April 29, 2019
The young man telephoned from inside a closet. By his side, his mother comforted his younger sister. He breathed rapidly.
"911. What is your emergency?" [the emergency dispatcher] said. He whispered. “There’s someone in our house. Please send help. We’re so scared.”
“He told me his address. I dispatched an officer. I remained on the phone with him through the excruciatingly long minutes until help arrived.”
“He delivered hushed updates over the line as he heard the intruder move through the home. My ears strained listening for telltale background noises, alert for sounds of discovery or of violence.”1
That call was made many years ago to the Butte County Sheriff’s Office in Oroville, California (USA). Heidi King, the emergency dispatcher who took the call, doesn’t remember if the intruder left before the officer arrived. She does remember realizing, in that moment, that the young man only had the phone attached to a cord, a closet door, and an emergency dispatcher shielding them from danger.
“It’s easy to take for granted the miracle that is our 911 system,” King said. “Almost instantly, it connects people who have never met, and likely will never meet, with lifesaving assistance that can arrive in minutes.”2
The job at the dispatch center now gives King a unique and necessary perspective as head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). She was nominated to the position in April 2018 and confirmed one month later to lead an organization tasked with regulating safety standards in the auto industry and transportation.
For those new to emergency dispatch protocol history, NHTSA has long recognized that the strength of our EMS system is dependent on rapid access to a skilled emergency medical dispatcher.
Bear with me as we go through a brief timeline to catch up with the present.
In 1976, NHTSA released a dispatcher training program for emergency medical technicians, which was revised in 1983 and published as Emergency Medical Dispatch: National Standard Curriculum.3 During this period, cities such as Salt Lake City, Utah (USA), were developing protocol systems for providing PAIs to callers requesting emergency medical assistance; King was answering calls in Butte County.
NHTSA—founded at about the same time as the first 911 call—houses the National 911 Program. Established in 2005, the program coordinates the migration to a digital, IP-enabled emergency network and adoption and operation of NG911 services and applications.
In 2009, NHTSA and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awarded more than $40 million to help 911 call centers across the country improve the ability to locate people calling from wireless and internet-connected telephones.
These projects included $594,000 to Arkansas for the purchase of equipment, hardware, and software to implement Phase II NG911 status for multiple jurisdictions, and $2.7 million to the Florida Department of Management Services, Division of Telecommunications for consulting services and the engineering, equipment, materials, installation, supervision, and training services required for the proper installation and operation of an E911 Emergency Communications Routing System.
In late 2016, the National 911 Program and NTIA received $115 million for the 911 Grant Program from the November 2014 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) AWS-3 spectrum auction. The 911 Grant Program provides funding to help 911 PSAPs provide optimal 911 services. The grants require cost-sharing, with the federal government covering up to 60 percent of the individual projects.
Review of the initial applications for the 911 Grant Program has been completed. Application packets for funding allocations were due April 2.
More information can be found at 911.gov/project_911grantprogram.html along with the opportunity to “sign up to receive email updates as new information is available.” Look for a list of awardees on the Journal website as soon as it becomes available.
1 King H. “NG911 Institute’s 15th Annual Honor Awards.” 2018; Feb. 14. https://www.ng911institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Heidi-King-Remarks-15th-Annual-911-Honor-Awards-Feb.-14-2018.pdf (accessed Nov. 6, 2018).
2 See note 1.
3 Clawson J. “Emergency Medical Dispatch for Children: Where are we and where do we go?” 1998; June. https://www.emergencydispatch.org/articles/EMDforkids.html (accessed Nov. 7, 2018).