911 address changes spur controversy

PHILIPPI – Questions about 911 addressing and mapping procedures in Philippi stirred controversy at last week’s Philippi City Council meeting.

Mayor Jerry Mouser said that he believes the council and the Philippi Planning Commission were not given all of the information they needed to make an informed decision about the addressing and mapping process in 2009.

Mouser said commissioners and council members were not aware that Philippi could opt out of the county’s addressing and mapping ordinance within 120 days by creating a local ordinance.

Mouser said he was on the 2009 Planning Commission when the Office of Emergency Management director at the time presented only three choices to the members. He said a city ordinance was not one of the options. He said the issue deserves a fair hearing and an informed vote.

“It was my impression that what was presented to the Planning Commission – we had to accept one of those three choices,” Mouser said. “Now I’m finding out that might not have been the case.”

He said later, “It would appear that we were not armed with all the information.” He added that he was speaking for himself, and not necessarily for the rest of the council.

The already changed addresses of Philippi residents would change once again if a new ordinance were to be adopted, Councilman Ed Larry said.

Doyle Cutright II, Geographic Information System coordinator, and Cindy Hart, OEM director, said the question of whether to make the change is up to city officials.

Larry said, “I’ll be upset if we change again,” adding that he already has changed his address from a rural route to multiple different street addresses over time.

Cutright said that if Philippi passed its own ordinance, it would have to employ its own addressing and mapping coordinator to start the entire process anew. Cutright said that Barbour County absorbed the cost of the system that is already in place.

Council members voted to allow Cutright and Hart to ask a representative from Homeland Security to attend an upcoming meeting to clarify some still-unresolved concerns. According to OEM officials, Homeland Security is the agency that initiated the addressing and mapping changes that were later passed on to the OEM to complete.

The 120 days for Philippi to opt out and create its own ordinance have come and gone. However, Dean Springer of Philippi, who said he is a former employee of Homeland Security, said county code contains language that would still allow council to consider enacting its own ordinance for addressing and mapping. Springer said the code refers to the 120-day limit as an initial benchmark date.

“(The code) also says ‘or later enacted,'” Springer said about the city’s option to adopt a separate ordinance. “That’s why we can discuss this today and not give up our sovereignty of our city to a county or to a state. It is a sovereignty issue that we’re dealing with here. The city has to rule on what they want to do.”

Springer said that other areas, such as Grafton, changed only certain addresses in order to become compliant with Homeland Security requirements.

Springer said a compliant address has an identification number, a street name, a street type like avenue or boulevard, a city name and a zip code. He said that all rural route addresses would receive a mandatory change.

Hart said that the changes were designed to help emergency responders more easily locate someone’s home. The house numbers were based on measurable distances so that when an ambulance, for example, drove to a residential street, the driver would know a house could be found at an exact distance from the intersection of that street.

The ambulance driver also would know that odd numbers are on the left and even numbers are on the right. Hart said previous house numbers seemed random.

“Those two minutes of me looking for your house is really going to be the difference of someone living or dying,” Hart said.

Councilman Terrence Boyd said that the new system makes a positive difference in responders’ ability to locate a home in an emergency.

Not everyone agreed. Kenny Moats of Philippi said that he believes the new addresses cause more confusion.

“If this system that’s set up now is such a whiz, why did the ambulance miss a house by two miles?” Moats said, referring to a recent incident he claimed occurred in Philippi. “They finally had to come back to the old addresses to find out where they were. Two miles too far up the road. If you’re going to save a person in two seconds, you’ve already lost two seconds… They’re flying by the seat of their britches.”

Larry Jett of Philippi asked council members to pass a resolution against the changes implemented by the OEM.

He said, “To change all the house numbers in Philippi is extreme.” He added, ” It is not recommended by the state board and not needed to comply with the state regulations. The changes proposed by the Barbour County Office of Emergency Management will be an unnecessary burden to the citizens of Philippi.”