When I was a kid (think less than 5) I called the police from my house outside of Raceland, LA. Like many people in the country, we had a party line. My house was three rings (young people, Google it), and I called the police on my brother because he was a punk.
I think back after all these years, knowing there was a nice women on the other end of the line talking me though my little crisis on one hand and dying laughing on the other. My mother saw me talking on the phone, asked what I was doing, and when she found out I was talking to the cops, slammed the phone down (long time before caller ID).
Little did I know two states over a new system was just starting, the 9-1-1 system. Now as it has completed it's first fifty years of service, it, like telecommunications, must evolve. An interesting read:
What does the next 50 years hold for 911?
Fifty years ago at 2 p.m. on February 16, 1968, the first 9-1-1 call was made in Haleyville, AL...
..History of 911
Before the advent of technology, town criers would summon help by running up and down streets announcing the emergency, which in turn typically got a town watchman (a term used before police officer) to respond, as well as community members.
By the 1920s, call boxes were installed at key locations in a town where first responders could go to receive a call for service or call into the police or fire station to report an incident in the community.
In the early 1950s, independent telephone companies and telephones in homes and businesses were becoming common in the United States. However, if you needed a first responder for an emergency, you dialed a 5- to 7-digit number to the police station, a different 5- to 7-digit number for the fire station and yet a third 5-to 7-digit number for a medic.
Another option was to dial 0 for the operator to connect you but, as you can imagine, you lost precious time going through a third party in order to be connected to first responders.
By the late 1950s there had been enough volume of calls and loss of critical time during emergencies that demands for a universal emergency number started to surface. This number had to be easy to remember and access all responders – police, fire and medical.
The United Kingdom had been using 999 since the 1930s as its emergency number and some standalone systems in the United States used a variation of three-digit numbers. Prior to 1968, there was no standard universal emergency number.
I have read many accounts as to why the numbers 9, 1, 1 were chosen, considering all calls made during this time period occurred on rotary dial phones. For the purposes of dialing the quickest numbers on a rotary dial, it would make sense to dial 1-1-1, however, the number 1 was already used to make international calls and 0 was always for the operator. One of the main reasons was that those three consecutive numbers (9-1-1) were not in use within the U.S. phone systems as a prefix or area code.
On February 16, 1968, the first call was made in Haleyville, Alabama, after the introduction of the nation's first 9-1-1 system, which was located at a police station...
...Where are we today with 911?
The technologies our communities use today to communicate have changed drastically since 1968 and our nation’s legacy 9-1-1 system needs a major overhaul in order to keep up with the public’s expectations.
In my 26 years as a law enforcement officer, I was often astonished by how little the public knew about the nation’s 9-1-1 system. Thanks to TV shows like “24” and “NCIS,” people think 9-1-1 centers know all things about all people all the time when they dial 9-1-1. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Emergency call takers today often only know the number a person is calling from and a general sense of their location. Emergency communications centers report that 75 to 90 percent of their call volume now arrives in the center via phones using a commercial wireless network. These calls typically only provide the call taker with the number calling and the caller’s approximate location based on the cellular tower transporting the call. Location accuracy for wireless callers continues to be the highest concern for personnel who work in these centers...
Harris County TX (think Houston area) has established a "smart" 911 system, the Greater Harris County 9-1-1 system. You can log onto their site, upload information such as two addresses (think home and work), your identification and any medical information needed. By all accounts it's a work in progress, but for an elderly person with a chronic illness it may be a life saver.
...Current 9-1-1 systems across America are based on 1970s technology.
The national 911 infrastructure is well beyond end of life and does not meet the needs of current technology, or more importantly, what the public expects from its emergency communications centers
Most of the 6,000+ public safety answering points (PSAPs) or emergency communications centers are under law enforcement administration and in desperate need of consolidation to make best use of funds, technology and personnel. Some cities and counties have multiple PSAPs in one municipality, often transferring calls between one another, losing precious seconds and information during the call transfer. Creating more shared resources on the call intake and sharing technology and staff, which is arguably the real big money saver especially by sharing technology and resources to maximize the local knowledge value of that function.
What about Next Generation 911?
Depending on whom you ask, you will get different answers on what Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) really means.
If a PSAP has switched to an internet protocol (IP)-based emergency telephony system, they may say they are NG911-compliant even though they may not be accepting any text, photos or video to 911.
The generic definition for NG911 is that it will enhance emergency number services by creating a faster, more resilient system that allows digital information (e.g., voice, photos, videos and text messages) to flow seamlessly from the public, through the 9-1-1 network and eventually, directly to first responders.
Others would argue that this definition needs to include the transfer of all this digital data from one PSAP to another, because in densely populated areas, such as the National Capital Region, emergency calls are often routed to the wrong PSAP based on the location of the cellular tower, not necessarily the location of the emergency.
We need to define “NG 9-1-1” in a common and comprehensive way – meaning connectivity plus the equipment and services needed by PSAPs to process, analyze and store incoming data.
You have full NG 9-1-1 only when a citizen can send a multimedia message to a PSAP, who in turn can receive and process it, and send along to responders in the field (such as via FirstNet) or seamlessly transfer or exchange this data with other PSAPs.
This is where standards will play a huge role to ensure all PSAPs adopt a single set of standards that all equipment manufactures will follow to ensure, not only a smooth transition of digital data from the public to the PSAP, but also between PSAPs. The current leading standard being followed for NG911 is the NENA i3 standard.
When NG911 arrives it will mean faster call delivery and in multiple formats – voice, text, photos and videos. Currently only voice is available to 9-1-1 centers across the country and very small pockets are receiving text to 911. It will mean increased routing accuracy and redundancy when working in tandem with other PSAPs, as well as improved performance for call overflow and backup when traditional voice lines are tied up...
Other information that may be voluntarily given to a "smart" 9-1-1: Medicine taken by the caller; Are their dogs at the house, and; Fence passcodes. A strange new world, where we're defiantly loosing some privacy. But the quicker reaction time for an ambulance may be well worth it.