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Science and the Environment
Covering state lawmakers, bills, and policy emerging from Jefferson City.

Cell Phone Calls to 9-1-1 Increase, Leading to a Decline in Funding for the Emergency Service

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Nearly 77 percent of all calls made to Springfield-Greene County's 9-1-1 center are from mobile devices.

In just over a decade, cell phone calls to 9-1-1 have nearly doubled in Greene County, rising from 40 percent to 77 percent.  That's above the national average.  While the volume of calls is increasing, state-wide funding for 9-1-1 is on the decline. Missouri is one of the only two states currently without wireless surcharge laws in place to fund the vital service. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has more.

Landline telephones are increasingly becoming replaced by the ever-popular flexibility of the mobile device.  But as the use of cell phones has increased over the last decade, critical 9-1-1 emergency services have had to fight to keep up. 

Zim Schwartze is the director of Greene County’s 9-1-1 emergency communication department.  She says the agency receives up to 700 emergency calls a day. Schwartze says one challenge with more cell phones is that the location of the caller is hard to pinpoint.

“In Greene County we’re very  fortunate to be what’s called ‘phase two,’ which means that we can pinpoint folks with our technology a little bit more accurately than those who do not have the technology and capabilities,” Schwartze says.

In 2007, a countywide tax approved by voters made that possible, Schwartze said. Determining a caller’s location is critical to sending out emergency services. 

“There was an incident recently that was on the border of a couple of our cities for fire response in our county.  Within a matter of one minute, we received seven different wireless calls about a roll-over crash that had occurred on one of the highways.  And six different locations were reported to us,” says Schwartze.

Schwartze’s example illustrates how several operators are then needed to handle one incident.

The Greene County 9-1-1 office employs 64 people, including administration jobs. Schwartze says wireless surcharges are needed to help fund 9-1-1 around the state.

“Missouri is one of two [states].  And I have to state that the other state did have a wireless [legislation] and let it expire.  So we’re really the only state that has never actually passed any type of legislation to help fund wireless calls,” Schwartze says.

Jeanie Lauer is a Missouri state representative sponsoring a bill to fund 9-1-1 this legislative session.

“The main source of monies to fund our 9-1-1 services is based on land-line.  Landline use is decreasing significantly where it down to about 60 percent of the market, and it forecasted to continue to decrease at a significant rate,” says Lauer.

Lauer says that without legislation, and with a continuing decrease in funding, 9-1-1 services around the state might be compromised.

“Generally the public feels that they can call 9-1-1; they’re paying for it.  But that’s not really what happens.  It is an extreme need in our state.  We do have 17 counties in Missouri that do not have the kind of 9-1-1 services we want them to have.  An example of that might be where they’re calling into a 9-1-1 service and they not have a medically trained person there to answer the call,” says Lauer.

Several state agencies are coming together to help bring about awareness for 911 legislation.