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Emergency Dispatch Technology Explained

Emergency Dispatch Technology Explained
The Technology Before Help arrives

Its been a while but tried to put together an overview of the 911 network in the United States. Started writing this 11 years ago, lots has changed since.

By: Jeff Robertson, 2015

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


The History of how 9‑1‑1 was built

The Standards

Summary of the 9-1-1 network

Wireless Phones Changed Everything

How wireless networks connect to 911 today

Phase 2 – Getting a more accurate location

The Business Issues with Wireless 9‑1‑1

Growth in Wireless 9-1-1 calls per month

Time for the Regulators to look into Wireless 9-1-1

How is 9-1-1 Funded?

Wireless Carriers – the new tax collectors?

Prepaid Phones Funding?  Is it fair?

Government “raiding” of 9‑1‑1 funding

Texting and 9-1-1

Dispatchers and Call Takers as a Profession?

What is Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)

Common Elements of CAD Software

Simplifying the Dispatch Process

Enough monitors already

Why have 9-1-1 and CAD been separate in the past?

Some unique features when CAD and 9-1-1 are fully integrated

Call Congestion on similar incidents

Caution notes and repeat callers

Recordings as part of the incident record

Real-Time situational CAD map

Typical questions with separate 9-1-1 and CAD systems today:

Timeline of Police Technology 1850 – 1960, 1960 – 1996

Dispatch Systems in the Future




This book was written to help teach, explain and hopefully improve emergency dispatch across North America.  Most of the examples, statistics and recommendations in this book come from a very North American centric approach to dispatching first responder’s to emergencies.  Much of the history is based on allowing the public to report emergencies, please don’t think this is the only part of the process later on we will discuss the entire public safety process since answering a 9-1-1 call and getting a first responder to the scene is really only 20% of the process and this book will look into the entire process, but the history of 9-1-1 is important to understand how things architected today.

I have been running businesses now for years that develop and implement systems that attempt to streamline the public’s reporting of an emergency and eventually getting the right emergency personnel to the incident to assist the public.  These businesses have been quite successful in their own right, but each time we became successful in marketing a new software or hardware solution it would always highlight a glaring hole in how emergency dispatch is done in North America.  In the last decade and a half I have become keenly aware that the method, funding, and fragmented way we handle emergency dispatch in North America is broken and in desperate need of improvement.  Don’t get me wrong, since the first 9-1-1 call in 1967 the system has served us well and worked well for more than 40 years for wired landline telephones as it was designed.  With the advent of wireless phones, VoIP communication, text messaging, internet, social media and intelligent alarms that can contact dispatch centers electronically with audio, and video feeds is threatening the survival of the 9-1-1 system as we know it.

Our forefathers identified some of the same issues we are facing today.  Below is an excerpt from Lee Loevinger, Defense Commissioner for the Federal Communications Commission Dated: March 7th, 1968 addressed to Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
Special Assistant to the President of the United States.  In this letter[1] its amazing to me that we are facing these same issues some 42 years later …

A spokesman for the International Association of Chiefs of Police has noted the multiple police forces and conflicting jurisdictions in many communities and stated that the proposal would present “a hatful of snakes.” The United States Independent Telephone Association circulated a letter stating, inter alia:

“In most of our communities there is no such organization as a single public safety agency. It may therefore be a problem to form such an agency and provide the funds necessary for the rental of switchboards and other necessary telephone equipment. There may be differences of opinion as to who should operate such an agency because of jurisdictional conflicts between state police, sheriffs and local police. In addition there will be the responsibility of handling fire calls and ambulance calls, perhaps from volunteer organizations which are not tied in with the police.”

Ninety nine percent of the U.S. population has access to 9-1-1 services.  Over the last 42 years this system has saved countless lives and property just as it was intended to do.  It has been so successful the public expects a prompt response from public safety agencies and in most cases the public thinks that this is a universal public service and consistent across North America, unfortunately this could not be farther from the truth.

As I tried to dig into the issue more I found a lack of formal books on how emergency dispatch works before the first responder arrives.  A lot of writing for how first responders can handle incidents and even books on how to put out fires or enforce laws but a very short supply of books on the topic of the dispatch process, how it has evolved and the technology that makes it happen.  So I set out on my journey to write this book on the topic.

The best way I could think of to help explain where we are today in emergency dispatch is to start with the history of how it got started, how it is paid for, an overview of the technology, a focus on the future technological advancements and recommended best practices.  This book will not be overly technical even though we will discuss at a high-level how the technology will work, it will also not spend a lot of time talking about radio network technologies since there are many books specifically on emergency radio systems, but none covering the entire process of when an incident is reported to how emergency personal arrive on scene and handle the work.  By the end of this book I am hopeful you will understand how the system works, is funded, and have a sense of what we can collectively do to improve public safety’s response to public emergencies.

The History of how 9‑1‑1 was built

This chapter is meant to give an overview of the history of 9-1-1.  There are a lot of folks that deserve credit for creating and promoting the 9-1-1 system of today.  A couple years back when I was executive director of the 9-1-1 Industry Alliance a widow contacted me to “set the record straight” about her husbands involvement in the creation of 9-1-1 and I am sure he is worthy of praise along with many folks who built the 9-1-1 network we still use today.  Try to think of any network in use today that was developed in 1967 and is still in operation in a mission critical capacity?  None that I know of, these forefathers of 9-1-1 built a technological marvel.  It is my opinion that because they did such a good job the system still works today and because it is good enough it is stifling the need and important to improve it.  This chapter is meant to set the stage for the explanation of how the system works today not as an accurate historical account.  It is interesting however that 1967 had a huge impact on how the system of today is architected, funded, and governed.

The idea for 9-1-1 first came about in 1957, when the National Association of Fire Chiefs wanted to establish a nationwide number for people to use to report fires.

In 1966, two landmark events—the establishment of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the publication of a report by the National Academy of Sciences entitled Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society—sparked the evolution of EMS services in the United States.  The report caused public outcry, in part because it contained statistics showing that in the year 1965 alone, more Americans had died in automobile accidents (50,000) than in eight years of the Vietnam War.[2]  According to the report, many of the fatalities were the result of unregulated, unsophisticated pre-hospital care.  This started bringing attention to how the U.S. responded to emergencies and how we could improve response and eventually mortality rate.  An interesting note, in a lot of communities in the 50’s and 60’s the ambulance (or EMS) service was run by the local funeral home or undertaker since they had the only vehicle in the area to transport people laying down.  The undertaker would sometimes run a furniture business as well, that interestingly enough would also make coffins.  Coordination was needed and ambulance service was one of the first (with the help of the DOT) to get attention to promote the need of a universal number to quickly dispatch first responders.

The DOT was given the authority and responsibility to improve EMS education, including the development of standards. The DOT’s National Highway Safety Bureau (the predecessor agency to what is now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) was created, and part of the new agency was dedicated to EMS.  This agency highlighted the time it took to dispatch emergency responders dispatch as a big factor in fatalities.  This put a big spotlight on the issue of calling emergency agencies.

With the development of residential telephone service, the telephone became a lifeline for subscribers needing emergency assistance.  Before 9-1-1, most citizens had to look up the local phone number for their local police or fire agency and it was not always clear which agency actually served their specific address.  Most who didn’t know the number dialed 0 for the operator putting a burden on the telephone operator who received the call to get the proper first responders to the incident.  Although this practice made it easy to remember how to call, the use of operator-assisted dialing wasted valuable time because these calls were not prioritized over all the other calls the operator was required to field.  Moreover, operators were generally not trained as comprehensively as today’s call-takers to handle the small percentage of emergency situations / calls, this in turn caused unneeded errors and delays in handling dangerous situations and resulting in the needless loss of life and property.  In 1967, President Johnson’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice issued a report (the “Johnson Commission Report”) observing that:

When trying to call the police from an ordinary telephone, a person is faced with a bewildering array of police jurisdictions and associated telephone numbers.  In the Los Angeles area alone, there are 50 different telephone numbers that reach police departments within Los Angeles County. It should be possible to use a single telephone number to reach the appropriate police department (or some other emergency center) directly.[3]

To enhance public safety, policymakers embraced the concept of a single, memorable, emergency calling code in the late 1960s.  In particular, the Johnson Commission Report recommended that:

Wherever practical, a single number should be established, at least within a metropolitan area and preferably over the entire United States, comparable to the telephone company’s long-distance information number. This is difficult but feasible with existing telephone switching centers; it appears more practical with the new electronic switching system being installed by the telephone companies, and should be incorporated.  In the interim, the telephone companies should print on each telephone number disc the number of the police department serving that telephone’s location.[4]

Despite federal support for the initiative, the federal government did not formally authorize or establish a nationwide emergency calling number until 1999.  The informal efforts to spur the establishment of such a number resulted from the leadership of Lee Loevinger, the Defense Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), who urged AT&T to develop and implement a universal emergency telephone number.[5]  Following this request, AT&T selected 9‑1‑1 as the emergency calling number and agreed that all Bell System companies would establish circuits that would route 9‑1‑1 calls directly to a central emergency switchboard to be established, staffed, and controlled by local emergency agencies.  As Defense Commissioner Loevinger put it: “The establishment and operation of a unified emergency switchboard center with trained attendants shifts the problem of knowing what facilities are available and of determining which agencies are best able to provide help from the panic-stricken, helpless citizens to the experienced, informed and presumably skilled attendants.”[6]  

1967, was a very different time in technology and telecommunications in particular.  It actually was your grandfather’s phone company, Ma Bell – American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), which was set up in 1934 by the government as a regulated monopoly under the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission.  For the most part AT&T ran the phone network in the United States and Canada and governed its standards and the equipment that connected to this network through its subsidiary Bell Labs.  In 1956 AT&T was ordered to serve only 85% of the United States national telephone network and divest from Canada (forming Bell Canada) and the Caribbean.

Back in 1967 there were a few distinct differences that should be taken into account:

  1. A single monopoly phone company regulated by a single federal agency ran the telephone network.
  2. All telephones were wired to a specific location.  No one took their phone with him or her when they traveled.
  3. Public Safety agencies were governed and funded locally and did not value State or Federal government involvement in “local affairs” like law enforcement, fire service or ambulance services.

Text Box: Figure 1 - Haleyville, AL the home of the first 9-1-1 callText Box: Figure 2 - The actual phone that received the first 9-1-1 call is in a museum in Haleyville, ALIt appears that the first-ever 911 call was placed in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968 (which is only a couple hours from where this author currently resides).  The “red phone” pictured here that received the first 9-1-1 call is located in a museum in Haleyville.  The early implementations of 9‑1‑1 all terminated at the End Office or Central Office and all they would do was translate the dialed digits 9‑1‑1 to the local Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP)[7] that took calls for that region and was staffed with specialized emergency call handling personnel.

