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Landline extinction, cellphone popularity causing 911 problems

Jokes are made in the media, whether it is on television, film or in print, about callers being put on hold when contacting the 911 emergency hotline. Although it may be used for a punchline, the efficiency of the emergency service is no laughing matter. Victims of crime and personal injury rely on the service every day -- some call centers handling two calls every minute.

In Philadelphia, elected officials met over concerns about funding for the call centers located across the state. According to these officials, the seeming extinction of landline use combined with the increased use of cellphones is creating higher call volumes and financial issues under the current funding structure.

The 911 Emergency Telephone Act has been in place in Pennsylvania for a number of years. It sets rules for funding the program, charging a $1 fee per landline telephone and cellular device. Although each device carries the same fee, officials say that the collection of these fees is where a major part of the problem lies.

Landline fees are collected by each county, providing a smoother passing of the funds to the county call centers. This has worked great in the past, but as landline use dwindles, so do these fees.

Cellphone charges, on the other hand, are collected by the state and then dispersed to individual county call centers. According to officials, the collection practices for these charges are lacking; many fees either partially collected or even some not at all.

Another issue lies in the growing use of cellphones. Having a mobile device helps victims who need assistance in locations without a landline, but it has also increased the overall call volume for centers that may not be adequately equipped to handle the increase.

Think about an incident in which an injury-causing accident or violent crime occurs. Instead of one witness running into a local establishment to make a call, anyone who witnesses the event and has a cellphone can and is more likely to pull it out and dial 911.

With the expiration of the 911 Emergency Telephone Act quickly approaching, officials have begun serious discussions over how to better address overall funding, collections and even call center efficiency to keep up with changing technology.

Source: Main Line Media News, "Officials seek funding solutions for Pennsylvania 911 systems," Vince Sullivan, July 31, 2013 

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