The 50th Anniversary of 911: Looking to the Future as We Celebrate the Past

This week we celebrate 50 years of 911 service in the United States. In this post, we look at the past, present, and future of 911 and related technology.

In 1967, it was recommended by the government that a single number should be established nationwide for reporting emergency situations. Before 1967, if help was needed a caller would need to know the phone number of the local police or fire department. With the encouragement from multiple government agencies and AT&T, the 911 number was established. On February 16, 1968, the first 911 call was made from Haleyville, Alabama. And just a week later, the country’s second emergency system was established in Nome, Alaska. By the end of 1987, only 50 percent of people in the United States had access to 911. Today, the percentage of citizens with access to 911 is 99 percent.

In 2000, approximately 150 million calls were made to 911. Almost 20 years later, it is estimated that 240 million calls are made to 911 every year with 80 percent of those calls being from a wireless device.

Next Generation 911
What most citizens don’t know is that when they call 911 from a landline phone, their number has an automatic number identification (ANI) and automatic location identification (ALI) association with it, which makes it easy for call-takers and emergency responders to know their exact location.

With the advent of mobile devices and Voice-over-IP (VoIP) 911, call takers, in some cases, no longer have access to a caller’s exact location. Typically, with a mobile device—whether a call or a text—location information comes from triangulating a location from the nearest cell phone towers, which provide an approximated address that can be anywhere within a five-to 40-mile range.

New technologies also present the opportunity to provide 911 call takers with various forms of multimedia associated with mobile devices, such as photos, video clips, and other data. In order to help communications centers and emergency responders in this vital technology transition, Intergraph Communications Controller for Intergraph Computer-Aided Dispatch provides call control and incident creation in a single environment, with common call management functions available directly from the CAD map, command line, and call control interface.

Advanced technology also allows for call takers and dispatchers to work remotely. With Intergraph OnCall Dispatcher, 911 calls can be managed outside of the primary public safety answering point (PSAP) via an Internet browser. This extended capability provides for hub and spoke interoperability and quick recovery times when a PSAP has become inoperative.

Let’s celebrate the past this week and the great strides that 911 and related technologies have made over the last 50 years. But let’s keep moving towards the future of call taking and dispatching.

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