Having been part of the 9-1-1 industry since 1985 (you do the math) there have been a lot of huge developments that have impacted the industry. Lots of people nowadays move from one career to another, following a web-like career path across multiple industries, geographies, and professional levels. My own path has stayed close to the major branch that is public safety/emergency communications, even though I’ve branched out toward quality standards, compliance and business controls along the way.
When I got my first 9-1-1 position, the first day on the job I received a huge stack of green-bar computer printouts of all the MSAGs for the entire county. It was about 5 inches thick with maybe 60 street and address ranges listed on each page. My first task was to verify the data was correct, which involved checking in with 42 community Fire departments, then discovering 50,000 unaddressed structures in the county, and launching an addressing program that was not met with much enthusiasm by the farmers and ranchers surrounding the metropolitan area. I attended lots of pot-luck suppers as I tried to explain how 9-1-1 would work to the rural residents of Tarrant County, TX!
We didn’t have laptops back then, and did everything on paper. So when I titled this article, I was really thinking about the huge technical challenges that we faced and overcame – Milestones – that now just look like bumps in the road in retrospect. The most technical acronyms I threw around back in 1985 were POTS, MSAG, ALI and ESN. My oldest son once asked me when his cousin, NENA, would come to visit him. Now there is an entire library of terms that are tossed about everyday! We have come so far with 9-1-1 technology in a relatively short time!
Here’s my list of milestones that now resemble mere pebbles along the roadway.
Rural Address conversion – that was a big one in the 1980’s! It’s not unusual to see five and six number addresses along the back roads nowadays, and lots more street signs! We 9-1-1ers have definitely impacted the landscape. Along the way, we might have even impacted the tax roles as every structure with an address was included in the updated “9-1-1” database, which doubled as a mailing address for tax bills to be sent to.
PBX or private switch systems – there were campuses with private phone systems that operated with extensions and no address information at all. We had to figure out how to identify the location of each extension, which was tied to the phone system with a hard wire on a desk or in a dorm room at the time. We created an addressing scheme for Dallas International Airport where none had existed before.
Cell phones – my first one was a 5 pound brick, but my first exposure to a mobile was a built-in car console – it was really a radio and was connected to the car’s battery power and had a huge antenna attached to the car trunk. It had a curly cord and a rotary dial on the handset! Of course, I was just a child when I experienced this sight, but it made me so hopeful for the future and all the amazing things we would have available in my lifetime. Now we have all that futuristic equipment, except for flying cars, and with the technology came a whole new type of 9-1-1 system. We had to locate those unconnected devices and display them on maps so we could send the right responders to them! Huge change came along with this technology advance. Our ground-breaking project in 1996 in Houston, TX, was a live demonstration of wireless location and number display – we lovingly referred to it as pseudo-ALI, or PALI, and a whole bunch of new acronyms came out of it. In the rear-view mirror, that is so far behind us and left so many body parts on the side of the road, it’s amazing that we stuck with it!
Web based information – the phone companies used to publish directories of all the phone numbers in alphabetical order. These were giant tissue paper books that we received free of charge each year, which doubled as child seat lifts at the dinner table. Most families only had one number you could call, rather than one per person plus the home phone and multiple computers for each member of the household. Now, you can go on-line and look up just about anyone, anywhere and use your cell phone’s internet access to do it. We can also hook up our computers to make phone calls using Voice over Internet, or VoIP. This was another 9-1-1 hurdle – connecting computers to 9-1-1 wherever they might be located at the moment.
Texting – Who can live without it anymore? It keeps us all connected, and people want to be able to text 9-1-1, as well they should. This is a boon for the deaf community, and a true lifesaver for anyone in a compromised position that needs to reach 9-1-1. 9-1-1 is in our pockets nowadays. The products and services of the industry had to come up with a way to meet every telecommunications advance that comes through the door – I guess there will always be a reason to do what we do!