Revolutionary Reader

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Case Exit

Editor’s Note: The following article, Maps Speed Emergency Services, is retold from an article published in the Naples Daily News, (Florida, USA), Feb. 19, 1978, and reported by Naples Daily News Staff Writer Joe Kollin.

A geographic information system (GIS) was certainly not the first mapping system getting emergency units to the scene of a burning building, drowning, or illegal street race.

And not any more ingenious than a predecessor at the Collier County Sheriff’s Office 911 center where managing addressing information and location data meant magnifying the fine print.

The system in Collier County (Florida, USA) was a $10,000 microfilm reader printer that debuted in February 1978 in the sheriff’s office. The reader printer magnified microfilm to pinpoint where emergency service units were needed and assist emergency operators to route them to the scene.

The reader printer was also a font of information detailing the fire district, patrol zone, or ambulance service in the county and city. Added benefits included the storage space saved and, unlike the paper maps, microfilm did not deteriorate or get torn up.

The reader printer, of course, did not come preloaded. The county’s four full-time 911 emergency operators spent months compiling a street index. They checked every street in the county, block by block to compile a listing of every residence, commercial building, and commercial and public service in the city and county.

Emergency operators—as they were called—could pinpoint every subdivision, condominium, nursing home, school, mobile home park, seasonal apartment, childcare center, restaurant, church, hotel, motel, convenience store, and gas storage facility in the county and city.

You’ve got to hand it to the four full-time 911 emergency operators.

Not only did they compile the index, they also prepared microfilm maps for every street. Each of the hundreds of maps they made show a one-mile square area and each can direct the ambulance service, patrol zone, and fire district to the street.

The index and map used in combination worked even when a panicked caller slammed down the phone receiver before giving sufficient information. Street name but no address? No problem.

According to the article, “With the new system, they [emergency operators] will be able to check the computerized index, flash the map on the microfilm screen and know exactly where it is, how to get there and what ambulance service to call.”

Bill McNulty, Collier County Sheriff’s Office systems analyst [at that time, and quoted in the article], was elated over the effectiveness the index and reader added to the county’s emergency services. He noted the system’s usefulness in the Golden Gate Estates area where fun-strapped vandals repeatedly knocked down street signs.

The maps described in the article gave emergency operators route markers—such as alleys or side entrances to condominium developments—and saved the trouble of responders having to slow down at each intersection to find and read the street sign or check the ground for the vandalized signs. Updated maps of the fast-growing county were microfilmed and added as time went on.

The system was a work in progress and heralded as a boon to public services. “We took the guess work out of finding a location,” McNulty said [as quoted in the article]. “If an ambulance or deputy or fire unit doesn’t know or can’t find an address, we can guide them by radio by using the map.”

Not lost to the past

Microfiche readers are far from obsolete. They are found in libraries, museums, and any place where it is not feasible or cost-effective to digitize manuscript material and dated collections. Some companies still use microfiche and microfilm for their record storage needs. The old low-tech machines are a hot commodity among genealogical researchers and writers of history. Issues of software incompatibility, upgrades, and patches are moot points. The machine simply lets the user read what is on the film.

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office has been an Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE) since 2001. In 2016, they were accredited by CALEA as a Public Safety Communications Center.