Ocean City Renews Effort To Handle Own 911 Calls

OCEAN CITY — Eliminating the need for 911 calls generated in Ocean City to be routed to Snow Hill before being relayed back to the resort’s emergency service providers remains a goal for resort officials.

For years, 911 emergency calls originating in Ocean City have been relayed to Worcester County’s call center in Snow Hill before being sent back to the appropriate emergency service providers in the resort. While the system has worked for the most part and no major lags in response times have been reported over the years, there remains the potential for critical seconds lost.

The issue is certainly not a new one and it was broached again this week during larger discussions on updating the resort’s strategic plan. Ocean City Emergency Services Director Joe Theobald said, by and large, the system does work.

“It has worked,” he said. “I’m not going to say there haven’t been times when response times have been a factor. We’re kind of a stand-alone, but that’s the way it has always been.”

However, Theobald acknowledged there were times when critical seconds were lost because of the relayed calls. About 100,000 911 calls originate from Ocean City.

“There is a time factor,” he said. “There are seconds used to receive the call in Snow Hill, ask the appropriate questions and then relay the calls back to Ocean City. We then have to ask a lot of the same questions on our end to determine what resources are needed and where.”

There is also a financial element to the issue. Councilman Mark Paddack said he attended a Maryland Municipal League (MML) summer conference on the increased per-line fees on cell phones and land-lines to offset the cost of the 911 service and how those fees are redistributed to call centers.

“During the summer conference, I learned the fees attached to each cell phone and each land-line are increasing and I asked how Ocean City was going to get some of that money,” he said. “I was told it goes right to the county. We all know we’re not going to get any of that. The reality is, the county is not going to work with us, but it’s a discussion worth having.”

Ocean City Fire Chief Richie Bowers said there were obvious flaws with the current system.

“There are two things you lose,” he said. “First of all, I know all of the people at our call center and they know my number whenever there is an emergency. Also, it potentially increases our time to respond to calls from citizens in our city. That is so critical.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight was adamant about exploring efforts to eliminate the unnecessary step in the current system.

“I want our calls to come right into 65th Street,” she said. “I want it here.”

It was learned during Wednesday’s session the state collects 25 cents per cell phone number or land-line for the 911 service, while the county collects 75 cents. Mayor Rick Meehan said the county gets that substantial funding, but little of it trickles back to Ocean City to support its emergency services. He said getting the county to relinquish the 911 service in Ocean City would be challenging.

“Worcester County doesn’t want to give it up because they make so much money on it,” he said. “They aren’t willing to do that, despite the potential for better response times.”

After considerable debate, Ocean City officials decided to ask for additional revenue during the annual request for funding from the county and to seek a legislative remedy that would designate Ocean City as its own stand-alone 911 call center.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.