Eric Lieberman, DCNF
The 50th anniversary of the 9-1-1 emergency system falls on Friday and the services continue as a vital resource someone in the U.S. doesn’t want to have to use, but certainly appreciates.
Former Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite made the first ever 9-1-1 call Feb. 16, 1968, in which former Congressman Tom Bevill of the same state was on the other end at a local police station.
AT&T soon after rolled out some of the new technology that would allow the automatic routing system to work, but it took some time for the system to be fully implemented across the country. Nevertheless, it was the first telecommunications company to look into finding a way to establish a universal emergency number, according to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). The firm collaborated with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other government agencies, as well as multiple relevant industry and advocacy groups.
“Today, the wireless industry helps to deliver millions of 9-1-1 calls and texts from wherever we are, whatever the emergency,” Meredith Attwell Baker, president of CTIA, a trade association that represents the wireless telecommunications industry of which AT&T is a part of, said in a statement. “CTIA thanks the public safety professionals who answer these calls, and looks forward to ensuring that Americans can rely on an ever improving 9-1-1 system for the next 50 years.”
U.S. officials also chimed in to celebrate the day, but also urge improvements for the future.
“On the 50th anniversary of 9-1-1, we are celebrating how far we’ve come and how much more we need to do to advance 9-1-1 in the 21st century,” Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of California said in a video for NENA.
“America’s 9-1-1 professionals are the unsung heroes of public safety, working tirelessly under stressful conditions, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois said alongside his colleague, both of whom are co-founders of the Congressional Next Generation 9-1-1 Caucus. “Let’s thank them for everything they’ve done.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai highlighted how important the emergency service is, especially following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla that occurred just two days ago.
This is a sad time for that community and for our country. But in the midst of the horror was also heroism. Assistant football coach Aaron Feis died shielding students from the shooter. And local law enforcement and other emergency first responders showed decisive courage in quickly apprehending the alleged shooter and coming to the aid of those injured or harmed. They are reminders of what Americans do for each other in moments of need. Such moments are what bring us together today. For this is the 50th anniversary of the very first call made to 911—the first time someone called that number that we now all know so well.
The anniversary also comes on the same day President Donald Trump signed Kari’s Law, legislation forcing all businesses within two years to have their phone lines work seamlessly with the 9-1-1 system.
Many years ago, Kari Rene Hunt of Texas was killed by her estranged husband in a hotel room. Kari’s daughter, who was 9 years old at the time, tried calling 9-1-1 on multiple occasions while she witnessed her mother being attacked, but couldn’t connect because the hotel’s phone system requires an extra digit for all calls.
Kari Hunt’s daughter and father, according to ABC affiliate KLTV, then persistently advocated for legislation to help solve this problem.
“In what was a tiring and sometimes frustrating process, the U.S. House of Representatives, on Kari’s 36th birthday, passed the final version of the legislation; and today that legislation will be signed into law by President Donald J. Trump on the 50th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call,” Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said in an interview with KLTV. “Today is monumental — no longer should a child, or anyone for that matter, pick up the phone to call for help and get nothing.”
Pai, who was present at the White House during the signing, applauded the official enactment of the bill.
“I am thrilled that Kari’s Law has now become the law of the land,” said Pai. “An access code should not stand between people who call 911 in need of help and emergency responders who can provide assistance.”
Aside from reforms that have been put into effect and potential improvements that may continue to be explored, Pai said America’s emergency services are great, particularly when comparing to other countries around the world.
“During a visit to India a few years ago, for instance, I learned that there were multiple three- and four-digit numbers used for emergency calling,” Pai said in a speech during a 50th anniversary event hosted by NENA. “There was a different number depending on who you were—a senior citizen, a child—and why you were calling—traffic accident, fire, and so on. It makes you appreciate how fortunate we are to have a single number, so deeply embedded in our culture.”
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