What we think: Our 911 response could be in danger

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We are hearing the calls to 911 about the 911 system, and they are alarms to which we all must respond. The very safety of you and your neighbors could depend on whether these calls for help are heard in the locally knowledgeable manner to which we have become accustomed. We fear that practice soon could become obsolete.

At issue here are the charges for telephone lines that are collected from each of our bills and then funneled to state and local governments to pay for the infrastructure of the emergency response service to which you connect when you dial 911.

If you have a landline telephone connected to an address, you pay $2.99 per month to subsidize local emergency response. If you have a cellular telephone, you pay 70 cents. The $2.99 goes directly to support E-911 Board in Shelby County, and the 70 cents is split with the state.

And in that difference lies the problem.

Governments and oversight boards across the state – and most recently here in Shelby County – are watching their funding dwindle precipitously because of the trend of many individuals who drop their land lines and live with the now more reliable and economic service for their cellular telephones.

In fact, statistics released by the Kentucky League of Cities say that between 2000 and 2010 the total number of landlines across the commonwealth decreased by 17 percent, to 1.85 million, and the number of mobile lines increased by 263 percent, to 3.7 million.

That means that you can take the number of those who make such switches and multiply by the $2.64 difference between the monthly subsidies to see the decline is dramatic and could reach a point where there isn’t enough funding to have someone local on the other end of the line when you call.

Government officials are passing resolutions, asking the General Assembly to change this structure, to ensure that the service is local and does not have to be pushed to a state level, where a caller who lives on a dead-end road near, say, Todds Point would have to connect to a person in Frankfort to explain that emergency response is required at an inspecific address. The local knowledge of the area and the dispatch system would be lost along perhaps with vital time in responding.

That’s why Shelby County Deputy Judge-Executive Rusty Newton, chairman of the E-911 Board in Shelby County, and others are sounding an alarm. They have reached out to our elected representatives – state Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) and state Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) – to help bring the topic to the front burner in Frankfort and elevate the heat to a boil. This is urgent.

Mr. Hornback and Mr. Montell understand the rural nuance of Shelby County and the potential problems. They understand the tight state budget and have a working knowledge of the tariff system developed with telephone carriers. They share Mr. Newton’s concern, and they have pledged to fight the battle on your behalf.

And they will face very specific questions:

  • Would the public be willing to pay an extra amount on their cell phones to accommodate 911?
  • Would communications companies be receptive to changing the charge plan to a more balanced amount?
  • Is the General Assembly willing to wade into a funding issue that is on the horizon rather than in its immediate path?

No matter the answers to these questions, we are encouraged about so many asking them,  because we rank public safety at the vary highest place in the responsibilities of government. Argue as you may about the role in education or health care or how it pays it employees, surely we all share the opinion that when we call for help, we want it to be heard by someone who understands our problem and our location.

Our concern for personal safety certainly isn’t going to diminish.

In fact, as the plans to build two outlet malls near Simpsonville continue to progress, one of the concerns about which residents are being most vocal is the ability of emergency personnel to respond to a very busy retail area clogged by motorists.

We understand that issue, and with these potential problems facing local 9-1-1 program, that concern could grow significantly.

Now we have to do everything we can to ensure that our calls for help are answered – by those who control the system that pays for those dispatchers.