Although Great Britain was the first country to establish a universal emergency telephone number, America’s first 911 system was established in the small town of Haleyville, Alabama in 1968. In November of 1967, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) met with American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT& T) officials to determine a national number that could be implemented quickly. AT&T decided that 9-1-1 was the best combination for the emergency number. It was an easy number to remember and hadn’t been used previously as an area or service code. The telephone company’s equipment could be easily adjusted to accept the number.
After reading about the plan to establish this new universal number, the president of the Alabama Telephone Company Bob Gallagher, set out to establish the system in Haleyville, Alabama. On February 16, 1968, Alabama State Senator Rankin Fite made the first 911 call from Haleyville Mayor James Whitt’s office. It was answered in the Haleyville Police Department by U.S. Representative Tom Bevill.
Under the direction of Chief Ronald H. Karn, Washington County implemented a 911 system at its first location, 33 West Washington Street in Hagerstown, Maryland. The first 911 calls were directed to the center beginning in August 1984. This basic 911 system displayed the caller’s telephone number on a screen in the center; however the call takers (Emergency Communications Specialists) were still required to ask the caller’s address and other pertinent information. Subsequently, Washington County installed an enhanced 911 system in March 1991, which displayed the telephone number the caller was calling from, the name of the telephone subscriber, and the address. Washington County 911 became Phase II wireless telephone service capable in June 2005. Phase II capable means that the Emergency Communications Specialist will receive the telephone number of the calling cellular telephone, the location of the caller, the location of the cellular tower closest to the caller, and the global positioning system (GPS) coordinates of the cellular telephone’s location when 911 is called. Phase II provides more accurate caller location information and thereby allows for a quicker response.
When should you call 911?
Citizens should call 911 whenever they have an emergency, or have witnessed an emergency. The emergency could be a medical, fire, or law enforcement related emergency. Do not call 911 as a joke or to obtain general information such as road closures, weather conditions, the time, etc.
How does 911 work in Washington County?
Although every system is unique, generally a 9-1-1 system works in the following manner:
- The caller dials the three digit emergency number 9-1-1.
- The call is routed to the closest Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
- A trained call taker at the PSAP answers the call.
- The call taker asks appropriate and pertinent questions to ensure that the correct type of assistance is sent as soon as possible.
- While asking pertinent questions and relaying appropriate caller instructions, the call taker sends the information to a trained dispatcher located in the same room.
- The dispatcher receives the incident location and information via a computer known as a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system.
- The dispatcher notifies the appropriate fire, police, or EMS agency to respond for the emergency.
- The dispatcher logs information into the CAD until the incident is complete.
When you dial 9-1-1 in Washington County, a call taker will answer the call by asking “9-1-1, what is the location of your emergency? Although the location of the emergency is often displayed on the call taker’s screen, it is extremely important to verify that the information is accurate. The dispatcher must know exactly where to send the correct type of assistance (EMS, Fire, or Law Enforcement) as quickly as possible.
The second most important piece of information required by the call taker is the caller’s telephone number. Once again, this information should be automatically displayed on the call taker’s screen. If the caller is disconnected from the call taker before the telephone number and other necessary information is obtained, the call taker must perform procedures to find the caller’s location, which may cause a significant delay in emergency response.
Once the call taker determines the general type of emergency and gathers other basic incident information, more specific and pertinent questions are asked. These questions are asked for various reasons, but primarily so that the call taker will know if additional lifesaving instructions should be relayed to the caller, and to allow the dispatcher to advise the responders of any special conditions, such as safety hazards on the scene, or a patient’s medical information.
What is the future of 911?
While the nation’s 911 network is one of the best in the world and the transmission of information by voice radio has proven to be very effective, there is an opportunity to influence the 911 system to do more than just connect a 911 caller to a 911 call taker. As the Next Generation of 911 (NG911) evolves, such a network can continue to support the existing emergency 911 system, while also offering interagency and intra-agency critical information access and the automatic delivery of textual appropriate information to responders in the field. As an example of how data can assist responders in the future, imagine that a call taker receives a 911 call reporting an armed robbery. What if the caller were also able to send a video of the get-away vehicle that had been recorded on their cellular telephone during the robbery? And what if the call taker were able to send the information to the responding police officers? Such timely information will help resolve situations faster and also can possibly keep responders out of harm’s way, and with the use of fewer resources than previously possible. More responders can be armed with useful and accurate information that they need to better and more safely do their jobs. As NG911 systems are developed, installed, and utilized to their full potential the benefits they offer can become a reality.
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