Sussex County officials started the process more than eight years ago. In all of the un-incorporated areas of the county, they have readdressed properties with five-digit street addresses and plugged them into a county-wide map. Once updated, that map is sent to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where it is used to screen 911 calls.
At its 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting, Ocean View officials will consider — in the form of a public hearing — making the town only the second municipality to renumber properties in accordance with the five-digit county system. (Dagsboro officials recently allowed the county to readdress the town.)
“I just want to make sure if there’s an emergency all of the first responders know where to go,” said Kathy Roth, Ocean View’s town manager. “But we have to have an ordinance to enforce it,” she added. Hence Tuesday’s public hearing.
If the town is included on the county map that is sent to the EOC, a grid in the center’s control room will pinpoint the exact location of the originating property when a dispatcher answers a 911 call. The person calling with the emergency will not, anymore, have to give emergency personnel directions — ideally saving time.
“It allows us to locate someone a lot quicker,” said Joe Thomas, the director of the EOC.
Adopting the five-digit county numbering system is not the only option, though. While the five-digit addresses are helpful, Thomas said — especially in rural areas — incorporated areas such as Ocean View can opt to send its current, or an updated, address system to the county. That municipal address system will then be entered into the county mapping system.
Neighboring towns such as Bethany Beach and Selbyville have exercised that option rather than allowing the county to readdress the town, said Donna Pusey, the supervisor of 911 addressing for the county.
After talking to Millville Fire Company officials, Roth said opting out is an attractive option for the Ocean View, as well, because the company is familiar with the town’s current addressing system. Either way, though, Pusey said it would be helpful to have the town’s information — whether it’s under the county’s five-digit system or the current municipal one.
“Once we get that information, we can key it into our data base so at least we have some reference points (for the dispatchers),” Pusey said.
Readdressing, however, isn’t the only important part of the process, Pusey added. A possible ordinance would require town residents to post the addresses so emergency personnel can identify the house which has the emergency. Pusey said the county recently passed an ordinance — which carries a fine for non-compliance — stating that the addresses have to be posted either with three-inch letters on a mailbox or four-inch letters on the house.
“It’s hard — especially for the older people — because they think, ‘I’m Bill Smith — the people at the fire department know where I live,’” Pusey said. “But these people don’t know the (residents) like they used to with the way development has been going.”
Pusey said, however, that the ordinance requiring residents to post their addresses is not the controversial part of the process. That controversy might come if residents of the municipalities have to change their addresses, she added. The county official said, though, that Dagsboro residents welcomed the idea of changing addresses for emergency purposes.
“They had meetings; they informed the residents that, ‘Hey, you’re going to receive a new address,’” Pusey said, “And they were OK with it, shockingly.”
Pusey continued, saying that while she might attend Tuesday’s meeting to answer any questions town officials or residents may have about the program, she does not intend to influence council’s opinion on the issue.
“It’s their decision,” she said.