Missouri Only State That Cannot Track All 911 Calls

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JEFFERSON CITY - On the same day the White House tested the nation's Emergency Alert System, the Missouri 911 Directors Association said Wednesday the Show-Me State is the only one in the nation that does not have a statewide comprehensive plan to identify wireless 911 callers. For residents of 30 Missouri counties, calling 911 in the event of an emergency may not be all that effective--especially for people calling for help on cell phones.

The Missouri House of Representatives 911 Interim Committee held its fourth and final public hearing Wednesday to address these statewide inconsistencies.  Representatives, law enforcement agencies and emergency responders met with the public to discuss a means of providing funding for a cohesive emergency response system across Missouri. 

Missouri counties with old emergency response technology cannot generate precise information or maps of callers' locations. Other states have passed laws to charge cellular customers and others to pay for Enhanced 911.

Representative Sylvester Taylor, D-St. Louis, said unlike in years past, cell phone providers now are "on board" with helping Missouri get statewide consistency in emergency response technology. He said it is now up to constituents to understand the problem and vote to fix it. "A lot of it is just educating voters. Any chance I get in my meetings, we are going to talk about it. If all of the reps. and senators...grab a piece of this rope and pull it, it's not so heavy," Taylor said. 

In the past two years, the Missouri 911 Directors Association has attempted to address the issue. Association President Lisa Schlottach said with basic emergency response, callers "just have to ask questions, and if the person doesn't know where they are, then sometimes they just don't get found."

Schlottach said, "I think the general public...expects the government to protect them and their safety, and they expect that service when they call. If they call 911 and have an accident, they expect that service. It doesn't matter what their location is."

Residents of Jefferson City do have that service.  Jefferson City Police Department Captain Bob Cynova said in the last five years, his police station has been able to implement what is called "Phase 2" technology, which tracks cell phones and a map of callers' locations.  It has depended on general revenue and surcharges from landline phones. Since landline usage has diminished in recent years, the city has lost money to sustain emergency service response systems, because there currently is no emergency service charge on wireless users. 

Even with its ability to track cell phone locations, the Jefferson City Police department is being asked by CenturyLink to upgrade to a digital and IP-type phone system within the next five years.  This will cost the department $200,000, a price it will have to pay in order to just receive calls.  Cynova estimates an additional $200,000 to implement the system fully.

The ever-developing technology and costs associated with upgrades do not bode well for the 16 counties without even Phase 2 technology. "They're continually behind the curve," Cynova said. The more technology moves, the less likely they are to get even basic 911."  

Schlottach said steps already are underway to file a bill that would alleviate this issue. "Once this bill is filed, you know hopefully we can put...all of our 911 stakeholders together and really push it through this year."

Click here for information on Missouri counties' emergency response systems and state inconsistencies in emergency response technology.