Effective January 1, 1984, AT&T‘s local operations were split into seven independent Regional Holding Companies, also known as Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), or “Baby Bells”. Afterwards, AT&T, continued to operate all of its long-distance services. 

This was the start of the some of the change.  Now separate for profit companies will be running different geographic areas of the 9-1-1 network with different priorities, business plans and ways to handle 9-1-1 service to the customers they serve.

Even though the “baby bell’s” had separate geographic territories after the breakup of “ma Bell,” it was ok since most of the 9‑1‑1 network was still based on standards and was interconnected.

Around 1984 roughly 40% of the country had enhanced 9‑1‑1 so it was still being rolled out across the country.  Many of these Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOC’s) were selling solutions to public safety agencies in their respective territories and making a fair bit of money doing it.  Most of these systems were specialized PBX’s to handle the specialized 9-1-1 lines along with software to manage these calls.

This simple and easily remembered 9-1-1 number was little more than a way to transfer the caller to emergency personnel without knowing their number.  It made it quite easy for the phone company to set up without requiring major capital or technological investments.  This early method had a few drawbacks:

  1. The emergency operator had no way of knowing who originated this call and did not know the originated number.  If the call was disconnected there was no way to get back in touch with the caller or find out who was calling.  If they didn’t know the originating callers number it was also very hard to determine from where they were calling.  Operators had to try to determine the location of the caller during the call.  This sounds easy enough, but when callers are calling in a panic and distressed its amazing how hard it is to get a correct physical address of a location of an incident from them.  This took a lot of time and effort delaying a response.
  2. The End Office or Central Office rarely matched the boundaries.  For example an End Office may serve 5 police departments and 20 fire departments so the issue then becomes which agency responds to the specific caller?  To make matters worse in some cases a single large police / fire agency can be served by multiple end offices?  Just because the copper wire at the end of the telephone line connected to an end office it didn’t mean each copper wire was in the same emergency response area.  Haleyville, AL was a very small town so it didn’t have these complications in 1964 but many other cities and counties did.  This made it difficult to efficiently deliver the call to the proper Public Safety Answering Point.

The Standards

To solve the above two issues a relatively new (for the 1960’s) and forgotten technology was deployed.  Since phone lines were strictly analog back then Calling Line Identification (CLID) was not around and it was considered “rocket science” to display the callers number, so the 9‑1‑1 engineering forefathers used a technology back then that was supposed to be used for long distance invoice accounting, which is commonly referred to as a Centralized Automatic Message Accounting or CAMA line (or trunk for the telecom enthusiasts’ out there).   These CAMA lines were able to pass the 7 digit originating phone number of the subscriber calling 9‑1‑1.  This is key, since determining which agency will answer the call and where to route emergency personnel is dependent on knowing who and more importantly where the caller’s phone is located.  I know this sounds simple enough in todays terms but back in the 1960’s and 1970’s this was pretty cutting edge, so much so it is still in operation today and serves us well, but now it is actually holding emergency response back as we will explain in later chapters.

These analog CAMA lines serve ninety eight percent of all PSAP’s in North America.  In many cases when the phone company was moving to digital (yes digital not IP) they had the added burden of keeping specialized older analog equipment in their central offices just so they could serve these lines.  In some cases these analog “shelves” of equipment were bigger and required more power and generated more heat than the new digital switch that handled the entire community.  In some cases these shelves were only serving 20 lines or so and the digital switch served thousands!  Finding replacement parts, knowledgeable service technicians is becoming quite a challenge in this digital age.  Now some ILECs will offer these PSAPs “ISUP” lines that will pass the calling parties number using SS7 signaling but these are rare.

To help get the emergency call to the right emergency response agency the concept of the Emergency Service Zone was developed, each PSAP had a defined geographic response region (see Figure 1 below).  For example the Chicago Police had jurisdiction in Metropolitan Chicago any adjoining suburbs were served by their local law enforcement agency, who would have had a different Emergency Service Zone defined.  Chicago has a single PSAP to serve this region (and all its public safety agencies, it is important to note that most PSAPs serve multiple agencies; fire, EMS and police) and was given an Emergency Service Number (ESN) and each suburban PSAP surrounding Chicago was also given an ESN, this number is cross referenced to every phone line in that “zone” via a tool called the Master Street Address Guide (MSAG).  This MSAG is straight out of 1970 data processing it is typically a sequential database taking the response region (think metropolitan Chicago) that is drawn with borders on a map and translating this map into address ranges.  For example (simplified for discussion) for the Chicago ESZ an example might be 101 Main St. – 545 Main St., Chicago, IL and if the billing address record (more on this later) lands within this range that phone line would be assigned the ESN for the Chicago PSAP.  If however the adjoining community (just down the street) of Oak Park with a different PSAP and responding agency (maybe Oak Park Police Department not Chicago Metro) may have an MSAG record in the phone companies ANI/ALI database of 546 Main St. – 1200 Main St. There were issues with this method but for the most part if the subscriber line address was entered correctly into the database and that address really was the physical address of the phone it would be routed to the right PSAP and the right emergency responder would arrive.  Some businesses have a different billing address, which might send responders to the mailroom instead of the actual location of the incident, which could be in a totally different city!

Text Box: Figure 2 - Graphic example of MSAG database - Courtesy of Qwest[8]

Many counties and communities in the U.S. have implemented ordinances requiring property owners to standardize the display of house numbers on buildings and along streets and roadways, to allow emergency personnel to more easily locate a given address day or night, even in poor weather.  These generally consist of reflective characters, at least 3 to 6 inches high, on a contrasting reflective background. It is necessary for the address number to be affixed to the building or to a separate structure such as a post, wall or fence, provided that such separate structure is located in front of the building and on the building’s side of the street. Compliant signage systems are often advertised as being “E911 compliant”

To highlight this issue in more detail, this author recalls a 9-1-1 call my partner and I were dispatched to.  A teenage girl called 9–1–1 to report that her older brother had a shotgun and was planning on committing suicide and had locked himself in his bedroom upstairs.  Before the emergency call taker could confirm her address she hung up screaming.  Attempts to call the panic stricken teenager back were unsuccessful.  My unit and another backup unit were dispatched to 115 Millcreek Dr. which showed as the callers ANI / ALI database address from the phone company database.  My partner and I arrived on scene, prepared for a confrontation with someone possibly armed and disturbed.  We knocked on the door and entered the house.  Since the information we were given was that a teenage male had locked himself upstairs in the NW corner of the house we went upstairs, preparing for what might be in front of us.  Once upstairs we feared the worse since there was no noise, no screaming family members, or sign of the original teenage 9-1-1 caller.  Once upstairs, nothing, no noise, no one in the bedrooms, it all seemed calm.  We proceeded down the stairs and towards the back of the house weapons drawn only to find a nice family enjoying dinner on the back porch they were a little surprised to find two uniformed officers in their home.  My partner and I apologized very quickly and left their home before our badge numbers could be memorized.

We would later come to find out the caller was located at 115 Millcreek Road not Drive which was about a 15 minute drive away from the original dispatch of 115 Millcreek Dr.  Everything turned out all right in the end, but it could have turned out quite bad.  The story above happens almost daily in the United States and in some cases turns tragic.  Most of the public is oblivious to these errors since the majority turn out ok but a good number end in tragedy and court cases.

It may not be perfect but this MSAG database was the only way to coordinate;

  1. Different emergency responder geographic boundaries.  Which continue to evolve and change overtime.
  2. Different public safety answering point boundaries that typically do not match the emergency agency boundaries.  Keep in mind they may dispatch for many different agencies and most tend to be county based so they may have many different cities, towns and villages all with 100’s of different agencies.
  3. Subscriber address information, which may or may not match U.S. Postal standards.  The address met phone company standards, which may have differed greatly from the maps emergency responders were looking at.  Man

I would have loved to be in the room with the engineer who heard the requirements for what they had to make the telephone network do he must have been thoroughly confused!  In the end however he came up with a system and method that served us well for 40 years and is still in place today!

Most of these MSAG databases are the responsibility of the Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs).  Many outsource this function to private companies; one these companies is Intrado and the other is TeleCommunication Systems Inc.

Each county usually has their own guidelines on how the addressing is done, but for the most part National Emergency Number Association(NENA) guidelines are followed.  These guidelines are expressed by the Master Street Address Guide (MSAG). The actual 911 addresses and associated phone numbers are put into the ALI database.

Take the complexity of the above description of the database that covers phone company boundaries, emergency responder boundaries, municipal, county and state borders and try to come up with a method to fit wireless phones that move constantly into this same database.  More on this in the next chapter, its quite a “cluge.”

Summary of the 9-1-1 network

Since this chapter is a little technical yet important to understand how the 9-1-1 network and public safety dispatch was built over the years so you will understand why its harder than most think to change it to a newer, model.  He is a brief summary:

  1. The 9-1-1 network was designed and implemented using technology from the early 1970’s.  The first 9-1-1 call was made in 1968.  Most of this is in place today.
  2. The 9-1-1 network was designed during a time when a single company controlled phone service in North America.
  3. A “unique” type of specialized analog phone line was used (and is still in use) to pass the calling parties phone number.  It is not like a current home phone line that passes phone numbers and calling party names.
  4. Every wired phone was given an associated ESN and ESZ to help transfer the emergency call to who ever was taking calls for the agency that would respond to the callers request (these agencies were not always the same, for eg: the county Sheriff might answer a call for a small town but the local police department might be dispatched).

Wireless Phones Changed Everything

The founding engineers of our 9-1-1 network had enough to worry about to get the emergency call to the right agency instantaneously to be dispatched.  None of the telecom engineers actually envisioned that you would have a phone in your car, little alone your pocket or that a vehicle would actually initiate a call to 9-1-1 (GM’s OnStar™, or Ford’s Sync™ or a handful of other in-vehicle telematics solutions).  These modern mobile “swiss army” smart phones are so sophisticated its easy to see how our 1970’s 9-1-1 system is struggling.

Many fans of shows like CSI think that the police can track them by their wireless phone within a foot and track them while they move.  This misconception causes a huge divide between what the public actually thinks the 9‑1‑1 operator can do and what they can really do.  In many cases the call taker ends up pleading with the caller to try to find a real address for them to send help.

