Columbia pathway

Bicyclists enjoy some of Columbia's 93.5 miles of pathways. (File / June 17, 2013)

Howard County Police and the Columbia Association are partnering to increase safety along Columbia's 93.5 miles of pathways by labeling all bridges and trails with an alphanumeric coding system.

"Time is of the essence in an emergency situation," said Howard Police Chief William McMahon in a statement. "Sometimes just a few minutes can make all the difference. This will enable our first responders to find a person in trouble, even without a specific address."

New signs bearing unique codes have been placed throughout Columbia's trail system which will allow residents to better identify their locations to a 911 dispatcher in the case of an emergency. The system is an extension of a system already employed at the CA's tot lots or children's playgrounds.

According to the news release, dispatchers will be able to identify a person's location on a computerized map based on the code given.

In addition, the partnership will allow for increased patrol by HCPD's volunteer mounted patrol unit, which is made up of 12 local volunteers on horseback, and additional bike patrols for the summer. The increased police presence will serve as "an extra set of eyes and ears" for law enforcement.

"This is the time when people are outdoors and enjoying open space pathways and amenities," said Sean Harbaugh, assistant director of CA's Open Space Management. "I believe that the extra sets of eyes and direct communication between the volunteers, HCPD and Open Space Management will certainly help reduce the few unwanted activities that occur."

Despite the improvements, police maintain they have not seen an increase in crime on the pathways, and that the efforts "are intended to increase police visibility and deter problems."