WILLIAMSTOWN -- The town's participation in a pilot program is helping the state in creating a next-generation emergency dispatch system.
Town Planner Andrew Groff said he and Jason McNair, the town's IT technician and assistant assessor, began working with the state's Office of Geographic Information (MassGIS) to compile more complete and accurate maps of the town about two years ago. That process is setting the stage for how the agency will eventually work with other towns in creating a system that could cut down emergency response time.
"MassGIS is now going out to do what it did with us for the entire state," Groff said.
Christian Jacqz, of MassGIS, said the agency has hundreds of kinds of maps, he said, including ones for open space, district boundaries, and resources and infrastructure. And for the past several years, one of the agency's largest projects has been creating a next-generation 911 system, he said.
"We support the current 911 system by providing a map that is displayed in a call center, so that when a call comes in, it's associated with an address, and the address gets looked up using a geographic information system [GIS]," Jacqz explained. This process, called geocoding, is helpful in that it shows an approximate location for a dispatcher and first responders, he said.
Jacqz said the agency is working to improve this system, which has a success rate of 99 percent.
The current system, called linear geocoding, assumes all addresses in a block are evenly distributed along a street. And since the system only gives first responders an approximate location, an obscured address number or one not visible from the street can lengthen response time, Jacqz said.
Jacqz said a next-generation system would be GIS-based, using a system that stores, analyzes and presents geographic data in an efficient way. The system would be able to match a telephone number to a specific location on a map.
Groff said the agency gave map data to Williamstown, but needed town officials to make the map complete.
"A lot of time you need local knowledge to fill in the gaps," Groff said.
Williams College would present some unique problems with addressing if done on a state level, he said. Someone from out of the area may not know the exact location of a college building's entrance, he said. Spring Street posed another challenge.
"The street has many addresses, with some buildings having multiple addresses," Groff said. In addition, the addresses aren't evenly distributed along the street.
Groff said he and McNair have collected entry points of every building in town.
"We have a master list of addresses in Williamstown now that are tied to physical location," Groff said. "Any database we have in town where we use an address as an identifier, we can now map that."
Groff said the next step is developing procedures to update map data.
"Addresses aren't static," he said. "New buildings get created and old ones are torn down every day."
Groff said the town has already sent its own updates to MassGIS, making Williamstown the first town in the state to submit an updated set of information.
"It's exciting to know we're up on the game," Groff said.
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