Wireless Bill Signed; People to Vote on Enhancing Wireless 9-1-1
Posted: Friday, July 29, 2005Governor Brad Henry has signed HB1751 this month, allowing counties throughout the state to hold elections for voter approval of service fees that would pay for improvements to enable 9-1-1 systems to respond better to calls from wireless phones.
If approved by voters in countywide elections, the 50-cent service fees on wireless phone bills would pay for necessary system improvements for locating where wireless callers are when they call 9-1-1 in an emergency situation. Today, enhanced 9-1-1 systems are able to locate callers using land-line phones, but nearly half of 9-1-1 calls are now made from wireless phones, and the public safety agencies are given no information about the location of the caller, a situation that can mean the difference between life and death in some emergency situations.
Since enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) systems were first implemented in Central Oklahoma in 1989, nearly 14 million callers have accessed 9-1-1 for police, fire or ambulance services in crisis situations. The advantage of the E9-1-1 system over the more than 120 emergency phone numbers used in the past is that it is an easy number to remember, the calls route to the right agency and the emergency call-taker knows where the caller is and how to call back if disconnected.
While wireless phones were not a common reality when the local system was installed in 1989, today nearly 78 percent of the Central Oklahoma regionís population has a cell phone. Last year, there were 338,423 emergency calls in Central Oklahoma made from wireless phones. 9-1-1 systems were not designed to handle this emerging shift in technology, nor was the wireless industry prepared to make their phones work efficiently with E9-1-1 systems.
Today, half of the wireless 9-1-1 calls go to the wrong responder, while only 20 percent have a callback phone number and none provide the location of the caller, a fact that can literally mean the difference between life and death. This lack of information is unnecessary and places Oklahomaís citizens at an unacceptable risk, according to Zach D. Taylor, Executive Director of the 9-1-1 Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has required that all wireless companies equip their phones with the technology for E9-1-1 services by this December. However, the FCC also requires that in order for public safety agencies to be able to order the advanced service, they must have the ability to pay for the multiple upgrades necessary to receive the more sophisticated stream of information (including call-back number and latitude/longitude of the caller), and associated mapping and equipment expenses.
Public safety agencies in the state have agreed that they need 50 cents per month, per wireless customer, to secure the technological improvements necessary to make wireless 9-1-1 services mirror those provided to land-line customers today.
9-1-1 organizers in Central Oklahoma hope to schedule countywide elections throughout the metropolitan area sometime in late 2005. Following successful elections, system improvements are expected to be complete within a yearís time.