Riley County Commissioners have given the Next Generation 911 committee direction to move forward naming, renaming and in some cases, renumbering private roads in unincorporated parts of the county.

The goal is improving safety for emergency services, who may be called out to certain parts of the county that don’t match up with its numbering grid and could cause a delay in someone getting help. County Clerk Rich Vargo said Thursday it’s a contentious issue for many residents, tied to emotions and a resistance to change.

“At some point in time, everyone needs to be brought up to the same standards for the services that all these people provide.” said Vargo. “If there’s a fire it may be easy to spot where the location is, but if I’m having a heart attack he may not be able to find me.”

Last year the process to name and renumber a private road off Anderson Ave. stalled due to protest and the former commission declined to go forward if there wouldn’t be subsequent renumbering. Newly elected commissioner Kathryn Focke says it’s a process that needs to move forward with careful precision.

“I think we need to handle this carefully with the owners of the property so they don’t think we’re just pushing this on them. And for them to understand where the EMS is, it’s really important. I would like to see a presentation on on where the properties are and how many people are involved.”

County commissioners created the Next Generation 911 committee in 2017 to begin the process. Zoning Enforcement Officer Steve Higgins told county commissioners Thursday that ambulance drivers have been called out to incorrect locations in the past, impacting their response times and abilities in an emergency situation.

“Getting these exact and on these grids for these guys to know. I’ve seen it. It is very important that the numbers have to match for these guys. They’re out there coming in trying to save somebody’s life or whatever, they can’t get to you, well they’re doing their best.”

Commission Chair John Ford added despite some resistance to change by some county residents, a change is imminent.

“We’re gonna have to make that change, it’s an emergency and safety issue. We have responsibility, and we have a liability if something goes wrong in that particular instance regardless if we can change those numbers or not.”

The committee plans to bring back the item for further discussion at a future public hearing.

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