Well the first cellular phone call happened in a parking lot in Soldier Field in Chicago on October 13, 1983.  Its interesting to note, that back then not even half of the PSAP’s in the nation had enhanced 9-1-1 service rolled out for land line phones, yet a whole new technology was being launched that would change the very things they were still implementing.  By 1990 over 5 million cellular phones were in service this was extremely fast consumer adoption, two years later it would double to 10 million subscribers.

Many consumers were buying these “car phones” to be used (as advertised) to contact 9-1-1 in an emergency.  Little did they know that this network was never developed for this?  Nor was it ever mentioned that landline subscribers were paying for this network.  That didn’t stop the aggressive marketing strategies stating that you need a shiny new cellular phone in case you need to contact emergency responders.

In the early days of cellular phones most calls would try to get routed to a central location also known as a default PSAP, for example; a State Police dispatch center (hopefully, they knew at least which state the call was coming from but in the early days this was not always the case).  Once they talked to the caller to understand the location of the emergency (hopefully the caller was not too panicked to be able to articulate their location).  This central center would try to get the exact location of the incident and attempt to transfer the caller to the appropriate PSAP handling calls for that region.  This process added many critical minutes to the response, once they spoke to the caller, heard what was wrong, got the location, figured out who to “blind” transfer the call to, the caller (some times the dispatcher would repeat it for them if they stayed on the line during the transfer) had to repeat everything they said to the previous 9-1-1 call taker now to the new one in their area before responders could be dispatched.  In many cases the local PSAP knew that area much better than the State Police or default PSAP dispatcher and would determine they were not the best agency and in some cases transfer it again delaying response even further.

I know transferring a call is so “old school” in telecommunications technology but remember the type of lines 9‑1‑1 is using, these analog CAMA lines had to do an antiquated “hook flash[9]” to do a simple call transfer.  This would signal to the 9-1-1 selective router that you wanted to transfer this call.  I won’t get into too much of the technical detail, but in a lot of cases if you were not in the same region served by the same selective router you cannot transfer the call but had to transfer it to the “main” office number of the responding agency.  In the 90’s it was almost impossible to transfer a 9‑1‑1 call to a different selective router.  This doesn’t seem like much but take into account that the city of Los Angeles was served by many selective routers which made it impossible in the early days of wireless, to even transfer calls within the same county or city!  This posed a problem since the administration line for the emergency agency in that region (that was able to accept transferred calls) wasn’t necessarily open in the middle of the night and may or may not be answered.   The transferred call may get voice mail or an automated attendant telling transferred callers “… if this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 9‑1‑1 …” even though they originally did dial 9‑1‑1 and if they hung up and redialed chances are they would get the same State Police.  (or central agency since not every State Police agency would receive 9‑1‑1 calls) and the whole process of trying to locate the incident and transfer it would start all over again.  Even though the agency might not answer the “office” phone calls during the night, which were deemed non-emergency, a host of 9‑1‑1 operators would be standing by to answer emergency calls but the transferring agency, if not on the same selective router as that agency had no way to get the call into the antiquated CAMA lines that those 9‑1‑1 operators would answer.

The processing of 9-1-1 calls by the 9-1-1 Selective Router should be the same regardless of whether the call was delivered to the 9-1-1 Selective Router via message trunks serving a Central Office Switch or via dedicated CAMA-type trunks that connect a PBX directly to the 9-1-1 Selective Router.

Selective routing call processing steps are:

  • Programming is written in the 9-1-1 Selective Router for each incoming trunk group (group of lines). This programming includes assigning a single numbering plan digit (NPD) that is used to identify the area code that goes with to the 7-digit number in the ANI transmitted by the PBX to construct a full 10-digit number.
  • The 9-1-1 Selective Router uses the NPD + 7-digit ANI to search the selective routing database for the code to use in routing the call to the appropriate 9-1-1 trunk group that serves the appropriate 9-1-1 answering point. The Selective Router transmits the full 10-digit number to the 9-1-1 answering points in the 9‑1‑1 region served by that selective router.
  • A default routing code is assigned to each incoming 9-1-1 trunk group to enable the 9-1-1 Selective Router to complete calls in the event of ANI failures. When using the dedicated CAMA-type trunk configuration, the default routing code ensures calls are routed to the 9-1-1 answering point that serves the location of the PBX.

All call control features of the Selective Router, such as Fixed Transfer, Selective Transfer, Manual Transfer, Alternate Routing, Speed Dial, Forced Disconnect, etc. work the same on 9-1-1 calls originated from PS911 sites as traditional or other 9-1-1 calls.

How wireless networks connect to 911 today

For a wireless call to be properly delivered to a 9-1-1 PSAP for dispatch the following four things must happen:

  1. The wireless phone of the 911 caller has to be located
  2. Once location is determined, the PSAP serving that location need to be determined
  3. The voice phone call needs to be transferred to the proper PSAP
  4. A callback number needs to be sent to the 911 operator in case of a disconnected call or the emergency dispatcher needs to get in touch with the caller.

Keep in mind the 9-1-1 network was built for landline phones which were served by copper wires going to a very specific location.  The database that stores this phone number has an associated physical address for each line, this is not the case for wireless.  When someone on a wireless phone dials 9-1-1 this call goes to a Mobile Switching Center (“MSC”) this MSC knows which cell site, tower and in many cases the antenna array (the north, south, east or west antenna the signal was received from) the call is coming from.  Once the MSC knows it has a to deliver a 9‑1‑1 call it assigns a “pseudo ANI” number for this specific call from a bucket of numbers associated with that specific cell tower.  I like to call this a “fake number” this call is then transferred to the switching center, which gets the call to a 9‑1‑1 selective router.  At this point, the selective routing database looks up the “fake phone number” and gets a tower address and determines an emergency service number (“ESN”) for that region and starts transferring the voice portion of the call to that PSAP.  Once the call comes into the PSAP a 9‑1‑1 call taker answers the phone and their computerized phone system (“CTI”) sends a request for a location database lookup, typically over a very old modem, to an ANL / ALI database to get the relative location of the caller or the address of the tower.  During the transfer the MSC tries to insert the call back number of the cell phone in the static ANI/ALI database before the call is answered so that the dispatcher will at least have the real call back number and not the pseudo ANI number.  This database entry doesn’t always happen prior and sometimes requires the call taker to “re-query” the database in the hopes of getting the proper call back.

When cell phones first came out this was a lot better than no location at all because without even the tower location it was hard to determine which PSAP should even answer the call since they didn’t know which region the call was for.  In the early days if the cell phone had an area code for Los Angeles but the caller was in Florida the call would be routed to L.A. even thought the caller needed help from emergency responders in the Florida.  This phase one method, however, kludged was still far better than the previous alternative.  This “tower location” method is referred to as Wireless Phase 1 accuracy.

The FCC required wireless carriers to identify the phone number and cell phone tower used by callers, within six minutes of a request by a PSAP[10].  Six minutes is a long time to wait in an emergency situation and is far too long in most situations, the good news is most carriers do it much quicker than the legislation requires and in some case as little as 5 seconds.

This gives a general idea of the area of where the caller is calling from since they must be in the range of that specific cellular antenna tower.  This location range is sometimes referred to as phase 1 accuracy and can vary depending on the region if it’s a rural tower in a field its range radius could be 500 feet to a couple of miles making it difficult to route emergency personnel based on area guess which could be 5 miles off?  To fix this the we have (described below) Phase 2 which will pass a much more accurate location but its also much more difficult to make happen.  Phase 1 as described above did not require many changes to the existing 9‑1‑1 infrastructure or that of the wireless carriers the biggest changes were at the ANI / ALI database systems, software and vendors but was relatively easy.  Its interesting to note that if the 9‑1‑1 network had more modern digital telecommunications technology much of the location, callback number, etc. could be passed directly with the call not fumbled with outside databases, links, delays in getting information and added costs and middlemen.

Phase 2 – Getting a more accurate location

The way a call gets transferred to a PSAP is relatively the same as Phase 1 in most cases calculating the longitude and latitude of the caller would take too long so the voice call is transferred using the pseudo ANI method described above.  In most cases the responding agency is the same for that tower (issues happen on state / provincial / country borders).  There is a lot of discussion on the time it takes for the carrier to “lock” in on an exact longitude and latitude of the caller it can be as little as 6 seconds to as long as 20 seconds depending on the method used, area, carrier, handset, if the caller is moving or stationary.  This is too long a time to hold the caller while waiting most would hang up thinking they did not get through to 9‑1‑1.

There are two primary ways to get location the first to be deployed that did not require users to change phone technologies and handsets was a “network-based” solution. This method uses some form of radiolocation from the cellular network.  For this location method the network (towers) measure the signal time (time difference of arrival ”TDOA”) between multiple towers (most cell phones have signals from multiple towers accept in rural areas).  If you go back to your old trigonometry class if you measure the time or arrival between three towers that make a triangle you can get a pretty good position of the 9‑1‑1 callers phone location.  The network carriers use angle-of-arrival and field strength to improve the accuracy in many cases.  I am giving a pretty simplistic description but I don’t want to lose you in the technical details.  This is called network-based since all the calculations and measurements are done in the “network” and most users didn’t need to upgrade their phone so this was a good method in the early days of phase 2 implementations.  I will explain shortly how the longitude and latitude (“x, y coordinates”) actually get delivered to the PSAP once they are determined.

The other method is referred to as the “handset-based” solutions.  There are two “handset-based” methods using Global Positioning System (“GPS”) receivers built into the phone itself.

  1. Assisted GPS (“A-GPS”) – These more recent handsets get some timing and signal from Global Position System (“GPS) satellites then use triangulation techniques similar to the network-based approach.  In most of the modern systems portions of the processing are done on the handset and portions are done in the network to speed up the process and improve accuracy.
  2. Enhanced Observed Time Difference of Arrival (““E-OTD””) – This is another method of a hybrid handset and network based approach.  This method has not developed as many had hoped due to the cost to the handset manufacturers having to license hardware and software into the very price sensitive handsets.

Once the location is determined the method for delivering these XY coordinates is actually quite difficult.  Again these old analog based CAMA trunks (and the lack of a business model to change them out) required the build out of a “work around” to deliver these coordinates to PSAPs and dispatchers.  I will try my best to explain this process but will be oversimplifying the process to try to give you the basis for how it is done.  There are many technical dissertations and network diagrams of exactly how this is accomplished.

