Cell tower issues in Aiken County result in 911 calls routed to Orangeburg County

Monday, July 22, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

The Salley Police Chief says 911 calls says 911 calls in Aiken County are being routed to Orangeburg County, resulting in a delayed emergency response time. (Source: WRDW/WAGT)

SALLEY, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- Imagine calling 911 and instead of instant help in a chaotic situation, you get bounced around. That's the situation for some folks in Aiken County, and it has to do with spotty cell coverage.

This past weekend, a 911 call to Salley Police was directed to Orangeburg County since there are no working cell towers in Salley. According to a statement from Verizon, everything is operating correctly.

"This has to do with how 911 calls are routed on a wireless network. Salley is near the border of Orangeburg County, and some areas of Salley are served by a site in Orangeburg County. 911 calls are routed to the nearest PSAP (public-safety answering provider) with the highest population, which in this case would be Orangeburg. The calls are currently being routed as designed," said a spokesperson for Verizon.

But, Chief Jarrod Goldman of the Salley Police Department is not satisfied. He believes the problem could be simply solved if Verizon, or any other service provider, bought a lease on one of the two cell towers in Salley. Those cell towers currently stand unused.

"It's going to come down to somebody dying before these cell phone companies step up," he said.

 Chief Goldman has been working for over a year to try to bring better service to Salley. 

"They take our money. We pay the same thing everybody in Aiken and North Augusta and anywhere else. They take our money, but they don't give us the service that everyone else has," he said.

This weekend, the problem came to a clear head when a shooting incident occurred in Salley. The call was routed to Orangeburg County, even though the shooting happened in Aiken County.

Once Orangeburg realizes the incident is not in their jurisdiction, they must transfer the call over to Aiken County. Then, the caller must re-explain the incident to the dispatcher in Aiken County. Then, the Aiken County dispatcher must alert the appropriate precinct, which in this case, is the Salley Police Department.

All of these extra steps add precious minutes that could mean the difference between life and death.

Chief Goldman thinks the original call got to Orangeburg County around 8:47pm. The call got rerouted to Aiken County at 8:53pm. Aiken County alerted the Salley Police Department at 8:57pm, and Chief Goldman got to the scene at 9:00pm.

"You got officers three minutes away but it took well over 10 minutes to actually get the call out to get us there," said Chief Goldman.

Verizon says they will continue to investigate the coverage in Salley, Perry, and Wagener but as far as the 911 call-routing is concerned, they say everything is working as it is designed.

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