Lack Of Funding Puts Oklahoma 911 Call Centers In Jeopardy

Wednesday, May 6th 2015, 11:04 pm

By: News On 6

A lack of funding is putting 911 call centers across the state in jeopardy. Many have already cut staff, some have shut down and consolidated and others aren't sure what's next.

The source of the funding is the main problem and there isn't an easy solution.

The 911 directors in Tulsa, Muskogee and many other places across the state all said they are hurting because of money they've lost since most people have cut off their land-lines and turned to cell phones.

Whether you are in a wreck or your home catches on fire, the first number most call is 911.

Dispatchers are your life-line until a police officer or firefighter arrives, according to 911 Coordinator for Muskogee County, Darryl Maggard.

“Without us being here being able to answer the phone and have the enhanced information that's giving the location of the caller and what emergency services to send the chain is broken," he said.

Maggard said budget shortfalls are putting everyone at risk.

A bulk of the funding used to be generated by a landline fee you'd find on your monthly bill of around $1.50. The 911 fee for cell phones is 50 cents.

"That service fee is not replacing the fees that we are losing off of land line," Maggard said.

He said his center loses $153,000 a year. That's been the case since 2009, which forces him to consider what will go next.

"Where are we going to cut staffing at and what services, so we can still answer the 911 call," Maggard asked.

When you call 911 your phone number and location pops up on a map, pinpointing your location. Dispatchers quickly find the closest police officer or fire station and get them headed your way.

While mapping out a location sounds simple enough, it's a service that could be cut if funding continues to dwindle.

"You'll see a loss of that as the funds continue to drop, and that's not a scare tactic, but basic math of what's going to take place," Maggard said.

The lack of funding also leads to longer wait times when calling 911 because there isn't enough manpower.

Maggard said the solution is getting legislation passed which can increase the cell phone fee. A few bills have been proposed, but never passed.

He said there are three reasons for the problem. First, studies show market saturation of cell phones leveled out around 2009 - 2010, so there hasn't been any increase in the number of people carrying cell phones since that time. That's around the same time 911 centers started having this issue, he said.

The second reason is now that most 911 calls come from cell phones, the centers have to pay a fee to the cell phone provider for the location services, etc. of being able to pop up the location on their computer screens, so a portion of the cell phone fee is going right back to cell phone companies. The director said it's pretty much a wash.

The last reason is because technology is always changing and 911 centers have to try to keep up.


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