Navteq to create more accurate county maps

The county awarded digital mapping company Navteq a $200,000 contract last week for the development of accurate maps that will increase the efficiency of emergency responders and planners, as well as the public works department, county officials said.

“We’re going to be able to find people and things faster and better,” said Eric Knutzen, manager of information technology communications and projects for the county.

The new maps will adjust existing data by inches or even yards, Knutzen said. That accuracy will increase efficiencies throughout county operations — everything from the location of public works sites to the planning of evacuation routing and the mapping of flood zones, he said.

It will also provide an essential piece of a 3 1/2 year project that next year will enable emergency responders to pinpoint a 911 caller who uses a mobile telephone, he said.

“We know this is going to save lives,” Knutzen said.

The wireless 911 project, mandated by the state, will make it possible to use cellular towers and mapping technology to locate callers. The technology could be a boon for a county with heavy tourist traffic and a reputation for rugged, unbeaten paths.

“We will have an ability to know within about 300 feet where the caller is calling from,” said Dexter Takashima, communications administrator for the Kaua‘i Police Department.

KPD is in the process of submitting letters to enlist cellular providers, Takashima said.

The county will also need to look into eliminating dead zones, areas where cellular companies do not offer coverage, said Philip Kahue, executive director of the state Wireless Enhanced 911 Board.

The county hasn’t yet submitted its costs to the board, Kahue said. The county must pay to establish the system and request reimbursement from the board, he said.

Payment for the system has become a contentious issue, with mobile phone customers paying their cellular providers about 66 cents a month for the service — an amount some legislators say will surpass the system’s expenses.

A state tax introduced more than two years ago to pay for technology used in locating wireless 911 callers has raised more than $14 million. But only $200,000 of that money has been used.

The state surcharge on cell phone connections went into effect July 2004 with a goal of paying back public safety agencies and wireless carriers for the costs of setting up systems designed to locate wireless 911 callers.

About half of all 911 calls are placed by people using cell phones.

But so far such a system is available only on Maui.

Maui’s system will cost the state a total of $400,000. O‘ahu’s is estimated at $2 million. And both the Big Island’s and Kaua‘i’s systems are estimated to reach up to $400,000 each.

That brings the estimated total to about $3.2 million for the state.

But the board that oversees Hawai‘i’s enhanced wireless 911 fund doesn’t plan to ask the Legislature this upcoming session to reduce or get rid of the tax because the total cost for implementing a statewide system is still uncertain.

“We’re not sure what the costs will be,” said Roy Irei, chairman of the Wireless Enhanced 911 Board. “We’re trying to assess our needs. That’s the reason we’re not seeking to have it reduced at this time.”

Once the technology is up and running across the islands, estimated recurring costs will be about $148,000 per month for counties and $56,000 per month for wireless carriers, said the 911 board’s Kahue.

Meanwhile, the fund continues to amass 66 cents per month from about 860,000 cell phone users across the state, for a total of nearly $570,000 per month.

The board said it also has about $900,000 left over from a $1.2 million federal grant.

State Sen. Sam Slom, R-Diamond Head-Hawai‘i Kai, said the fee was set too high and should be suspended.

“From the very beginning it has been flawed,” Slom said. “How can you go and get money if you don’t know how much it will cost?”

Slom said he doubted the fee would be dropped by the Legislature, which could mean a windfall for the state.

However, Irei said there are other possible uses for the fund, including building cell-phone towers in remote “dead spots” around the state.

• Charlotte Woolard, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or cwoolard@kauaipubco.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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