TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Tompkins County Information Technology Services is working to update its database systems that deal with addresses throughout the entire county. At a recent Tompkins County Council of Governments (TCCOG) meeting, Gregg Potter, director of ITS, gave a presentation with general updates on the projects.

The task of streamlining how addresses are handled throughout the county split off into two different projects: one focused on updating the existing database to add additional fields like unit numbers for apartment complexes as well as adding address points for all addresses rather than relying on the road centerline location previously provided.

One of the issues the update intends to correct is the potential confusion Emergency Medical Services (EMS) dispatchers face when receiving a call. During the address identification process, dispatchers use several tools, like the address the call is placed from (if it’s a landline), nearby cell phone towers and an address database, the details of which vary depending on the county or municipality and the level of detail provided. More than 80% of 911 calls come from a cell phone, and between the different carriers and cell towers, there’s no centralized way to determine the exact location quickly based on the call alone. 

Dispatchers also locate the address by asking the caller identifying questions, though the discrepancies between calls can be large depending on whether the caller knows where they are or not, and what types of questions the dispatcher asks to begin with.

Recently, EMS responders faced this problem when responding to a call that came from Cayuga County cell towers for an address in Tompkins County. In this case, the street number and name were the same, and the only differentiating details between the two addresses was the county which was not identified on the call and misidentified due to the cell towers, leading responders to the wrong address at first.

John Halaychik, communications center manager for the Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response, said that 911 services utilize a database called the Master Street Address Guide (MSAG). Each municipality reports address information into the GIS system, which then is forwarded out to Verizon, which maintains MSAG, and one to the 911 center and its computer-aided dispatch system.

The other project is the creation of a system specifically for municipal code enforcement officers to reference when trying to locate a certain street or when naming new streets, a problem that was discovered during the initial editing phase of the address database mentioned above, in which there are multiple streets with the same name, sometimes even with the same numbering system.

Though this one is not publicly accessible, it may be at some point in the future (that is yet to be decided), ITS is merging and consolidating how addresses are logged and updated, as well as how new streets and addresses are named or created with new developments and construction. 

Cattyann Campbell, one of the ITS administrators who has been working with the two databases, said that adding the address points, rather than just relying on the road centerline, is somewhat unique to Tompkins County. “Adding that [address] point in our county helps to alleviate some of the issues with having the same addresses,” she said.

In some cases, even three counties may have the same street number and name, which obviously adds a layer of confusion if the zip code or county isn’t specified during a call or interaction.

The address change and creation hub is still in the fairly early phase of being utilized across all municipalities in Tompkins County. The municipality hub includes data down to the unit building and number, and Lansing, Dryden and the Town of Ithaca have relied on address parcel and ownership records provided by the county, which is something that changes frequently and will hopefully be addressed by the new standardized entry fields.

As of the end of April, 92 submissions had been provided, with the most from the towns of Ithaca and Lansing. The City of Ithaca has only recently adopted the new address management system.

Because each municipality currently assigns its own addresses as new developments are made, Potter said that the intent of ITS project “is to continue our collaboration and coordination on the management of address across the county, then review whether the structure of the assignment of new addresses should be one that is centralized versus decentralized.”

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...