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Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016

E-911 administrators look for ways to upgrade to Phase 2

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Chris Merideth, a communications officer at the Sikeston DPS, takes a call from cell phone user
(photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
MORLEY - The rejection of April's Proposition B by Missouri voters has area Emergency-911 administrators looking for ways to fund the mandated upgrade to E-911's Phase 2.

With Phase 2 to be in place by October 2003, that leaves just over a year for them to figure out how they are going to do it.

Upon implementation of Phase 2, Emergency 911 call centers will be able to identify a cell phone user's location on computerized maps using GPS technology.

Land lines with the current Phase 1 technology display the caller's name, phone number and address along with which departments should be contacted for an emergency there. Digital mapping displays their address on a map.

"With cell phones right now all we have is a voice on a line that says, 'I'm on a cell phone,'" said Joe Burton, E-911 administrator for Scott County.

"Every day there are lives being lost by people dialing 911 on a cell phone and not being able to say where they are," said Stoddard County 911 Administrator Bill Pippins. "It's frustrating for 911, law enforcement and fire departments to not be able to save a life because of not knowing where the 911 call is coming from."

Travelers through town who get in trouble will naturally dial 911, Pippins said. Proposition B would have ensured that no matter where they were in the state, if they dialed 911 on their cell phone they would have been able to count on getting service from the local community. "That's the reason we were hoping to get a statewide solution with Proposition B."

Of course, Proposition B would have also covered the cost of upgrading in addition to mandating local call routing. The $160,000 received each year by Scott County E-911 from the regular phone service E-911 surcharge is all used up paying salaries and for maintenance, according to Burton.

Burton said 35 to 40 percent of the calls handled by the Scott County's E-911 center come from cell phones which do not contribute a cent toward the E-911 center.

Pippins said the E-911 board in Stoddard County, where cell phones call in about 25-28 percent of Stoddard County's E-911 calls, even considered eliminating service to 911 calls from cell phones and diverting them to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Burton said that as the FCC has authorized cell phone companies to establish and collect fees as they see fit, one way to get money for the Phase 2 upgrades is to have the cell phone companies charge a fee and send part of it to county E-911 centers to assist them. "Individual counties will be trying to meet with the cell phone companies and work something out with them," Burton said. "If we could get all of them to agree to it, they would do it." Being a competitive business, no single company can afford to raise their price with a surcharge unless all the other companies also do the same, he explained.

Another possibility is that the companies could be taxed on a local level, such as a property tax on cell phone towers.

"We're in the preliminary stages of looking at it that way," said Ralph Barnwell New Madrid County E-911 administrator. "We're just looking at different options since Proposition B failed - nothing official yet."

New Madrid County officials are seeking data on the number of calls that are relayed on the 17 cell phone towers within the county. "I think every major carrier has one within our county," said Barnwell.