These are the basic steps for wireless phase 2 location:

  1. A wireless carrier’s Mobile Switching Center (“MSC”) receives a 911 call this initiates the Position Determination Equipment (““PDE””) to locate the mobile phone either at the start of the call or while the call is in progress.
  2. The MPC uses the XY coordinates to interrogate a Coordinate Routing Data Base (““CRDB””).  The CRDB returns the information necessary to forward the call to the proper E911 Control Office or Selective Router.  In most cases the XY coordinates are not ready in time, so instead of holding up the voice caller the address of the tower (phase 1) is forwarded to the selective router to query the database and find the ESZ to transfer the caller to.  The XY location process is still working on getting a more accurate location even while the voice call is transferred.
  3. The MSC forwards the call and Phase I pseudo telephone number to the E911 Control Office. The E911 Control Office uses the information stored in the Selective Router Data Base to deliver the call and pseudo telephone number to the proper PSAP.
  4. When the MPC finally locates the mobile terminal (typically 6 to 3- seconds), it pushes the pseudo telephone number, call back number and location information (XY coordinates) to the ALI data base over a separate data link.  This XY would overwrite the tower address information passed during phase 1.
  5. When the PSAP’s CPE receives the call and pseudo telephone number from the E911 Control Office or Selective Router, it queries the ALI database using the pseudo telephone number. The ALI database returns the call back number and Phase II location information, which is then processed and made available to the dispatcher. During the call, the location information can be refreshed (sometimes referred as “rebidding” the ALI database) over the data link between the MPC and the ALI database.  When a caller is moving rebidding this location is very common and can usually be done every 2 to 8 seconds after the first location is determined.

If you have a serious emergency and you need to call 9-1-1 from your wireless phone, depending on where you are, there’s about a 18 percent chance that the 9‑1‑1 call‑taker does not even see your phone number on his or her screen.  The first thing you should do is tell the call-taker what and where the emergency is.  Remember, there’s about a 35 percent chance that the call-taker has no precise information about your location.  You must remember to provide information on exactly where you are quickly, because if the call gets dropped early on and the call-taker doesn’t have your number, he or she can’t even call you back to get the location.  Make sure you provide your cell phone number clearly so if the call does get dropped, the call-taker can call you back to continue assisting you.

The Business Issues with Wireless 9‑1‑1

Lets take our technical, operational, good Samaritan or emergency responder hats off for a second and look at some of the business challenges associated with delivery of wireless 9‑1‑1 calls into the wire line 9‑1‑1 network.

Entrepreneurial wireless / cellular phone companies back then were most likely competing against the huge and very profitable land-line phone companies commonly referred to as Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers[11] (ILECs) these same ILECs controlled the 9‑1‑1 network.  Remember to put your business hat on … Why would the ILECs who built, manage and support the 9‑1‑1 network allow their arch enemy the wireless / cellular phone companies to get a free ride by connecting to this costly, yet antiquated network?  To make matters worse, many of these competitors were already advertising the benefits of having a cellular phone in your car so you can call 9‑1‑1!  Imagine how that infuriated and ILEC executives since it’s really their 9‑1‑1 network not the wireless competitor and this same network is helping these competitors grow their business without paying their fair share.  To make matters worse, as wireless phones became more prevalent, people were cancelling home / business landline phones to switch to these same wireless competitors.

Now I don’t want to make the wireless guys out to be 100% bad.  The ILECs were collecting pretty steep government mandated tariff fees from every landline subscriber and charging weighty fees for; 1) selective routing, 2) ANI / ALI, 3) CAMA phone lines to the 9-1-1 center.  Since this technology was relatively old it was a significant profit center for ILECs even though as the year went on only a few still understand the technology and how it worked.

The ILECs had to spend the money years ago, buying very expensive 911 selective routers, invest and constantly manage ANI / ALI databases, store the MSAG, etc.  In some cases they outsourced their ANI/ALI databases to companies like Intrado or Telecommunication Systems Inc. (TCS), which cost them a significant amounts of money.  They also had a number of employees responsible to maintain this antiquated setup.  They did such a great job you rarely heard of an issue with the 9‑1‑1 network when it was primarily wire line callers.  So in this author’s opinion they did a nice job.

To make this point a little clearer I will try to simplify how the wireless carriers need to connect to the 911 network today.  A wireless 9-1-1 call needs to (eventually) connect to a selective router which is owned by and ILEC, this wireless carrier must invest in lines and pay an “interconnection fee” this gets the voice portion of the call to the correct PSAP (most of the time).  To pass location the wireless carrier must insert a PANI (fake phone number) record in the ALI database which is also owned by the ILEC or a company they contract with and to do this another “interconnection fee” is required and data lines.  If the caller is moving and the location needs to be updated, in some cases either the PSAP or wireless carrier needs to pay an “ALI dip” fee to get a new location record fed to the PSAP (this is not as common as it was in the early days, but a cost all the same).

With all this investment, why would the ILECs just “roll over” and let their archenemies the wireless carriers get a free ride?  Yes I know, I know, its in the public’s best interest and will save lives, but that doesn’t keep shareholders happy very long.  When people wonder why it took so long to connect the wireless network to the wire line 911 network I believe this fundamental financial issue was the major reason for the delay and not working together to improve things for the future.  This point is so important let me repeat, the reason we have not moved forward with improvements to the 911 network is a fundamental business one, not technology, regulation, or willingness to do the right thing.  The ILECs, in theory, were (and in most cases still are) gatekeepers and toll road collectors to the network and they want to squeeze out as much of those lucrative tariff dollars out of this capital investment as they can.  All in the name of saving lives.  They know its going to change but why move too quickly?  What is the incentive to change it?  I’m as capitalist as the next guy (hope you paid full price for this book) so I don’t see any business reason it will change in the near term.  I do however see a ton a moral reasons and a lot of advocates keep pointing those out to no avail.  Once a good business opportunity evolves that will allow smart businesses to profit will be when 9‑1‑1 will change for the future.  Trust me over the last decades I have heard from every impassioned public servant, concerned citizen, lobbyist and emergency room doctor about the need to change it, but until a new financial model evolves it will stay the same.  I will go into more detail in future chapters on how the funding for 911 works today and it should help make this point even clearer.

Growth in Wireless 9-1-1 calls per month

As the graph below clearly shows the growth in wireless 9-1-1 calls is impacting how these agencies operate and handle increasing call volumes.

Figure 5 – Growth in monthly wireless 9-1-1 calls 1997 to 2012

Time for the Regulators to look into Wireless 9-1-1

The first wireless call was in 1983 but the first regulatory interest in extending E911 service to wireless started in 1993, ten years later when the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) started developing rules for the Personal Communication Service (PCS).  During that discussion and debate the FCC tried to get the industry to put more attention in regards to wireless E911 access with a focus on how to locate wireless callers.  In that proceeding, the Commission urged the industry and standards setting bodies to direct their attention to E911 access, including the automatic location of callers. In 1994, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (““APCO””), the National Emergency Number Association (““NENA””), the National Association of State Nine One One Administrators (““NASNA””), and the Personal Communications Industry Association issued an ““Emergency Access Position Paper”” which they filed as an ex parte filing in the PCS proceeding.  Later in 1994, representatives of the wireless telecommunications community and emergency service and public safety community convened a Joint Experts Meeting (JEM), which included representatives from various affected groups including vendors.

[12]The FCC requires 95% of a network operator’s in-service phones must be E911 compliant (“location capable”) by December 31, 2005. (Several carriers missed this deadline, and were fined by the FCC.[13])

The FCC Phase II location accuracy standard for network-based technologies is 100 meters for 67 percent of calls and 300 meters for 95 percent of the calls. For handset-based technologies, the standard is 50 meters for 67 percent of the calls and 150 meters for 95 percent of the calls.

Wireless network operators must provide the latitude and longitude of callers within 300 meters, within six minutes of a request by a PSAP.  Accuracy rates must meet FCC standards on average within any given participating PSAP service area by September 11, 2012 (deferred from September 11, 2008).

How is 9-1-1 Funded?

If you think the technology has been “jury-rigged” wait till I try to explain the patchwork of how your nationwide 9-1-1 system is funded.  By the end of this chapter you will be left shaking your head at the seemingly uncoordinated, confused, unfair, abused method of trying to fund this emergency network we depend on.

When a caller dials 9­‑1‑1 they expect a quick response and one of the key tenets for local government is protecting the public so the emergency dispatch is an inherently local function and should stay this way.  A local police, ambulance or fire department responds to local emergencies.  Yet 9‑1‑1 is a national number that all citizens depend on regardless of where they happen to be when they call.  They don’t wait till they get to their home county where they pay taxes for these services.  Chances are when they need emergency help they may very well be in a different area and the tax payers over that area will have the burden of paying for this emergency response.  In these times of fiscal and economic challenge you can imagine this burden.

Let me explain further by illustrating a very common story.  The Brady family loves to take vacations to the beach every January.  Every second week in January the family loads up their motorhome and drives the 18 hours to the beach and their favorite campground to enjoy the sun and the sand. During their trip, they have engine trouble and the engine catches fire filling the cabin of the RV with smoke.  They pull over to the side of the highway in a rural part of Georgia jump out of the mobile home and dial 9‑1‑1.  They are very panicked as they watch the fire engulf their motorhome, and their possessions.  Mama Brady has inhaled a fair bit of smoke and is having trouble breathing and needs medical attention.  They have no idea where in the world they are and an argument ensues with the family while Papa Brady is on the phone with the 9‑1‑1 operator who is trying desperately to find out where they are located (the phase 2 location has not arrived to the 9‑1‑1 center yet) about whether they are in South Carolina or Georgia.  The call taker is pretty sure they are in Georgia since the call came into a rural 9‑1‑1 center in Georgia and from the description of the local surroundings (trees, barn and truck repair shop) the call taker has a pretty good idea where they are located (we will address this later of why it is difficult to centralize 9‑1‑1 call takers).  The call taker / dispatcher routes the local sheriff department, state police, local fire department and local EMS service to their location.  In the end they put out the fire, transport Mama Brady to the local county hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and hyperventilating but will be ok.  Total cost to that rural county:

Portion of PSAP: 9‑1‑1 phone lines, call taker’s salary / health care / pension, computer systems, mapping system, digital recorders, computer aided dispatch, alarm system, radio system data lines to DMV and state law enforcement system, building, utilities costs training.$185
Fire response; equipment, gas, salaries, infrastructure$2,750
Sheriff response$578
State police response and follow up incident report$790
Ambulance response (less the portion paid by the Brady’s health coverage)$550
Road clean up of the burnt motorhome$150

Keep in mind the Brady’s in the story above were heading to Florida and their permanent residence is in Michigan.  They plan on spending their hard earned vacation funds in Florida and pay most of their taxes to their municipal, county and state government in Michigan.  I know it may not be nice to point out but the poor Brady’s don’t plan on spending a dime supporting the poor rural underfunded county that just saved their motorhome, Mama Brady’s health and completed the insurance report on the incident also while redirecting traffic.  They Brady’s did say “thank you,” and were very grateful for the call taker’s, men and women who responded to help them but didn’t financially support the response at all.  At least at a hotel you tip the guy who carries your bags to your room.

