9-1-1 History in Washington County

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Basic 9-1-1 (B9-1-1) came about in the early fifties in Europe and spread to the U.S. in the sixties. Basic 9-1-1 provided a convenient, easy to remember number and a call back number for the dispatcher. The basic system also delivered the call to the proper Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Enhanced 9-1-1 (E 9-1-1) became popular on both coasts and in large metropolitan areas in the seventies. Enhanced systems provided call back numbers as well as the address of the caller and directed the call to the proper agency. It was not until the early to mid eighties that the system came into use in suburban and rural areas. The problem with rural areas came from the old route and box system of addressing used by the postal service. With the advent of street name and numbers in the rural areas, enhanced 9-1-1 became viable for those areas.

Act 683 of 1985 enabled the established the 9-1-1 system in Arkansas. In Washington County, work was begun on an E 9-1-1 system in 1986 with the passage of ordinance 86-14. The system cut live in September 1988 after much difficulty with establishing emergency services boundaries and addressing the unincorporated areas of the county. Washington County was the second county in the state to establish a 9-1-1 system and was the first rural county in a ten-state area surrounding Arkansas to establish an addressing system and implement E 9-1-1. Primary Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP) were located at Springdale, Fayetteville and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office with a secondary PSAP at Central EMS.

The E 9-1-1 system is funded in Washington County by a monthly 5% surcharge on basic local telephone service on all land line phones inside the county and a share of a .50 monthly statewide surcharge on each cellular phone. About ninety percent of these charges go to equipment, dedicated line leases, database charges and actual dispatch costs. The remainder of these funds goes to addressing and mapping functions.

The purpose of an enhanced 9-1-1 system was two fold. First it provided one single, simple number for emergency calls. Secondly, it provided a screen of information to a call taker that would locate the caller by address. Enhanced 9-1-1 was not intended to be a replacement for a dispatch center, rather a tool to streamline call taking and dispatching.

Cellular phones added a new dynamic to 9-1-1 operations that no one considered early on in the development of the system. With cellular calls, we did not have the technology to know who was calling, where the calls originated or which Public Safety Answering Point to route the call. Technology to handle cellular calls has lagged behind landline technology for several years. Cellular 9-1-1 calls were “dumped” into one PSAP in an area with the hope that they would be transferred to the proper agency. The Federal Telecommunications Act of 1994 mandated new standards for cellular calls, however, technology was not yet available to properly direct and identify those calls so that PSAP’S could comply with the act. Funding of the new technology was also an issue. Arkansas was one of the first states to pass legislation to fund cell phone technology. This act amended the Arkansas Public Safety Communications Act of 1985 and was amended again by Act 46 of 1999. Act 46 provides that a fifty-cent surcharge is levied on all cell phones with an Arkansas area code and that charge is divided as follows. Fifty eight percent will go to defray the cost of technology to implement phase I and II of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1994. Thirty eight percent of the charge will go to PSAP’S to defray call taking costs. Three percent of the fee will be used for audits and administrative expense.

Technology is now available to display the calling number for cellular 9-1-1 calls, and to direct calls to the proper PSAP rather than “dumping” all of them to one point. This technology, commonly known as Phase 1 technology delivers the actual cell phone number and routes the call to the proper PSAP. The technology is costly and the recurring costs of dedicated trunk lines from towers to central switch, database maintenance and other related costs make the delivery of 9-1-1 calls from a cellular phone somewhat more expensive per call than land line calls. The Federal Communication Commission has mandated Phase 2 technology, which will more accurately locate a cell caller. This technology should be on line by October of 2001.

Washington County was the first county in the state and the first county in a twenty-state area to implement Phase 1 technology. Washington County 9-1-1 was again first in the state of Arkansas to provide Phase 2 technology at the PSAP. As all technology evolves, Washington County will again lead the way in Arkansas to use that technology.