A Brief History
The present 911 Communications Center became operational in the spring of 1999. It represented a significant improvement in 911 capabilities over its predecessor. Where the former 911 office (a single, small room in the basement of the courthouse) was capable of receiving basic 911 calls, the only information available to the 911 telecommunicators answering the calls was the phone exchange where the call originated. For example, calls from the 572 or 576 exchange were considered “Troy” calls, even though they might come from an address in Ophir or Flint Hill. Telecommunicators had to rely on the caller to give them address and phone number information, as well as the kind of help they required, before help could be sent. Then all of that information was hand recorded with pen and paper.
When the new center came on line, it began receiving “enhanced” 911 calls from telephones which were connected to phone lines, including “cordless” phones that rely on a cradle or base which is plugged into a phone jack. “Enhanced” meant that when the call came in, it was processed by a computer to provide the telephone number of the caller's phone, the address where the phone was located, and the accountholder's name. After verifying that the displayed information was correct, the 911 telecommunicator could then “dump” that information into a new Computer Aided Dispatch system, or CAD. CAD provided a computerized way of entering and keeping track of the progress of a call, replacing the pen and paper of old.
While those improvements significantly streamlined call reception and record keeping, mobile, or “wireless,” phone calls were still un-enhanced in 1999. Although they came in on a dedicated 911 phone line, no location or phone number information was provided for the telecommunicator answering the call. Unfortunately, callers using wireless 911 are frequently not able to tell the telecommunicator where they are, simply because they are unfamiliar with the area they are in when they place the call. This is particularly true of travelers just passing through the county. Since more and more 911 calls are being placed from mobile phones, such as when people witness a traffic accident or suffer a breakdown on the highway, callers not knowing where they are is a huge problem. Without location information, 911 telecommunicators have no way of knowing where to send help.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has addressed that problem by mandating that mobile phone companies start providing phone number and location information in two phases. Wireless E911 Phase I provides the caller's mobile phone number to the 911 telecommunicator answering the call, but still does not provide any location information. Wireless E911 Phase II still provides the caller's phone number, but adds a caller's location based upon latitude and longitude, as well. That lat/lon point is then plotted on a computerized map of the county so the 911 telecommunicator can see what road or address or other landmark the caller is near, and what Fire, EMS, or Law Enforcement units to send. Montgomery County 911 Communications receives Wireless E911 Phase II service.
The changes in wireless 911 service represent just one example of how 911 technology continually evolves. As computer capabilities improve, 911 software programmers are able to develop applications that further improve 911 telecommunicators' ability to provide quicker, more accurate responses to people's calls for help. To stay on top of that technology curve, equipment and software constantly require upgrades and/or replacement. Our goal is to provide the best service we possibly can to the people who call us for help, and taking advantage of technological advances as often as we can is one way we can move closer to that goal.