This scenario plays out all across the country in rural PSAP’s that have the unfortunate reality of a major interstate highway running through them. My point is everyone who lives in a modern society has the expectation that these services will be there to help him or her in their time of need.  Most of the public do not have any idea of how its funded and the 9‑1‑1 portion of taking the call and dispatching those heroic first responders is even a more convoluted funding story that is often raided by underfunded governments all over the country.

I know this book is specifically on the dispatch function so let me separate the first responders funding for fire, police and EMS these are typically funded through federal, state and local taxes.  I do however want to dig into the 9‑1‑1 dispatch portion outlined above.  This is not paid by traditional taxes like most people think.

When 9‑1‑1 was first being considered the estimate back then was $70 million (1970’s dollars).   The ingenious way to fund it was to implement a surcharge on everyone who had a phone since these same phones would help these customers get emergency response faster, this was one of the fairest methods at the time.  Since these Public Safety Answering points were not (a few exceptions) state or federal government run and sometimes covered multiple agencies, cities and counties it was hard to determine who would incur the burden of funding them?  So the phone company along with some help from the FCC and state public utilities commissions decided to allow states or county government to determine the amounts of the surcharge so that they could supply this vital service to the public.  The costs were very different between large metropolitan areas and rural less populated regions.  These monies would be collected on phone bills and remitted to local quasi-government run boards to fund and manage 9‑1‑1 PSAPs.

These funds were collected (for a small fee) and remitted to these quasi-government agencies to use the proceeds to build, fund, and maintain a 9‑1‑1 service.  There were varying rules on what the funds could be used towards.  In some states the salaries of the call takers could be paid for using these funds, in others it was for technology only, yet others were very specific on the types of technology the funds could be used for.

This “surcharge” method worked real well to get the 9‑1‑1 launched across the country.  Especially when there was only a single phone company.  It started getting a little more difficult after AT&T was divested into the baby bell’s but they figured things out and it continued to fund 9‑1‑1 and ensure it would be there for the public and kept the checks coming to ensure people would answer when the public dialed 9‑1‑1.  When fax machines, and modems became common in the late 1980’s it was great because every additional phone line meant more funding for the local PSAP.  This was humming along nicely until wireless phones were introduced and didn’t have to collect this surcharge, yet were ordered to connect to 9­‑1‑1.

Let me try to explain the complexity in a simple example.  In Missouri the “show me state” they collect surcharges for 9‑1‑1 for land line phones only (a few cities imposed sales taxes).  The first question is this fair to the local phone company that their fierce competitors the VoIP providers and wireless providers who do not add this surcharge to their phone bill?  The public perception is these competitors are cheaper yet both still connect to the 9‑1‑1 network without paying their fair share.  If I was a landline subscriber I would disconnect my “more expensive” landline for a cellular phone.  It will still connect to 9‑1‑1 and provide basically the same service.  In fact, in Missouri now over 50% of all calls to 9‑1‑1 are from wireless phones.  In many cases the 171 PSAPs in the State of Missouri are swamped with wireless callers yet their funding has progressively gone down more than 50%.  These same PSAPs were required to upgrade their costly hardware and software to support wireless phones calling 9‑1‑1 yet these same devices and carriers were not required to support this same network.

One of the challenges of funding 9‑1‑1 is in the following key areas:

  1. The ways in which funds are collected, allocated, dispersed and monitored is different all across the country and in some case is different county to county or city to city even in the same state.  This ragtag of rules and regulations is very difficult for national wire line and wireless carriers to adapt to and support.  Also all carriers cover multiple states and hundred of counties.  In some jurisdictions they are collecting on average $19.75 per 9‑1‑1 call in others its as low as $0.10 per call.  Which region do you think provides the best emergency response?
  2. Many jurisdictions currently lack clear guidance concerning permitted uses of the 9‑1‑1 funds and, additionally, fail to adequately monitor how funds are used.  This allows for misuse or at worse questions the integrity of those charger with using the funds since in many cases there are no clear standard policies in place.  Heightened auditing is warranted to ensure that the public and carriers submitting funds are guaranteed that they are being used for the purposes they are being collected for.  In many, many cases these funds are being diverted.  This will continue without clear policies and auditing procedures in place.  In 2010 more than 13 states raided these funds[14], with no repercussions other than reducing public safety coverage.
  3. Due to this lackadaisical auditing and oversight many carriers question why they should even collect funds on the auspices of 9‑1‑1 and submit funds if they are not going toward the designated purpose.  Carriers would love to reduce the bills to their customers and this is an area that without oversight could be an easy target.  One recent carrier organization stated it clearly “… why should I collect funds on my already expensive bills to pay for roads, state pensions, parks, and schools?  It was a surcharge imposed on us for 9‑1‑1 and we along with our customers are expecting it to be used for this purpose.  If not, we will stop collecting it.”  My fear is that this will happen and put further pressure on funding.  Carriers collect currently over $1 billion in surcharges; it is nearly impossible to track the disbursements to see how much has actually been used for its intended purpose.  Should carriers be the “back door tax collector” for all levels of government?

Third, our Report finds that several dimensions of current funding procedures— in particular, certain ways in which funds are collected, allocated, dispersed and monitored—are plainly impoverished.  Notably, the practice of raiding and misusing 9 1 1 funds is patently bad policy.  Many jurisdictions currently lack clear guidance concerning permitted uses of 9 1 1 funds and, additionally, fail to adequately monitor how funds are used. Moreover, heightened auditing is warranted to ensure that carriers obligated to pay into 9 1 1 are discharging their contribution obligations.  Based on our findings and research, Section C distills a series of five normative recommendations that federal, state, and local policymakers should consider in charting 9 1 1 policy going forward.   We emphasize that—in addition to funding amounts for 9 1 1—policymakers must pay close attention to broader issues related to funding, including procedures for the collection of funds, allocation and usage of funds, and auditing and monitoring of all parties involved in the 9 1 1 system.

Wireless Carriers – the new tax collectors?

Wireless carriers are estimated to collect over $2 billion in wireless 9-1-1 surcharges which are passed on to local 9-1-1 agencies across the United States.  In many cases this funding pays salaries, equipment costs, phone lines, power and light for the 9-1-1 operators in local communities all across the country to be there to answer when the public calls in an emergency.

There is growing concern within the major wireless carriers in the United States that they are collecting these funds and then State government is diverting these funds to reduce their debt’s, build parks, and general “slush” funds for government needs.  Their point is simple, on the invoice to their customers it typically states something similar to “9-1-1 surcharge / fee” and many of their customers pay this, with understanding what it is used for.  The line on the bill to customers does not say “a general government tax to be used as the government see’s fit.”  I agree with the carriers that it is unfair to use these funds for anything other than what they are intended for and the public believes they are paying for.

Prepaid Phones Funding?  Is it fair?

Currently most State Governments fund the E-9-1-1 system by a statewide surcharge levied on various telephone exchange and access lines and “cellular or wireless telecommunications service subscribers.” Under most current state laws, postpaid wireless subscribers are contributing to the E-9-1-1- fund, but prepaid wireless subscribers are not currently (as of 2013) contributing.  As pre-paid wireless phones are the fastest growing consumer wireless device, the debate over the proper contribution and method for collection to the E9-1-1 fund is heating up, while the fund deficits are growing.  As people disconnect traditional phone services and move to pre-paid the funding to 9-1-1 is actually shrinking.  Its too early to tell but some experts suggest that prepaid phones call 9-1-1 at a much higher percentage the landline or traditional wireless post-paid phones per capita.

The 911 Industry Association (9IA) believes that equity considerations require that both prepaid and postpaid wireless subscribers should be required to contribute to the E-9-1-1 fund as equal as possible.  To the best of our knowledge, has not heard opposition from prepaid service providers regarding if they should contribute to the fund, it’s the method of assessing and collecting the surcharge fees that is currently under intense debate.

Government “raiding” of 9­‑1‑1 funding

Thirteen states — Arizona, California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin — reported that 9-1-1 collected funds are or could be used to support other programs in a FCC report submitted to Congress.  In 2008, 12 states reported diverting funds.  The second annual report was required by the New and Emerging Technologies 911 Improvement Act of 2008 (NET 911 Act). [15]  In 2010 over 13 states raided funds so the practice is not getting any better and in fact higher amounts of funds are being diverted.  This trend is very disturbing.  In reviewing reports from more recent reports to congress the reported funds collected (for eg: $100 million exactly in California) it makes the reader question the methods and check and balances in place for this significant revenue collected from the public.

Thirty-two states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands used funds collected for 9-1-1 and enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) for their intended purposes. Two states didn’t respond, and three didn’t provide particular information.

“Stopping 911 Fund RaidsDepending on their state and their locality, wireless consumers support the 911 system through a tax or fee collected when paying for wireless services. The fee should be based on real costs of the emergency communications systems, not diverted for other purposes. As the FCC recently highlighted in an August 2010 report to Congress, 13 states (AZ, CA, DE, GA, HI, IL, NE, NY, OR, RI, VA, WA and WI) raided 911 funds to support programs other than 911/E-911, including 10 states that used funds for these critical emergency services to close their state’s general budget gaps. At the same time, the public safety community needs adequate and reliable funding to provide 911 service and upgrade their systems. CTIA believes Congress and the FCC should prohibit states and localities from using 911 funds for non-911 service purposes.” Quoted from the CTIA Wireless Association Web Site 2013.

 “When our consumers see a ‘9-1-1 tax and fee’ on their wireless bills, they pay it because they believe their contribution will go to ensure their emergency wireless or wire line calls will be answered,” said Dane Snowden, CTIA vice president of external and state affairs. “Unfortunately, this report tells us a different story.” Snowden called the report “incredibly disappointing.”

Texting and 9-1-1

No you cannot text 9-1-1.  Even though text messages morph voice phone traffic these days 96% of all PSAPs in the United States cannot accept text messages.  Is this unacceptable, yes.

