Friday, January 28, 2011

Will any potential Y2K-type glitches strike Ohio's new license issuing system?

With Ohio on the threshold of employing a new way of issuing fishing and hunting licenses as well as checking in such game as deer and wild turkeys, a Y2K-type question remains.

That being, will we all survive the switch starting February 15 or will we experience an electronic crash?

No one knows for certain, though the Ohio Division of Wildlife is frantically applying the finishing touches to its new Internet-based license issuing and check-in system.

A system that for sportsmen like my two older brothers - Terry and Rich - is no less alien than seeing a moose in Ashtabula County or catching a sailfish from Lake Erie. Each brother proudly shun all things computers.

Making matters more challenging is that presently fewer than 150 of the 900 or so signed-on license-issuing agents have received the necessary training in order to understand the system’s electronic nuts and bolts.

“The system goes online February 15,” said Korey Brown, the Wildlife Division administrator in charge of the new system. “We’re still in the process of training agents and we’ve trained about 140 of them and should have about 350 of them trained when the system goes up.”

Annually the state issues 2.2 million documents; everything from deer permits to fishing licenses to free senior citizen tags. Sales of these documents generate around $40 million for the Wildlife Division with all monies being dedicated funds that cannot by law go into the state’s General Fund.

In all, about 1.2 million Ohioans buy a hunting/fishing license of one kind or another.

Fortunately for the Wildlife Division, Brown says, only about 20,000 licenses are sold between Feb. 15 and 28.

“I’m trying to get the agents around northwest Ohio up and running first because that is where the annual run of walleyes are as well as the reef walleye fisheries,” Brown said.

The real test will come during the first general warm period in March.

“That’s when we’ll see tens of thousands of licenses sold; you almost always see a spike following a good weather report,” Brown said.

For those sportsmen who do plan to buy their licenses early they are being urged by the Wildlife Division to track down an agent that has received the training.

Regardless, says Brown, everyone from Wildlife Division personnel to issuing agents to hunters and anglers will need to understand that a learning curve is assuredly a part of the process.

“People need to expect this at the beginning, but it will become faster as time goes by,” Brown said.

The reason, says Brown, is because the agency went through such birthing pangs in 1999. That was the year the Wildlife Division unveiled the system now accepted by the buying public.

“Our current issuing system lasted a lot longer than we ever expected. We drew every drop of blood out of it but the way of the world is the Internet,” Brown said.

Thus, the licence-buying part is actually encouraging because of the agency’s 13-year use of the present system, Brown said.

What is less well understood is how the whole Internet affair will shake out during the seasons when successful hunters must register their deer or turkey. And that, says Brown, will represent “a drastic change,” requiring a longer transition period for sportsmen.

“That’s been seen in the 20 or so other states that have done it,” he said.

Another early on concern is the requirement that people must provide their Social Security number. This stipulation is necessary because it is demanded by both state and federal law in an effort to crack down on child support cheaters.

“My worry is that it puts the issuing agent in a tight corner. It’s not their decision or even our decision; its the law and something that we must do,” Brown said.

Also, understanding that some members of the Amish community may not have a Social Security number, a process is available for avoiding giving out this information for religious reasons. A form for exclusion is even available on-line. Which could be something of an oxymoron since people of such religious convictions likely don’t have a computer to begin with.

That point is being taken into account, too, says Brown.

“Our officers have been hand-delivering these forms to folks they believe will need them,” Brown said. “But it’s a system based on providing options to the buyers, and in the long run we believe it is best for both the consumer as well as our agency; no doubt, certainly.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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