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House Committee Debates Improvements To State’s 911 System

Jessi Turnure
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JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri representatives and leaders from surrounding areas examined various means of 911 call center improvements.

Missouri 911 centers are struggling as more residents disconnect their land lines and replace them with cell phones. This decreases 911 funding financed by a land-line charge.

The fact wireless system funding did not previously exist in Missouri state legislation baffled Tennessee Emergency Communications Board Executive Director Lynn Questell.

“911 has become something that people expect,” she said. “Tennessee is a national leader in 911.”

The state adapted a wireless 911 system in 2005. Questell said the success of the centers comes from the structure of the board members. By law, five board members are directors or board members of 911 call centers, the sixth is a representative of the counties, the seventh is a representative of the municipal league, the eighth is a member of the general public and the ninth is a designee of the comptroller.

Tennessee collects funding from a 911 service charge implemented since 1998. The state charges users a $12 service fee every year to their cell phone bill. Questell said state law requires any money coming in to 911 to be spent on 911.

Funding for call center improvements in Missouri would come from a sales tax. However, Missouri Republican Senator Jim Lembke said voters have shut down this proposal twice.

According to the Save911 website, every state but Missouri charges a wireless 911 user fee. The website also contains a Missouri map showing 18 counties without emergency 911 call centers.

“This is how far behind we are,” Missouri 911 Directors Association President Lisa Schlottach said. “When I was at a conference in Indianapolis, people were shocked that we didn’t have funding for wireless yet in Missouri.”

Questell said wireless emergency communication can also lead to texting to 911 down the road. Kansas 911 Mid-America Regional Council Keith Faddis discussed how Kansas is trying to implement a 911 texting system, but it is ultimately left in wireless providers’ hands whether or not to administer the service.

Schlottach stressed how it is “absolutely necessary for emergency medical dispatchers to be trained so they have the ability to help someone before an ambulance arrives.”

Medical Director Doctor Joseph Salomone agreed it vital is for operators but also the public in general to be educated on 911 procedures.

“People need to know when to use 911 and when to make the call,” Salomone.

According to the Missouri Advisory Committee Strategic Plan, Missouri does not have a 911 state program. Each county jurisdiction is responsible for the establishment of their own 911 center, public-safety answering points and the funding for these systems.

“If we can come up with some combination between Tennessee and Kansas, we wouldn’t have to reinvent the whole wheel,” Democrat Representative Ed Schieffer said. “We need to move forward.”

Improvements in 911 communication will also aid hearing loss victims.

“[A new 911 system] will help the deaf immensely, especially wireless capabilities,” Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation Inc. General Counsel James Marks said.

He also stressed how important it is for emergency care givers to know who they are helping so they can react accordingly. One way to do this is to ensure an interpreter will be on the scene in response to a 911 call.

“Precious time can be wasted,” Marks said.

The committee will submit a 911 call center improvement report to the Speaker by Dec. 31.

Copyright KMOX State Capitol Bureau

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