“9-1-1, what is your emergency?”



The 9-1-1 emergency calling system was implemented in 1968 when American Telephone & Telegraph Company (now AT&T) established a universal emergency number after the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice recommended a single number system for emergencies. This was 10 years after the National Association of Fire Chiefs suggested a single number for reporting fires.

In February of 1968 AT&T began developing features for a pilot 9-1- 1 program, which was implemented for the first time in the United States in Haleyville, Alabama. In 1973, AT&T developed more sophisticated features for the 9-1-1 program. By January of 1977, 17% of the population of the United States was being serviced by 9-1-1.

9-1-1 was implemented in Atascosa County in the 1980’s, and 9-1-1 dispatchers were soon hired by Atascosa County and trained as 9-1- 1 operators. These 9-1-1 operators worked side by side with sheriff’s office dispatchers, which doubled the number of dispatchers on-duty on a shift to two.

Over the next several years the 9-1-1 telephone equipment continued to evolve into state of the art communications. In the early years, 9-1-1 was partially funded through a 9-1-1 tax on everyone’s telephone bill. Presently 9-1-1 communications equipment is provided to the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) by federal funds through the various Council of Governments located across the United States. In this area, the Alamo Area Council of Government (AACOG) oversees PSAP’s and the administering of this equipment.

In Atascosa County, the sheriff’s office was originally designated as the county’s PSAP in the 80’s and it continues in that capacity still today. As sheriff, I have the task of staffing the 9-1-1 PSAP and making sure all State and Federal regulations regarding 9-1-1 are followed. Atascosa County provides the funding to pay the salaries of the four 9-1-1 operators, as well as the other four dispatchers. All personnel are cross trained to perform all dispatch and 9-1-1 duties.

Today 9-1-1 is to be used to report all type of emergencies: medical, fire and law enforcement. It is extremely important that 9-1-1 be used to only report emergencies, and not routine matters. Any request for medical assistance such as EMS, reporting fires and requesting police or sheriff for urgent or emergency matters are considered acceptable uses of the 9-1-1 system.

Although there are an adequate number of incoming 9-1-1 lines, it is possible to tie these up with calls regarding non-urgent matters and request which could prevent an incoming emergency call from getting through. Dispatchers receive numerous calls a day on 9-1-1 lines that are not considered emergencies. Dispatchers may often ask these callers to hang up and callback on a non-emergency line.

Emergencies of all types throughout Atascosa County may be reported by calling 9-1-1. For instance, an emergency requests for police in the city of Pleasanton will be immediately transferred to a police dispatcher in Pleasanton. All other areas of the county will be handled by the dispatchers answering the 9-1-1 call.

In August of 2014, Atascosa County went fully on-line with Enhanced 9-1-1, which enables dispatchers to plot the caller’s exact location on a computer screen map in the dispatch room. This is done with special enhanced computer software and is only available in North America. Calls from landlines instantly provide the dispatcher with the address and number of the caller. Calls from wireless phones will not necessarily provide the 9-1-1 operator the caller’s exact location, but may only plot the area the caller is in. With this said, it’s highly important to always tell the dispatcher what type of emergency you are reporting and the location of that emergency. The 9-1-1 operator will stay on the line with you in most instances until emergency services arrive.

Over the past 50 years millions of dollars have been spent to provide you the best emergency single number reporting system in the world. We ask that you use it wisely and whenever needed, but don’t abuse it.

Until next time, be safe. Sheriff David Soward

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