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50 years ago this month, first 911 call made


50 years ago this month, first 911 call made

It was 50 years ago this month that the first 911 call was made, creating a system that would forever change the way emergency communications was devised.

A history from the National Association of State 911 Administrators notes that the nation’s first 911 system was created in Haleyville, Alabama. On Feb. 16, 1968, the Alabama speaker of the house made the call and it was picked up by a congressman at the local police department.

The first 911 call in Washington state came a few weeks later in Puyallup when AT&T was testing its services. That might have also been the first 911 call on the West Coast, but Nome, Alaska, also claimed to have made the first call on the West Coast at around that time, as well.

“We’re thankful to the many generations of 911 call takers that have come and gone over the generations and saved countless lives as a result,” said Washington State E911 Coordinator Adam Wasserman.

911 technology has continued to evolve since those early days, but it’s not yet at a level of sophistication where a call taker is able to instantly discover the location of a cell phone user calling 911.

That’s why it’s so important to know where you are when you’re calling 911 – and it’s also why 911 call takers routinely ask first, “What’s your location?”

The Washington State E911 Coordination Office, part of the Washington Emergency Management Division,is working hard with all of the counties to improve the current system into a Next Generation 911 capable system.  Next Generation 911 will include improved Geospatial Call Routing and the ability for 911 centers to receive voice, text, data, pictures or whatever else might be useful. The first step of the process is the transition to a NG911 capable Emergency Services IP network (ESInet II). 

This new system, which transports calls from the call-maker to the call-taker, is designed to be accessible to all types of devices/methods for contacting 911, and is compatible across the state as well as interstate. It is also highly resilient, reliable, secure, simple and cost-effective.

“Our next generation 911 system has an eye toward the future, while still making sure our legacy systems are sustained until everyone can make the full transition,” Wasserman said.

Today, only 11 counties around the state have the ability to accept text messages – and not pictures or any other kind of data. That’s why it’s important to make sure you live in a county that accepts text messages to 911 before even trying to do so. Call if you can, text if you can’t.

It’s also very important for residents that accidentally call 911 to stay on the line and just be truthful about the mistake to the 911 call taker. Otherwise, the 911 center will try calling back, which could delay someone else from getting actual emergency help.