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Modern Address System Could Be Ready in Two Years, Senators Told

Replacing the territory’s antiquated address system with a modern, comprehensive system will take a few years and up to a million dollars, but it will save lives and improve governmental service and efficiency, a group of witnesses told a Senate panel Wednesday morning.
Meeting Wednesday at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Chamber on St. Thomas, the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Energy & Technology heard an update on the efforts to implement Geographical Information System (GIS) technology in the territory.
Theresa Anduze-Parris, the lieutenant governor’s GIS coordinator, said changing to a standard addressing system would offer huge benefits to the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the issue driving the movement is the territory’s new emergency 911 system.
When a person in distress calls 911, the system gives displays for the dispatcher, including the phone number the person is calling from and their location. Ideally, it would actually display the location on a map, which could be viewed from the responding vehicle.
But because the territory does not have a unique street address for each property, the dispatcher has to get directions from the caller, and sometimes that can be a problem.
Mark Walters, director of the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency, presented a recording of a dispatcher trying to get directions from a caller and repeat them to an emergency response vehicle en route; the cross-talk and confusion told a story of potential disaster.
There was also the reports of someone calling the police because of an intruder in the house, who described the color of the building. When police got there, all the houses on the street were the same color.
And then there was a child who called 911 because her mother wouldn’t wake up who knew only that she lived “on a dirt road.” In that case, fortunately, the dispatcher was able to find out what school the child attended, and had her describe her route when she walked home.
And when, for technical reasons, a call from one island is answered at the 911 center on the other island, the chances for confusion multiply, Walker added.
If all a standardized addressing system accomplished was saving lives, that would be plenty, committee chairman Sen. Craig Barshinger said. But there’s actually much more for both government and the public.
A full GIS system, in which all the information about properties is able to be mapped, would make work more efficient for most government services, planning, public works, taxing, utilities and more. It would be easier and faster to determine which school zone a student lived in, or what district a resident should be voting in, Anduze-Parris said.
Businesses would be able to make deliveries more efficiently and target advertising to specific areas, while individuals would be able to find properties – whether a business or a friend’s house or anything else – without having to make two or more phone calls to get directions, then clarification of the directions.
Also, tourists would be able to use online mapping systems to find restaurants, shops and other sites, and portable GPS systems would be able to help people navigate around the islands.
The first step in setting up such a system is a territory-wide workshop in which key decision makers and interested lawmakers can get together and begin planning. Such a workshop would cost about $6,000, Anduze-Parris said.
That would be followed by an “aggressive study” of what is already in place, and what direction the territory wants to pursue. Within a year, a prototype could be developed, and then within two years a complete territorial addressing system could be in place, she said.
It’s difficult to be precise about the cost because there are so many variables, she said, but an estimate of $500,000 to $1 million is probably in the ballpark, she said.

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