August 29, 2002

Federal 911 Mandate To Take Effect Nationwide On September 11th

Take a look next to most phones in Scotland County and you likely will see some form of list of emergency phone numbers. By September 11, this list may be obsolete as the 911 ACT has set this date as the deadline for implementation of the universal emergency services phone number.

Today a caller would have to dial 465-2121 for the fire department, 465-2611 for the police, 465-2106 for the sheriff or 465-2131 for the ambulance.

Under the 911 ACT all telephone companies have until the September 11 deadline to implement a system to route all 911 calls to the appropriate emergency service departments. The legislation also stipulates all cellular carriers must also have the service implemented by this deadline. That means after this date if someone in Scotland County dials 911 the phone service provider will route that call to the designated dispatch center, which in this case would be the Scotland County Sheriff's Department.

"These actions will make emergency dialing for consumers traveling across the country simpler, will assist carriers in delivering 911 calls more promptly, and thus, will improve the response of public safety entities and emergency services personnel in their efforts to save lives," states the FCC report on the project.

However the 911 mandate is expected to create a financial crunch for the sheriff's department. Sheriff Wayne Winn said the 911 mandate requires dispatchers who will be handling 911 calls to have special training. Winn said the added duties of 911 dispatching likely could require additions to his staffs workforce as well.

The sheriff attended an August 23 meeting in Kahoka to discuss the creation of a four-county consortium to allow local emergency service providers to share the cost of creating a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) where the phone service providers could directly route 911 calls from local callers. The meeting consisted of EMS personnel from Clark, Scotland, Knox and Schuyler counties.

The proposal is for an enhanced system or E911, meaning it would use 911 addressing and GPS mapping to insure accurate dispatching and tracking of EMS vehicles.

Clark County hired GeoComm consulting firm to perform a study on creating an enhanced 911 system for Clark County. A portion of the study included a possible joint system including Scotland, Knox and Schuyler counties as well.

The study estimated the cost of implementing the four-county system at more than $650,000. The bulk of that expense, some $425,000 would be for new equipment, radio systems and a tower. Another $150,000 would be spent on mapping and signage changing these areas from the traditional rural route mailing addresses to 911 addresses.

The consultants study indicated if the four-county consortium was formed each county would face initial installation costs of $150,000 and then could expect monthly costs of $5,000-$6,000.

Funding options would be limited for local counties. Other E911 systems have been funded from counties' general revenue funds, or by a 15% tax on individual telephone services. However the local county budgets are tight and none of the four counties have enough telephone customers to generate the necessary revenue to pay for the proposal.

That would leave a general sales tax, which could be as high as one cent.

Winn said the presenters at the Kahoka meeting will be asked to present the information for a local hearing in Memphis if the public expresses interest in the project or would simply like to learn more about the options.

"I'm not advocating this consortium or the E911 system," Winn said. "I would simply like to know what my constituents want. Do they want an E911 system, and if so, are they willing to pay for it."

Even if the county does not pursue the four-county arrangement, the sheriff's department likely will have to have additional funding to handle the local 911 calls that will begin September 11.

The Scotland County dispatcher handles emergency calls for the Memphis Police Department and the Scotland County and Memphis fire departments and also forwards calls to the Scotland County Ambulance Dispatcher at Scotland County Memorial Hospital.

Currently Scotland County is among the 29 counties in the state that do not have 911 service (85 Missouri counties do have 911).

The 911 mandate has generated some negative feedback based on the fact it is a federal mandate yet is not backed by federal funding. Still the FCC is backing the plan as a needed service for the entire nation.

"This order is a significant step towards establishing 911 as the universal emergency number throughout the United States," stated FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy.

"As Congress directed us through the Wireless Communications and Public Safety Act of 1999, the Commission has crafted a set of flexible rules to govern the transition process for those areas of the country that do not currently utilize 911. Carriers must ensure that 911 calls are routed properly and always result in contact with public safety personnel. Perhaps most importantly, this process relies on state and local governments to designate or create public safety answering points or other emergency authorities that will field new 911 calls.

"This is by no means a simple process. Many areas of the country have multiple police, fire and rescue jurisdictions; many wireless cell sites cover multiple municipalities, counties, or even states. Moreover, many of the areas that do not yet have 911 services are sparsely populated with public safety services located tens of miles away. These are all daunting challenges, but as a result of meeting them the American people will soon enjoy the safety and security of knowing that anytime of day, anywhere across the USA, help is only three digits away."

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