On February 16, 1968, the first-ever 9-1-1 call was placed by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite, from the Haleyville, AL City Hall, to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, at the city's police station. Bevill answered the phone with "Hello". Observers at the phone company central office serving Haleyville actually observed the call pass through the switching gear as the mechanical equipment clunked out "9-1-1". And so, 9-1-1 was born.
Today, in approximately 98% of locations in the United States and Canada, dialing "911" from any telephone will link the caller to an emergency dispatch center—called a PSAP, or Public Safety Answering Point, by the telecom industry—which can send law enforcement, fire and emergency medical responders to the caller's location. In many areas enhanced 911 is available, which automatically gives dispatch the caller's location. Most centers are equipped with a Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system which integrates the 9-1-1 call, and caller, information into a computer system. With these CAD systems, dispatchers can manage responding resources, monitor the call as it progresses in the field, and generate reports to each agency served. In addition, advances in radio communications and recording systems make it possible to relay information via either voice or data links to all responders, and to record the entire incident from initial phone call to clearing the scene.
While 9-1-1 has advanced significantly, many issues remain and some are being created by the availability of new technology.
- The proliferation of mobile phones has resulted in problems identifying a caller's actual location.
- Telecommunicators and comm centers need to educate the public about these location issues revolving around VoIP and wireless calls, as well as how 9-1-1 works and why calltakers ask certain questions.
- Major crises and disasters, man-made or natural, require that comm centers be prepared to accept and offer help from other PSAPs. The NJTI-TERT program helps prepare groups who can hit the ground running.
- The integrated approach to taking, dispatching, and managing emergency calls has prompted an even more advanced approach to emergency services, and initiated the beginning of a new era in public safety communications, or what is referred to as Next Generation 9-1-1.
When agencies and organizations need operational and technical insights, APCO Consulting Services (ACS) can provide them with an unbiased, vendor neutral, comprehensive professional review of their emergency communications needs and programs, along with recommendqations for improving their operations, organization and technological capabilities.
For information on APCO's legislative activities in this area, visit Government Relations Topics: 9-1-1.