911 Turns 45 in the US
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Once again the time of year has come around where I get to tell the story of how E 911 in the US came into existence. As many of you now know there is a small town in northern Alabama with about 6000 people in the community. And according to the Haleyville fire Department website, the department has responded to only 20 alarms this year.
Yet every year on February 16, they become one of the most prominent departments in the United States. Why is this you ask? In addition to sharing a name with my favorite daughter, this quiet little town deep in the land of good barbecue, happens to be the birthplace of the 911 network in the United States, and home of the very first 911 call in the country. That was 45 years ago, on February 16, 1968.
In recognition of this historic event, a few years ago Roger D Wilson of Walker County 9-1-1, and past president of the Alabama chapter NENA, granted permission for me to reprint this story as found on their website www.AL911.org, and include in the E 911 talk podcast. So once again, I’ll continue the tradition for the third year in a row, with the official story from NENA, that goes like this.
Before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, (June 2, 1875) public safety was served by town crier’s. A town crier would walk the streets of the town and cry out for help in emergency situations. In the 1950s, independent Telephone Company’s were very common in the United States. If you wanted the police, you dialed the police station. If you had a fire, you called the fire department. If you needed any emergency help, you dialed the individual you needed, or you could dial “zero” and get the operator. They would then rang the persons you were looking for.
In 1958, Congress called for an universal emergency number. At This Time, the President’s Commission of Law Enforcement and the Federal Communications Commission started arguing over a single easy to remember number. This was due to the large volume of emergency calls going to Telephone Company operators. A person may be calling for emergency help while the operator was giving information on the number of a at Betsy in Louisiana or uncle Charles in Oklahoma, which led to delays in emergency responses. Telephone companies were facing the problem of how to separate emergencies from general business. For over 10 years the idea was discussed and argued among the different agencies who wanted to receive the calls. Police said they should answer all calls,the Fire Department felt they were the better choice, some even felt the local hospital was the best answer.
According to a report in the Fayette, Alabama Times Record commemorating the 25th anniversary of the historic event, B.W. Gallagher, President of Alabama Telephone Company, said he was inspired by an article in the Wall Street Journal. He read that the president of AT&T and the FCC had announced that 911 would be the nationwide emergency number. Being a bit offended by the fact that the views of the independent telephone industry had been overlooked in this decision, Gallagher decided to make the Alabama Telephone Company the first to implement 9-1-1.
Gallagher consulted with Robert Fitzgerald, inside plant manager for the Alabama Telephone Company, who examined schematics of the company’s 27 exchanges. Fitzgerald chose Haleyville because its existing equipment was best suited to be quickly converted to receive 9-1-1 calls. Fitzgerald then designed the circuitry and installed the first 911 system in less than a week. Working with Fitzgerald to achieve this goal were technicians Pete Gosa, Jimmy White, Al Bush and Glenn Johnston.
In the early stages, the city fathers were skeptical of 9-1-1 calls being answered at the police station. They, like persons in Congress, were afraid that the city might not have the personnel qualified to answer “all out emergency calls”.
Haleyville, Alabama introduced the nation’s first 9-1-1 system which was located at the police station. Alabama Speaker of the House, Rankin Fite, made the first call from another city hall room. It was answered by Congressman Tom Bevill on a bright red telephone located in the police department. Also on hand was Haleyville Mayor James Whitt, Public Service Commission President Eugene (Bull) Connor, and B. W. Gallagher.
So, nearly half a century ago, on February 16, 1968, the first 9-1-1 call in the United States was made. Today, it is estimated that the number of calls to 911 exceeds 250 million each year, or nearly 685,000 each and every day, which comes out to over 28,000 each hour, and 475 each minute.
Here’s your homework: how many of happened during the time you took to read or listen to this blog or podcast? Oh and by the way, once you have that number, take 10 to 12% of that as the number that have come from MLTS/PBX systems.
Don’t have a calculator handy? The answer is over 2800 calls with almost 300 coming from MLTS/PBX
Shocking isn’t it?
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Until next week. . . dial carefully.
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