Once the system of a single emergency number was proposed in 1957, the 911 emergency system has flourished into something that people rely on for all scenarios. The purpose behind this well known number is to provide assistance for violence, fires, and, apparently, getting lizards out of printers.
John Oliver, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, commented on the effectiveness of the 911 system on May 15, 2016. He pointed out many flaws, including ignorant citizens who call because of lizards in their printers, the belief that they are dead due to bad brownies, and the progress on their potty endeavors.
Oliver also mentions that “approximately 84 million 911 calls a year nationwide are ‘butt dials,’” a term used to describe accidental calls made from sitting on the phone. All in all, these phone calls, both idiotic and accidental, amount to a myriad of false alarms for an understaffed emergency team. Often times, the 911 emergency teams are so understaffed that callers are put on hold and told to wait.
The system is also problematic in that, according to Oliver, with the widespread use of wireless devices, location is much more difficult to pinpoint. The operators might only locate the cell tower from which the call was made, a point that Oliver derided because Domino’s pizza, when ordered online, seems to find a customer accurately. Chanel Anderson, from suburban Atlanta, died as a result of the 911 operator’s inability to find her location, despite the fact that she told the operator a fairly accurate estimate of where she was. The emergency response occurred twenty minutes later, and by then it was too late. Oliver reports, “The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] estimates improving location accuracy could save over 10,000 lives a year.”
By 2021, there are plans for systems nationwide to receive upgrades according to FCC’s mandates so that, statistically, operators will be able to locate 80% of emergency callers, which also translates to them being unable to successfully find one out of every five.
Unfortunately, part of the reason the system is so inaccurate is because of many places are “full of outdated technology.” Oliver states, “Around the country, your chance of them quickly getting your exact whereabouts ranges from as low as 10% to as high as 95%.” The system needs to do better– a fact that the FCC is painfully aware of.
There exists a next generation 911 in which it is possible to text operators. Despite this availability, “no state has fully implemented [it], which makes no sense. This would make everything easier for the dispatchers whose jobs are frankly hard enough already.”
One main reason why there is no upgrade implementations is that taxes citizens pay in support of the 911 systems are often diverted to other governmental uses.
Oliver states, “The FCC’s fee report showed us since 2008, at least 20 states have diverted those dollars [911 phone call bills] elsewhere,” which undoubtedly hinders any efforts to upgrade.
“That’s a problem. Especially because it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Hart High sophomore Emma Kehl when asked by JSR. “If the money was raised for a specific purpose, it should be used for that purpose only. People aren’t trying to hard enough to change the system.”
The solution to the problems surrounding the 911 system is difficult to discern. There seems to be no straight way to solve everything, but the first step seems to be general public awareness.