A lot of the general public ask why?  Well, here is the simple answer (all the telecom engineers before you send me emails this is just a simple explanation), the 9-1-1 network is a separate analog land line network and cannot pass data easily to PSAP’s that need to receive it.  Imagine sending a text to your grandmother’s home phone in the kitchen.  Its not going to work.  Now at this point most people say sure the 9-1-1 or dispatch center has digital data access they run tags, criminal history and can search the internet so why can’t they receive my simple texts?  Again the simple answer, when wireless carriers hand off to the analog 9-1-1 network there is no “simple” way to determine the location of the text and determine which PSAP should receive it (if it even had equipment that could receive it).  The lines coming into the PSAP called CAMA lines are voice only so most of the important data elements get stripped from the message.  Now most people I explain this too start rolling their eyes at this point, and I don’t blame them.  In this age of Skype calls around the world, Facetime video calling, text messages, phones that can give you GPS coordinates on your location with 1 foot accuracy it seems silly.  I agree with you!  The issue is the monumental cost, change and infrastructure to change the 9-1-1 network to a more modern one with IP capabilities is too big a task with no central control to even consider at this time.

Figure 6 – Map of current ability to text 9-1-1 across the U.S. as of Aug. 25, 2014

So what do we do?  Just keep telling the public to call and not text 9-1-1?  No.  My prediction is that as smart phones cram more and more intelligence in them a standard “emergency” application will be developed this application will determine and confirm your location, determine the closest 9-1-1 answering point and connect to that dispatch center via an IP connection (yes, IP connection, totally bypassing the antiquated 9-1-1 network) and allow you to send text, and multimedia messages to the local 9-1-1 answering point wherever you are in the country.  The 9-1-1 agent will receive this information very similar to an internet chat (accept with location and basic information about the owner of the phone) and be able to confirm your issue and get first responders, if warranted to your location to help.  This information will bypass the 9-1-1 telecom systems at the PSAP and most likely be handled within the Computer Aided Dispatch solution that is connected securely to the Internet.  Your message and all the pertinent information will be attached to the incident record immediately for the dispatchers and first responders to see and be best prepared when they arrive.

Dispatchers and Call Takers as a Profession?

How do dispatchers and 9-1-1 call takers get into the profession in the past?

What is Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)

The operation of today’s public safety communications centers is dependent upon information and the ability to manage it. That requirement, in turn, depends heavily upon computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software.

The design, development, purchase and installation of CAD systems can be a complicated endeavor for a medium or large-size public safety agency. It involves not only the installation of computers and the CAD software, but usually connection to a wide variety of other systems: alarm inputs, mobile data systems, time synchronization sources, records management systems, CAD systems of other agencies, and the local, county, state and federal network of criminal justice databases.

A survey (a bit dated in 2003) by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that just 33% of all local police departments used computers for dispatching. The percentage is skewed somewhat by very low adoption of computers by agencies under service populations under 10,000. Taking out those agencies, the percentage ranges from 66% to 85

Common Elements of CAD Software

CAD software can be a relatively simple program to keep a record of incidents handled by a public safety agency, or it can be a complex set of programs and external connections to fully support everything that a public safety comm center does. The complexity of the CAD program is usually dictated by the size of the public safety agency and the number of dispatchers working to support it. Like many things in life, it’s easy to be attracted to a Chevy Suburban CAD program when all you need is a Smart Car. Matching your needs to the software’s capabilities is sometimes half the project.

Simple CAD programs are often called “calls for service” programs, because they combine the features of a live, on-line, in-use CAD program with the more off-line features of a records management system.

In the early days, CAD systems consisted of mainframe or mini-computers located in a computer room, linked to so-called “dumb” terminals in the communications center showing text-based information. Today’s systems use a client-server configuration, with data residing on a central computer, physically as small as a PC, linked to workstations that consist of mid-powered PCs. The arrangement allows central storage and retrieval of data, and redundancy in case one workstation stops working. Today’s terminals are 19-inch or larger color models, and the software makes use of color, graphics and symbols to convey information.  Many of the next generation CAD solutions are “browser based” allowing users to use a generic web browser to interact with the CAD regardless if they have a local server or a server that is hosted from another location.

Check this graphic animation of the many different types of information that a typical CAD screen displays. Also examine this graphic provided by Motorola that demonstrates that CAD is just one seemingly small piece of a very large criminal justice software solution that reaches all the way to NCIC and other types of agencies.

CAD programs have essential elements or components that support the dispatcher’s work:

Incident information – This is a database of the incident data, usually obtained from a telephone caller, and including the location (house number and street name, commonplace name, intersection), caller info, and other information gathered by the dispatcher. When the incident is recorded in the database, CAD typically compares the location to previous entries, and then displays an alert if the new incident is related to a existing incident record, based both on the proximity of current incidents, and address matches on previous incidents.

E911 interface – The CAD computer is electronically connected to the 911 system, so that the caller’s telephone number and address information (ANI/ALI) are displayed on-screen, and automatically transferred to the appropriate fields of the CAD incident entry form.  The most common connection is an antiquated RS232 (serial), no moving to USB connections, and the newer 9-1-1 solutions are using IP connections to share information to the CAD system.  In the past this interface has only been a one-way connection with the 9-1-1 system pushing caller information (for eg: address and location of caller and phone number) to the CAD.  In the future I would like to see many of the call control features be handled directly from the CAD screens.  This would require a two-way interface or having a single integrated solution that does both rather than two separate distinct systems.

Location verification – Once the incident locations automatically entered from 911 or manually typed in, the CAD software matches it against the geofile created by the agency when the software was first installed. The geofile is a database of standardized locations, including specific house numbers and streets names, commonplace names (Jackson Park), and intersections. The geofile insures that locations are within the jurisdiction, within a valid block number range, and are consistently entered and entered (which assists in later searches). [step-by-step verification explanation]

Information files – Once the location has been verified, CAD links the incident to any of its information databases, including previous incidents at that same location, address alerts, free-form text information, telephone numbers, personnel lists, emergency medical dispatch procedures, fire pre-plans, HAZMAT info, suspect hazards, etc.

Incident display – Once an incident is entered, CAD can display a list of the pending, current and past incidents, according to the dispatcher’s assignment (telephones, radio, Beat 3, fire-police-EMS, special) and preference. Incidents are usually sorted by date, time and priority, but also by location, type of incident or other criteria, to make evaluation of the incidents quicker and easier. (sample priority codes)

Unit display – CAD has a database of personnel and field units, which is used to display a list of active units. This database includes the unit ID, assigned personnel, special capabilities (K-9, SWAT, etc.). The database is linked to the incident database, allowing the dispatcher to display unit status: in-service, out-of-service, etc. Using commands or on-screen buttons, the dispatcher can change a unit’s status or assign it to incidents.

Incident dispatch – With information about incidents and units, the dispatcher can link an incident to one or more field units, which essentially assigns the units to the incident. Most CAD software will provide a recommendation of which units should respond, based on pre-determined tables or a unit’s actual location from an AVL sub-system. Based on pre-determined tables, CAD also takes into account the type of incident (high danger, low danger), and type of unit (patrol, supervisor, canine, etc.) when making the recommendation.

Timestamping – whenever the dispatcher takes an action (enter a new incident, dispatch a unit, unit arrives on-scene, etc.), the computer records that time and links it to the incident and unit records for later review

Special features – Some CAD software is focused on EMS or fire operations, and have standing order or jump crew capabilities.

Report generation – to help analyze incident and unit activity, CAD allows production of reports listing all types of information, by ranges of date and time, and sorted by various fields.

External links – The CAD computer and software can be linked to other computer systems, including the agency’s E911 system (to automatically fill in the caller’s name, address and telephone number), local-county-state-federal law enforcement databases (NCIC, warrants, vehicle registration, driver’s license, stolen vehicle and property, etc.), master clock synchronization, radio systems (to show last unit that broadcast, or unit that pressed “emergency” button), mobile data, records management, paging, etc.

Mapping – Many modern comm centers have installed computer mapping systems to assist them in handling Phase II E911 calls. These mapping systems can also be interfaced with the CAD geofile to display units and incident locations.

Maintenance – The software allows the system administrator to create and edit the various support files, and to make data back-ups of the various files.

Security – CAD information is generally considered confidential for investigative reasons, for the privacy of victims and witnesses, and in some cases to comply with state laws (juveniles, etc.). The software provides a flexible method of assigning security levels for all the various types of information, the various CAD functions, and all users. This allows an administrator to very specifically assign access permissions to every user, limiting them to just what functions they are allowed to perform, and what information they are allowed to see.

Here is how all of those features and capabilities interact. The major software modules are in green, with sub-modules in yellow, and sub-databases in red. External systems are shown in blue.

Figure 7 – Diagram showing the interfaces in and out of a tradition CAD system[16]

Simplifying the Dispatch Process

Enough monitors already

Emergency dispatch is complex enough, why do we make things more complicated with multiple systems, vendors, and software?  I used to carry a cell phone, pager, digital camera and GPS, now my smart phone is it.

In my years in public safety technology I have had the pleasure of touring large and small dispatch centers across the country.  I have seen centers that split the call taking function between call takers and dispatchers, seen centers where call takers also work the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and do dispatching, seen centers that only take 9-1-1 calls and transfer when a call needs to be dispatched and every kind of mix in between typically in multi-agency environments.  One trend that seems to be continuing is the growing number of monitors, keyboard’s and mice dispatchers are required to use to do their job driven by a multitude of software applications they are required to work with.

Photos of examples of dispatch operations with far to many screens.  Adding stress and complexity.

The complexity of handling 9-1-1 calls from the public is getting much more difficult and it doesn’t have to.  For the first 25 years of 9-1-1 and dispatching nothing much changed.  Then came computers, Microsoft ™ Windows, mapping and GIS, and recording but we could handle this for land line calls since it made the job a little easier.  Then came “cell” phones, then phase 1 and phase 2 location of the wireless callers, then call congestion issues (since every good samaritan has a mobile phone and wants to report even the smallest of incidents), VoIP calls, prepaid phones and now with all the talk of NG911 possibly text and video coming to the already under paid over stressed 9-1-1 call taker / dispatcher.

When I watch the work flow associated with answering an emergency request from the public and observe how well trained dispatchers across the county try to calm the person down on the other end of the phone, confirm their location, determine the type of emergency and dispatch the best resources to the incident.  The software, technologist’s designed, to supposedly “help” with this, apparently were not actual dispatchers.  If they were, they would have simplified the process into a tightly integrated solution to help simply speed up the process of dispatching emergency personnel. Instead we have made it more complex with more costly applications.

