’t be of much value,” said Eddy Parker, director of Sussex County’s assessment office. “This is an extremely important part of the process.”

Once the phone numbers are registered alongside addresses in Sussex County’s emergency database, dispatchers will be able to see the address when they receive an emergency call — whether the caller can talk or not.

Sussex County officials need a 95 percent “match-rate” with Sussex County addresses to bring the program online. They are currently at 54 percent. Having the phone numbers will also help emergency dispatchers route calls more efficiently, partnering the call with the correct emergency response team more quickly, officials said Tuesday.

Updating the emergency response process has come in response to population growth in Delaware’s southernmost county that has stressed emergency services in the area, especially since 2000.

In 2000, Sussex County emergency service personnel responded to 11,492 calls, according to Sussex EMS department records. By 2006, that number had risen to 16,272.

“The population growth has impacted emergency services more than any other county department,” county Finance Director Susan Webb noted Tuesday.

Some homes in the unincorporated areas of Sussex County remain to be converted to the new addressing system and will be receiving letters related to their re-addressing in the coming days, officials announced this week. Included in their number are residences in Sea Colony East, outside of Bethany Beach.

After assigning addresses to the remaining unincorporated Sussex County homes, officials will begin a massive effort to retrieve all the phone numbers with mailers and possibly through a door-knocking campaign.

Sussex County officials this week discussed charging a fee to those who do not respond to county queries for phone numbers or adding a line requesting home phone numbers on county tax bills.

Councilman Finley Jones (D-3rd) stressed the need to do something to aggressively solicit public participation and seemed to support a fee but stopped short of introducing a formal resolution.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Jones said Tuesday. “It’s not Uncle Sam getting in your mess, but we just need it to finish the project.”

“We just can’t stress enough the importance of this,” Parker added. “At some point, it is going to be critical.”

Most county municipalities have supported the project and are helping the county achieve the necessary 95 percent match rate, also in hopes of improving response. Many of those municipalities opted out of adopting the county’s five-digit addressing system, instead keeping their existing address numbers for in-town homes. But they have generally forwarded their information to the county for its database.

The new addresses, usually a five-digit numerical coupled with a street or road name, replace the more vague and difficult-to-find rural route mailing addresses that Sussex Countians have used for decades. Those rural route addresses, such as RR 1 Box 123, are difficult for emergency personnel to find because they do not indicate a physical location or a point on a map, officials said.

“It’s imperative for emergency responders to be able to find homes and businesses when time is of the essence, when seconds and minutes can be the difference between life and death,” said Donna Pusey, supervisor of the 911 addressing project within the Mapping & Addressing Division. “We are hopeful the public is aware of that, and will verify their new addresses with our office and their telephone company, and then most importantly, display their new addresses for emergency responders to see.”

In an effort to reinforce the project’s importance, Assessment Director Eddy Parker said Sussex County this spring will launch an awareness campaign in the form of public service announcements. The County also will mail out reminder cards to any property owners and residents who have not verified their 911 addressing information, Parker said.

“We want to make sure the public is fully aware of the re-addressing project and we want them to understand how their participation is essential in making it a success,” Parker said.

Specifically, property owners who receive new 911 addresses must:

First, immediately verify the information printed on the letter and send it back to Sussex County Mapping & Addressing. Property owners can do this by simply filling out the form at the bottom of the enclosed letter, making sure to include the old address, the new physical address supplied by the County and the landline telephone number at that location. That information then must be mailed back to Sussex County. Anyone who has not received a letter, has misplaced it since the first letters went out in 2001 or cannot remember verifying their property’s information should immediately contact the Mapping & Addressing Division at (302) 855-1176;
Contact the telephone company that provides service to that location to report a physical address change. Make sure the telephone company is aware that the new county-issued 911 address is the physical location of the property. The address may not be the same as the billing address for the monthly telephone service. It’s important for the telephone service provider to know the difference;
Lastly, display the new address in a conspicuous location on the property. For more information on how to do this, visit the Web-based document at
Residents and property owners with questions, or who want to verify that their 911 address information is correct and up to date, can contact Pusey’s office at (302) 855-1176.