Porter County man hopes GPS signs mean happy trails for all

2013-11-17T00:00:00Z Porter County man hopes GPS signs mean happy trails for allBy Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com
November 17, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As a veteran, top-ranked marathon runner and triathlete, Bill Pauley is used to racing against time, but he's been involved in a different race this year. A race to save lives.

Pauley, 78, of Union Township, started this race in January 2012 when Danny Norris, a friend and fellow runner, had a heart attack and died while running with another running companion, Ed Burns, at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Burns had to run to his car to retrieve his cellphone to call 911. Asked by the dispatcher for his location, Burns couldn't provide the address of the park or the precise location in the park where Norris lay dying.

Pauley knew something had to be done to make it easier for people who don't know the address or who are places where more than an address is needed. He didn't know what the solution was until a trip to Florida, where, while jogging on a trail, he saw decals telling people to call 911 and providing coordinates for the emergency crews.

He took the idea to Porter County Commissioner Nancy Adams, who directed him to the parks department, where he worked with Parks Planner Raymond Joseph to put together a PowerPoint presentation to pitch the idea to the Board of Commissioners. Pauley asked for $8,840 to put the signs all over the county. Board President John Evans upped that to $10,000, and it was approved.

The first place he approached was the state park. Pauley worked with park management and Porter County Communications Director John Jokantas to design the signs and come up with locations in the park to place them. Then the 911 department came out to map the locations with a global positioning satellite address that was registered with the dispatch system.

"Basically they are where trails come together, at the start of trails, at the picnic pavilions ... anywhere we thought might help emergency workers locate them," Pauley said. "We came up with a numbering system for each location, so any time they get a call, if they can give the location on the sign, they would be able to get help."

He said the National Park Service agreed to design and install its own signs at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore so they would coordinate with other park markers.

Figuring this was too good an idea to let die there, Pauley has been on a personal mission to get the signs in every park in the county. He made appeals to every community. With the county paying the tab for the signs, it has been a no-brainer. Everybody agreed to have them installed, and now it's just a matter of getting the signs for everyone and getting them installed.

Pauley said the signs can help people with more than health emergencies. They can come in handy if someone's car is broken into, if they are attacked, if they see a suspicious person, if they are lost on the trails or in other emergencies.

Pauley contacted Porter County Surveyor Kevin Breitzke about having signs placed on the bridges along the Kankakee River for boaters to use.

Pauley said he's not interested in personally carrying his crusade beyond the county borders, although he did speak to the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission's ped, pedal and paddle committee.

"I've done all I'm going to do in the county," he said. "Now I'm going to push to get it done. I just want to get it done."

NIRPC Transportation Planning Manager Mitch Barloga said the agency had tried to get the word out to encourage use of the signs, but he wasn't aware Pauley would not be approaching Lake or other counties.

"It's just a matter of getting together with him," Barloga said. "Obviously it's a great idea, and we need that. It can eliminate the need for call boxes because everyone has cellphones. I don't see why anybody would say 'no.' It's just a matter of me getting on it. I will find out what it takes and who to contact about the signs."

Lake County Parks Superintendent Robert Nickovich said the idea of putting markers on the trails has been discussed, but nothing has been done to date.

"Many of the trails go through multiple communities, and there have been talks of giving people an idea where they might be on the trail," Nickovich said. "It's a pretty good idea and does lend itself for safety enhancements in the parks and other places. More and more people are using the trail corridors and more are being built."

Brian Hitchcock, Lake County E911 executive director, said he had just completed implementing a similar program in the Quad Cities area before being hired to oversee the consolidation of the county's 911 system.

"If we don't have it, we will by the time I'm done," Hitchcock said. "It is something I feel is necessary. It's always best to have even though the technology today allows us to GPS someone making a cellphone call. Some older phones don't have that capability. It would be good to have on the trails in the county, especially if the trail is in a wooded area that can impair the cellphone signal."

Although the signs will have to wait for the consolidation to be completed, Hitchcock said, "The beauty of 911 is all the layers that can be put in it. I have proposed hiring (geographic information systems) specialists that will work on this type of thing to make it happen."

Pauley, a retired safety engineer for USX, said he worked for 20 years to get stop signs installed at passively guarded railroad crossings. Now he's working on a water safety device for people training for the open water swim in triathlons.

"He always has a project going," his wife said.

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