In my humble opinion (and there are many detractors, mostly entrenched vendors) stand alone 9-1-1 systems are heading to the grave yard with some other notable software technologies like; Wordperfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Corel Draw, and Harvard Graphics.  Back in the day, these software programs were some of the best for their specific functions of word processing and spreadsheets and had dedicated user bases.  So why are they not around anymore?  In my opinion, one word “work flow” someone looked at how people were using their computers at the office and found out secretaries who used to type documents using Wordperfect were required to insert diagrams, charts and spreadsheets yet to do that they had to use other software packages.  In the same vein accountants who loved their spreadsheets eventually had to incorporate these into documents, reports and presentations for others to review.  The “work flow” also included communications like email and presentations.  Well I am sure by now you can tell where I am going with this illustration.  A “suite” of Office™ software tools was developed and hit the market designed for office workers.  At first Microsoft Word was not better than WordPerfect nor was Excel as good as Lotus, but they worked together easily, then email was incorporated, then came presentations.  Eventually the whole “suite” of software outweighed any benefits from the previous stand alone word processing and stand alone spreadsheet products.  Lotus saw this coming and came out with a word processor, and WordPerfect got acquired by Novell, then Corel tried to incorporate presentations and spreadsheets but by then it was too late, Microsoft Office had taken over.  Thanks to VoIP based media controllers making voice communications control much easier to build into software applications, standalone 9-1-1 systems are the WordPerfect’s and Lotus 1-2-3’s of pubic safety, their days are numbered.  “If separate 9-1-1 systems go away, the 9-1-1 telephony functions need to be at least redundant and calls need to get through if the computer goes down,” said Jim Anderson, System Manager, for the El Paso / Teller Colorado 9-1-1 District.  The good news is most systems I have seen, including the TriTech integrated 9-1-1 solution, a telephony device (phone or headset jack) is independent of the software on the computer to ensure those calls get delivered if the dispatcher gets the “blue screen of death” and the computer crashes.

9-1-1 will become a function of the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system.  I want to make one thing clear, I hear all the time “our 9-1-1 system is integrated to our CAD,” I am quite familiar with the circa 1980’s RS232 ANI/ALI one-way data spill CAD systems receive giving CAD a location from the caller.  This is not what I am talking about!  This is not integration.  We can do a lot better than just passing this static textual information between systems and I will try to convey some areas for improvement through-out this article to get people thinking outside of the box of what is possible.  I believe integrating workflow between CAD and 9-1-1 is more important than the over hyped Next Generation 9-1-1 “revolution.”  No “revolution” will happen unless we simplify the workflow so that dispatchers and call takers can better handle incident requests and the onslaught of new media no matter where or how they are presented to the agency.  Jim Anderson System Manager for El Paso / Teller Colorado stated it well when he said “with NG911 our dispatchers won’t have the time to filter the onslaught of new communications to determine if they will be beneficial to first responders or not, but having them attached to incident records may help responders or investigators in the end.”

Why have 9-1-1 and CAD been separate in the past?

When I explain the concept of integrating the two functions many people say, “it seems so simple why wasn’t this done in the first place?”  There are numerous reasons in the past why 9-1-1 call taking and CAD have not been better integrated, I’ll try to list the most common reasons, but these are no excuse today, and I’ll explain later on …

Some unique features when CAD and 9-1-1 are fully integrated

I wanted to list some of the key features that are just the “tip of the iceberg” for dispatchers and supervisors when a fully integrated solution is put to work, I recently reviewed an integrated 9-1-1 / CAD prototype from TriTech™.  As other CAD providers look to integrate I am sure the innovation on simplifying workflow and assisting in a busy 9-1-1 center will only get better.  At this time, Tritech was the only fully integrated CAD solution I could see offering this.  Some others offered “answering 9-1-1 from the map” but I didn’t consider this truly integrated, but its a start.

Call Congestion on similar incidents – in many cases I see a number of 9-1-1 calls reporting the same incident(s).  This can become a major problem for centers who handle a major interstate and have a two minor accidents.  These simple two accidents can take over every call taker and dispatcher trying to clear the lines in case another incident happens.  Many, supposedly integrated 9-1-1 and CAD systems, create a CAD record for every call, which just adds to the complexity, a truly integrated solution will use the “same incident” algorithm that has been a proven process for CAD software solutions for years.  For example, when numerous land line or mobile calls from a certain user defined radius are detected the CAD will estimate that they are calling about the same incident and a “possible duplicate” logo will be placed next to the call in queue to be answered.  To take it one step further some of these possible duplicates could be steered to a voice queue and play a message to callers, for example, “you have reached Madison 911 we are aware of the accident on Interstate 65 and have emergency personnel en-route, if you have further details please stay on the line.”  Most callers from our research just want to make sure 9-1-1 is aware and that help is on its way.  When a message confirming the incident is played on average 70% of the duplicate callers disconnect.  This allows the dispatcher to focus on incident and coverage of other incidents across their jurisdiction rather than being swamped with a relatively minor fender bender that generates multiple repeat calls.  Other dispatchers will see this incident displayed on their screens and know its a duplicate and can append the CAD record to include further information so the responding units can best respond and investigate.  In many cases numerous calls have to be sifted through after the fact to “piece together” all the callers and merge them to a single incident.

Caution notes and repeat callers – in many cases callers may be calling from a “known” address with a history.  This history could be domestic violence, know criminal activity or chemical facility that requires special handling.  When 9-1-1 and CAD are integrated a rule can be applied calls from this area to be prioritized or moved up the queue to alert dispatchers, even before the call is answered, about this unique history so they can be best prepared to handle the call.  Having ingrained historical CAD data as part of the call rules is only possible with a one vendor solution in most cases.

Recordings as part of the incident record – imagine going to a call and having the entire 9-1-1 recording as part of the incident file.  This can be very helpful in investigating the incident in question or after the fact.  Previously recording had to be ordered and could take days to be produced on audio CD’s or worse yet tapes.  Now its just a click away as a link in the incident record.  I can see a future when first responders can go to their vehicles and play back the entire 9-1-1 call to better help understand certain incidents, or investigators who are trying to reconstruct how events happened during an incident.

Real-Time situational CAD map – the capability to see a geographic map of incidents, units and where 9-1-1 calls are coming from on a single map display.  This helps get a better situational picture during busy times.  I am boggled when I travel the country and see one map for 9-1-1 and a different map for CAD, if anything these should be the same but 70% of the time they are not.  How much do agencies pay to edit both maps, GIS software licenses, etc?

Typical questions with separate 9-1-1 and CAD systems today:

Money and SpaceThe cost associated with separate workstations.  Hardware, operating systems, maintenance.  Finding space for two workstations per cramped dispatch positions.
I am tired of negotiating constantly increasing maintenance contracts with my 9-1-1 vendor and other vendors!  Not to mention incompatibilities when I do finally upgrade.Starting to hear this a lot.  With increasing costs to maintain technology and shrinking budgets it hard to keep giving vendors more un-budgeted dollars for increases in maintenance.  Its been my experience as a consultant that its much easier to negotiate with a single vendor than multiple since you have more leverage than multiple vendors who end up fighting with each other when you upgrade one of them.
I am worried if CAD goes down or locks up my 9-1-1 calls will go unansweredI hear this a lot, and its a valid concern.  I cannot speak to all 9-1-1 and CAD integrations but Tritech’s solution I reviewed had a hardware and software component.  Should the CAD server or workstation become inoperable the media gateway (where the phone lines are answered) still runs and passes calls to a physical phone on the desktop.  On screen call control features will be lost but 9-1-1 calls can still be answered and dispatched.  Power backup and network architecture should still be designed correctly to minimize any interruptions.  When money is tight this design tends to be where corners are cut, and it shouldn’t.
Our call takers do not dispatch today, they transfer the call to be dispatchedTwo points on this, 1) having the call takers working in the CAD call handling screens helps because everyone in the center (or remote geographically diverse centers you may have to transfer to) can see call volume, multiple calls, etc.  Even if it has not been determined what type of emergency it is (EMS, Fire or Police) all agencies will see call volume and be ready to handle the call once its type is determined.  The minute the call taker completes the type of call, the dispatcher will be alerted and start getting call details, access to recordings, location, etc.  My second point, is I have started to be more and more concerned with “silo’s” in dispatch centers.  When I visit many centers I can see one “group” swamped with work while other’s catch up on reading or TV.  I am a big fan of cross training all staff to handle those emergencies that can sometimes swamp a center rather than creating unneeded bottlenecks by silo’s by function.  By sharing a single system a police dispatcher one minute and see 9-1-1 getting swamped and start taking calls to help out and vice-versa.
I am not sure I can use my 9-1-1 funds for Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)?Local and State budgets the way they are today are trying to make it easier.  Some state public utility commission guidelines or in some rare cases state law (that was heavily influenced by the ILECs) will not allow 9-1-1 surcharge fees to be spent on anything but telecommunications equipment or services. This is changing fast and is rare.  Many jurisdictions have been allowed to use surcharge funds to acquire integrated 9-1-1 and CAD solutions for the purpose of improving emergency dispatch (new cars, uniforms, weapons, etc. might be a different story).  Most agencies that buy an integrated system don’t see much push back.  If its two separate vendors and two separate procurements, different story.
Why do I have to pay for separate systems and support multiple desktops on dispatchers already cramped desks?The concern about the number of devices per position is a common comment I hear.  Most proposed integrations will only require a single workstation and maintenance contract which can vary, but typically saves a significant money per dispatch position.  No dispatch position, none, should have more than one keyboard and mouse.  I don’t care what legacy excuses I hear saying why there needs to be 5 mice on the desktop, this is detrimental to a dispatcher trying to do their job.

I have been in public safety too long to think that in a couple weeks all dispatch centers will have integrated solutions but my goal of this article was to give you an edge on an emerging trend in public safety technology so that the next time you go out to bid for a 9-1-1 solution or CAD system that you look for ways to simplify dispatchers jobs by integrating the two functions not adding yet another vendor software, keyboard, monitor and mouse.

Lets not forget radio systems

“All I need is a Smith and Wesson and a Motorola to do my job,” a famous anonymous quote from a rural sheriff in the United States.

Timeline of Police Technology 1850 – 1960, 1960 – 1996[17]


The first multi-shot pistol, introduced by Samuel Colt , goes into mass production. The weapon is adopted by the Texas Rangers and, thereafter, by police departments nationwide.


San Francisco is the site of one of the earliest uses of systematic photography for criminal identification.


