Uniform Addressing – The Right Call

Written by Sheriff Scott Parks


As your Sheriff here in Marathon County, I’m responsible for ensuring that people who call 9-1-1 in an emergency get the right service dispatched to them as quickly as possible. Our department is extremely fortunate to have a highly skilled and dedicated team of Public Safety Telecommunicators (PSTs) in our Communications Division doing their part to serve citizens and visitors in Marathon County.

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Fielding over 150,000 9-1-1 calls per year — and serving as the primary Dispatch Center for 12 Law Enforcement agencies and 33 Fire / Emergency Medical Services operations — is no easy task.

Still, you might be surprised to learn:

The biggest challenge our dispatchers have is trying to determine the location of the emergency — where to send help.

One main reason for that difficulty is that Marathon County still relies on an antiquated, complex, rural addressing system, comprised of 10 independent address grids for our numerous towns.

The result?

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A patchwork system with incongruent numbering, countless duplicate road names and addresses, and several segmented roadways that start and stop with no apparent rhyme or reason. But the problems don’t end with our rural addressing system…

Most cities and villages in the county have their own, independent addressing systems — many of which have their own duplicate names and address numbers!

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Our addressing system was built in a time of landline phones, which automatically verified a caller’s location.

But today, we live in a cell phone era. Over 70% of emergency calls are now placed from cell phones.

Contrary to what we all see on TV, cell phones do not always provide Emergency Dispatch with location information. In fact:

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For more than 65% of emergency calls from cell phones, the Sherriff’s Office is fully dependent on the caller to provide accurate information as to where he or she is and where help is needed!

As you might imagine, callers who are injured (or who are witnessing an emergency) are often excited, agitated, disoriented, or confused — making it very difficult to gather information. Moreover, many emergency callers are unfamiliar with the area. In addition, more and more 9-1-1 calls are coming from young children.

Even if a caller on a cell phone is near a street sign or knows that she is on Pine Road, she may be unable to tell the dispatcher which municipality that particular Pine Road is in. That gives us reason to be concerned…

Why?

There are 27 Pine Roads listed in Marathon County!

Unable to use our automated, landline-based Emergency Response System to instantly confirm which Pine Road to dispatch assistance to, our PSTs must spend precious time — when seconds matter — simply determining where to send help.

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The reality is that without accurate and timely location information, our Communications team might inadvertently dispatch services to the wrong location.

Despite our best efforts, this does happen. In fact…

Very recently — because of our lack of a Uniform Addressing System — an ambulance was dispatched to an address on Weston Avenue in the City of Wausau when the emergency was actually taking place at a residence with the same address number on Weston Avenue in the Village of Weston.

Thankfully, these situations are relatively infrequent. But even one time is too often — especially if it happens to YOUR family. All citizens of Marathon County should be able to count on emergency services when placing a 9-1-1 call for themselves or a loved one.

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By 2016, nearly every county in Wisconsin had moved away from these patchwork addressing systems.

Faced with the reality of having to significantly upgrade its technology infrastructure, the Marathon County Board made the decision to move to a Uniform Addressing System. While this transition will certainly represent a short period of inconvenience — and we will undoubtedly have to work through issues as we press forward with implementation of the new system — make no mistake, the Marathon County Board made the RIGHT decision.

I am extremely proud of our County Board for the courage and leadership that it demonstrated during this decision-making process. It would have been easy to take a short-sighted view of this issue — knowing that some within the community would be extremely vocal about the temporary inconvenience and the short-term costs of the transition — and do nothing.

Instead, our County Board Supervisors took the time to educate themselves on the issues and — in recognition of their responsibility to the long-term safety and prosperity of the people of Marathon County — demonstrated the courage to do what is right by moving forward with a Uniform Addressing System.

Similarly, I commend each of the elected officials in the Villages of Elderon, Stratford, and Weston, who showed great leadership within their communities by committing to the Uniform Addressing Program.

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Far too often in government, we see leaders who fall short of following through on their commitments to the people they are elected to serve. Marathon County’s commitment to Uniform Addressing is government at its best — an example of courageous leadership that will serve to benefit everyone who lives in, works in, and visits Marathon County for decades to come.

As your Sheriff, and as a resident of Marathon County, I want to say THANK YOU to the Marathon County Board, other local elected officials, and all the dedicated staff who are working to make Uniform Addressing a reality in Marathon County.

If you have questions on whether your street will be renamed, cost-sharing plans for participating towns/villages/cities, and timelines for implementation, I invite you to visit MyMarathonCountyAddress.org for further details, maps, and updates.

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Sheriff_Scott_ParksScott Parks

Sheriff  |  Marathon County Sheriff’s Office

Scott Parks started his career with the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office in 1979. Scott currently serves as the Marathon County Sheriff. Throughout Scott’s career, he has worked in each division of the Sheriff’s Office except the Communications Division. Scott served as a Deputy Sheriff (Corrections, Patrol Field Training Officer), a Narcotics Investigator, a Detective, and a Lieutenant (Patrol, Special Investigations Unit, Detective). Scott was a member of the Special Response Team (SWAT) on the entry team, advancing to Assault Team Leader and later the Team Commander. Scott was the Chief Deputy until being appointed by the Governor to Sheriff in May 2013. Scott was elected to remain the Sheriff in the November 2014 election. Scott has been an Adjunct Instructor for Northcentral Technical College, teaching subjects related to criminal investigations, crime scene processing, and report writing.  Email Sheriff Scott Parks


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