In 1967 a US Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration recommended that a single universal telephone number be set aside and used whenever practical for reporting an emergency. In 1968 the Bell System announced that the three-digit number 9-1-1 would be reserved for that purpose. In 1973, the White House Office on Telecommunications adopted a policy supporting nationwide use of 9-1-1 Service, but left the responsibility for funding, planning implementation, and providing service with local governments.
The first Basic 9-1-1 system was installed in Hallettsville, Alabama on January 10, 1968. In Massachusetts Springfield, Boston and Newton were among the first major cities to use Basic 9-1-1 systems.
Basic 9-1-1 systems route calls based on calling telephone number, therein lays the inherent weakness and the reason behind the push to enhanced systems. In Massachusetts there are 351 municipalities; the municipal boundaries and telephone exchanges boundaries exactly match in only 10 communities. Therefore when a city or town decided to use the Basic 9-1-1 there are instances when calls are routed to a neighboring location.
With the advent of Enhanced 9-1-1 that problem disappears because the software of the system is address driven and not telephone number driven. All cities and towns of the Commonwealth were required to provide complete street and number range information for their particular serving area. This information is the basis for routing emergency calls to the proper Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).
Address driven routing is only one of the features of the improvements of the Enhanced 9-1-1. This system has the capability of communicating through TTY for the deaf and hard of hearing. Each PSAP has it’s own emergency power supply.
The statewide system designed for Massachusetts uses state of the art telecommunications and will make Massachusetts a national leader in emergency telecommunications.
Enhanced 911 (E911)-MAARS and VESTA
In 1990 Massachusetts enacted legislation providing for Enhanced 9-1-1 on a statewide basis in the Commonwealth. This legislation established the Statewide Emergency Telecommunications Board (SETB) as the state agency responsible for coordinating and administering the implementation of Enhanced 9-1-1 and for promulgating standards to ensure a consistent statewide approach for Enhanced 9-1-1.
The Enhanced 9-1-1 system automatically displays the address and telephone number of the emergency caller on a screen at all 9-1-1 communications centers in Massachusetts, commonly referred to as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). There are approximately 270 PSAPs in the Commonwealth, some of which are regionally-based to answer calls for multiple communities.
The Enhanced 9-1-1 program in Massachusetts is funded by a surcharge on all wire-line and wireless telephones. Our program is considered one of the best in the country because of its coordinated approach and the redundancy and diversity required of our service provider, Verizon New England. All dispatchers and call-takers that answer Enhanced 9-1-1 calls are required to be certified through the SETB’s training program (sixteen hour, two day training).
In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an order requiring implementation of a new Enhanced 9-1-1 system for wireless phone carriers nationwide. This order changed the SETB mission from focusing primarily on wire-line 9-1-1 to the new phase of wireless communications. As an estimated 50% of 9-1-1 calls are made from wireless phones nationwide, Massachusetts and other states recognize the significance of implementing this program. In 2002, the state created a Wireless Enhanced 9-1-1 Fund for this purpose, with a surcharge of $.30 per month. This surcharge and fund are used solely to fund the implementation and administration of wireless Enhanced 9-1-1 in Massachusetts.
Phase I of the FCC’s plan requires all wireless carriers to provide an emergency dispatcher with both the telephone number of the person calling and the location of the closest cell site or base station transmitting the call; this phase was accomplished in Massachusetts in April 2003. Phase II requires wireless carriers to begin providing a more precise location to the dispatcher including the latitude and longitude of the caller (information must be accurate within 50-300 meters); this was completed in Massachusetts in February of 2006
The newest communications technology is Voice over the Internet Protocol(VoIP), which allows voice quality calls to be made over Internet connections. The appeal of VoIP includes the cost savings associated with making long distance calls over the Internet and the ability to take your phone service with you anywhere in the world. However, these advantages could prove to be a major disadvantage in the case of an emergency.
Providers of traditional wire-line telephone service in Massachusetts are required by state law to provide their customers with access to Enhanced 911 (E 9-1-1). This system automatically displays the address and telephone number of the emergency caller on a screen at all 9-1-1 communications centers in Massachusetts, commonly referred to as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). Because VoIP is regulated at the federal level, VoIP service providers (VSPs) are not subject to the Commonwealth's E 9-1-1 requirement. In June of 2005 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an Order, (FCC 05-116) mandating that all VSPs deliver E 9-1-1 services no later than November 28, 2005.
The SETB has worked with our E 9-1-1 service provider and VSPs serving Massachusetts to integrate the technology into our E 9-1-1 system. Before a VSP can be approved to provide VoIP service in Massachusetts they must go through a testing process with the SETB to ensure the calls are delivered with complete and accurate information.
Next Generation 911 (NG911)
While no official dates are set, the next generation of 911 call taking capabilities are cutting edge technology, such as voice, text, or video emergency calling from any communications device via Internet-like networks and advanced data from personal safety devices such as medical alert systems.