On June 17, 1862, inventor W. V. Adams patented handcuffs that used adjustable ratchets – the first modern handcuffs.


The use of the telegraph by fire and police departments begins in Albany, New York in 1877.


The telephone comes into use in police precinct houses in Washington, D.C.


Chicago is the first U.S. city to adopt the Bertillon system of identification. Alphonse Bertillon, a French criminologist, applies techniques of human body measurement used in anthropological classification to the identification of criminals. His system remains in vogue in North America and Europe until it is replaced at the turn of the century by the fingerprint method of identification.


Scotland Yard adopts a fingerprint classification system devised by Sir Edward Richard Henry. Subsequent fingerprint classification systems are generally extensions of Henry’s system.


Edmund Locard establishes the first police department crime laboratory in Lyon, France.


The Los Angeles Police Department establishes the first police department crime laboratory in the United States.


The use of the teletype is inaugurated by the Pennsylvania State Police.


Detroit police begin using the one-way radio.


Boston Police begin using the two-way radio.


American police begin the widespread use of the automobile.


The prototype of the present-day polygraph is developed for use in police stations.


The FBI inaugurates its crime laboratory which, over the years, comes to be world renowned.


Radar is introduced to traffic law enforcement.


The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) meets for the first time.


The New Orleans Police Department installs an electronic data processing machine, possibly the first department in the country to do so. The machine is not a computer, but a vacuum-tube operated calculator with a punch-card sorter and collator. It summarizes arrests and warrants.


A former marine invents the side-handle baton, a baton with a handle attached at a 90-degree angle near the gripping end. Its versatility and effectiveness eventually make the side-handle baton standard issue in many U.S. police agencies.


The first computer-assisted dispatching system is installed in the St. Louis police department.


The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, a message-switching facility linking all state police computers except Hawaii, comes into being.


The President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice concludes that the “police, with crime laboratories and radio networks, made early use of technology, but most police departments could have been equipped 30 or 40 years ago as well as they are today.”


The FBI inaugurates the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the first national law enforcement computing center. NCIC is a computerized national filing system on wanted persons and stolen vehicles, weapons, and other items of value. One observer notes NCIC was “the first contact most smaller departments had with computers.”


AT&T announces it will establish a special number — 911 — for emergency calls to the police, fire and other emergency services. Within several years, 911 systems are in widespread use in large urban areas.


Beginning in the late 1960s, there are many attempts to develop riot control technologies and use-of-force alternatives to the police service revolver and baton. Tried and abandoned or not widely adopted are wooden, rubber and plastic bullets; dart guns adapted from the veterinarian’s tranquilizer gun that inject a drug when fired; an electrified water jet; a baton that carries a 6,000-volt shock; chemicals that make streets extremely slippery; strobe lights that cause giddiness, fainting and nausea; and the stun gun that, when pressed to the body, delivers a 50,000-volt shock that disables its victim for several minutes. One of the few technologies to successfully emerge is the TASER which shoots two wire-controlled, tiny darts into its victim or the victim’s clothes and delivers a 50,000-volt shock. By 1985, police in every state have used the TASER, but its popularity is restricted owing to its limited range and limitations in affecting the drug- and alcohol-intoxicated. Some agencies adopt bean bag rounds for crowd control purposes.


The large-scale computerization of U.S. police departments begins. Major computer-based applications in the 1970s include computer-assisted dispatch (CAD), management information systems, centralized call collection using three-digit phone numbers (911), and centralized integrated dispatching of police, fire, and medical services for large metropolitan areas.


The National Institute of Justice initiates a project that leads to the development of lightweight, flexible, and comfortable protective body armor for the police. The body armor is made from Kevlar, a fabric originally developed to replace steel belting for radial tires. The soft body armor introduced by the Institute is credited with saving the lives of more than 2,000 police officers since its inception into the law enforcement community.


The National Institute of Justice funds the Newton, Massachusetts, Police Department to assess the suitability of six models of night vision devices for law enforcement use. The study leads to the widespread use of night vision gear by today’s police agencies.


Rockwell International installs the first fingerprint reader at the FBI. In 1979, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police implements the first actual automatic fingerprint identification system (AFIS).


Police departments begin implementing “enhanced” 911, which allows dispatchers to see on their computer screens the addresses and telephone numbers from which 911 emergency calls originated.


Pepper spray, widely used by the police as a force alternative, is first developed. Pepper spray is Oleoresin Capsicum (OC), which is synthesized from capsaicin, a colorless, crystalline, bitter compound present in hot peppers.


More than 90 percent of U.S. police departments serving a population of 50,000 or more are using computers. Many are using them for such relatively sophisticated applications as criminal investigations, budgeting, dispatch, and manpower allocation.


Departments in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere increasingly use sophisticated computer programs to map and analyze crime patterns.


The National Academy of Sciences announces that there is no longer any reason to question the reliability of DNA evidence.

Dispatch Systems in the Future

If I had unlimited funds and could wave a magic wand.  I would implement the following steps to improve our 9-1-1 response:

Its time for selective routers to be de-commissioned the traditional telecommunications network in conjunction with IP and other signaling technologies (for eg: SS7) to handle the functions these 9-1-1 selective routers used to do.  Selective routers were great tools for getting to the proper agency serving a caller and getting their address information to responders but no this same technology is hindering this by no being able to pass better location and subscriber data.

When selective routers are decommissioned many of the tariffed fees that 9-1-1 entities pay (estimated at over $1 billion annually) should be eliminated or repurposed to support the building the new network also once ANI databases are also decommissioned at the same time these charges should be repurposed to support the building of a new network to pass broadband information specific to 9-1-1.

Since the caller who is requesting emergency assistance and the first responder are so tied together I would propose that the 9-1-1 and Computer Aided dispatch systems be one system (not just sharing some data).  I would like to (oversimplified a bit) see a 9-1-1 call presented on a map screen for a dispatcher and the dispatcher being able to drag a fire truck or police car (also on the map showing current location) on top of the caller icon and they begin responding to that incident, even if more information is still coming from the caller or multiple callers.  

These two systems need to be budgeted for, installed and support from a single entity.  No matter how good the intentions are of vendors and the separate of call takers from dispatchers these functions should not be separate.  Today its like buying a Ford truck and picking a Chevy (or any number of separate vendors) engine’s to work inside it, sure it will work, for a while but service and true integration are not fully there.  Also no true innovation will happen when key elements of the product are not controlled by a single entity.

Some vendors like Tritech and Emergency CallWorx are starting to develop these solutions but I believe our industry funding models and procurement decisions need to take a greater emphasis on this integration.

I would also ensure any device that will connect 9-1-1 dispatchers to the public whether that be via a voice call, text, video, or any new method of communication in the future shall pay the minimal fee to support the network.  Companies may choose not to collect or pay this fee, it is their choice but the public buying their services must be made aware that they cannot connect to 9-1-1 with these devices from companies who choose not to connect to the nationwide 9-1-1 network.


“network-based” solution, 14

9-1-1 Industry Alliance, 5

9-1-1 systems are heading to the grave yard, 30

9-1-1 trunk group, 13

9-1-1 will become a function of the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, 31

Assisted GPS (“A-GPS”), 15

basic steps for wireless phase 2, 15

call congestion, 30

call transfer, 12

callback number, 13


carriers missed this deadline, 18

Central Office, 7

Centralized Automatic Message Accounting, 8

CTI, 14

Emergency Service Number (ESN), 8

Emergency Service Zone, 8

End Office, 7

ESN, 11

ESZ, 8, 11

FCC standards, 18

first 9-1-1 call, 11

first cellular phone call, 12

first-ever 911 call, 7

Haleyville, Alabama, 7

hook flash, 12

I am not sure I can use my 9-1-1 funds for Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)?, 34

increasing maintenance contracts with my 9-1-1 vendor, 33

Jim Anderson System Manager for El Paso / Teller Colorado, 31

Johnson Commission Report, 6

Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
Special Assistant to the President, 3

Lee Loevinger, 3

Lee Loevinger, the Defense Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), 6

longitude and latitude, 15

Map of current ability to text 9-1-1 across the U.S. as of Aug. 25, 2014, 23

Master Street Address Guide (MSAG), 8

National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 10

OnStar™, 12

Photos of examples of dispatch operations, 30

prohibit states and localities from using 911 funds for non-911 service purposes, 22

selective router, 12

Selective routing call processing, 13

selective routing database, 13

Stopping 911 Fund Raids, 22

Texting and 9-1-1, 23

The “red phone” pictured here that received the first 9-1-1 call is located in a museum in Haleyville, 7

two primary ways to get location, 14

U.S. Postal standards, 10

Wireless Phase 1, 14

x, y coordinates, 15

[1] Correspondence from Lee Loevinger, FCC to The White House [all correspondence from the archives of the LBJ Library, Austin, Tex.]

[2] Safer Roads, Fewer Fatalities: Emergency Medical Services, Iowa Department of Transportation, December 2004, p. 2.

[3]  Institute for Defense Analyses, Task Force Report: Science and Technology, A Report to the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice (June 3, 1967). 

[4]  Id.

[5]  Letter from Lee Loevinger, Federal Communications Commission, to the Honorable Joseph A. Califano, Jr., The White House, supra note 1 (Mar. 7, 1968).   

[6]  Id. 

[7] The discussion which follows draws directly from an undated hardcopy of a presentation entitled “9-1-1 Tutorial” and presented by Billy Ragsdale, Bob Gojanovich, Barb Thornburg, and Roger Hixson at a NENA Technical Development Conference.

[8] MSAG diagram sample courtesy of Qwest Communications

[9] Hook flash or flash is a button on a telephone that simulates quickly hanging up then picking up again (a quick off-hook/on-hook/off-hook cycle). This action can signal the telephone exchange to do something. A common use of hook flash is to switch to another incoming call with the call waiting service.

[10] Wikipedia –

[11] An ILEC, short for incumbent local exchange carrier, is a local telephone company in the United States that was in existence at the time of the break up of AT&T into the Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs), also known as the “Baby Bells.” The ILEC is the former Bell System or Independent Telephone Company responsible for providing local telephone exchange services in a specified geographic area.

[12] Figure 3 courtesy of

[13] “Sprint, Alltel, USC fined for missed e911 deadline”. FierceWireless. 2007-08-31

[14] Urgent Communication: FCC REPORT ON 911 FUND USE IS NO REASON TO CELEBRATE – Aug 19, 2010 By Glenn Bischoff

[15] Radio Resource Magazine August 25, 2010 –

[16] Diagram courtesy of

[17] Timeline of Police Technology


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