Phones, Accidental Death, And Transportation

Audrey Fraizer

Audrey Fraizer

Case Exit

You might wonder how and why the National 911 Program ended up as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Or maybe you never thought about it.

In any case, it all goes back to 1966 and a report citing the alarming number of accidental deaths in the United States, including from motor vehicle accidents, other forms of transportation, recreational activities, and accidents occurring at work, in the home, and in public buildings.1

The National Academy of Sciences’ groundbreaking “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society” reviewed the status of initial care and emergency medical services afforded to the victims of accidental injury. These studies included reviews of ambulance services, voice communication systems, and hospital emergency departments and intensive care units and preparation of a formal statement on cardiopulmonary resuscitation.2

The white paper was a catalyst for improving ambulance systems, training, and the provision of care. According to Matt Zavadsky, Chief Strategic Integration Officer, MedStar Mobile Healthcare, Fort Worth, Texas (USA), at the 50th anniversary of the white paper’s release, it “was instrumental in shining a light on the weaknesses in the nation’s ‘EMS’ system. It illustrated the significant gaps in prehospital trauma care and laid a road map to helping communities strengthen their local EMS systems.”3

The document transformed every level of EMS, including 911. The study recommended “Active exploration of the feasibility of designating a single nationwide telephone number to summon an ambulance.”4 Two years later the first 911 call was placed, and in 1970 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was created.

In 1979, Jeff Clawson, M.D., founder of the Salt Lake City-based International Academies of Emergency Dispatch® (IAED), brought prehospital care to the earliest point possible by establishing guidelines for Emergency Medical Dispatch. That same year he implemented the initial system for triaging emergency calls and prioritizing responses in Salt Lake City, Utah (USA).

Social changes—such as an increasing population—and advancing technology strained the 911 system. In 1999, the creation of the E911 system paved the way across the nation in support of up-and-coming wireless communication technology. 

There was a snag.

“Centers were having significant challenges in locating an increasing mobile society as it embraced wireless technologies,” said Brian Tegtmeyer, Coordinator, National 911 Program. Certain events highlighted the urgency to make 911 compatible with existing technology and interoperable. “In 2002, Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta first started the focus.”

The importance of interoperability was magnified by Sept. 11, 2001. Interoperability is the ability of emergency response agencies to exchange voice and/or data with one another on demand, in real time, when needed, and as authorized.5

During the attacks, due to dated and inadequate technology, police officers and firefighters were unable to communicate among themselves and with each other, delaying response efforts.6 The 9/11 Commission investigation found that first responders were forced to make life-and-death decisions based on poor communications.7

Although not directly related to the events of 9/11, the National 911 Program was created in 2004 to work “with states, technology providers, public safety officials, and 911 professionals”8 and focus on delivering 911 qualitative services across 50 states and six territories. It is affiliated with, among other federal agencies, the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA),  and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

While great progress had been made in emergency communications, striking the right balance between addressing existing gaps and requirements while also integrating new technologies is a significant challenge facing public safety organizations across all levels of government.9

The National 911 Program is committed to provide leadership and coordination in supporting and promoting optimal 911 services. For example, to help the nation’s public safety answering points achieve 911 interoperability, the National 911 Program released the first list of compiled standards activities related to NG911 in September 2011 (10th anniversary of 9/11). A new version is released every year.10 The NG911 Roadmap and Progress Report was a collaborative effort between the National 911 Program and 911 stakeholders released in 2019 to determine how to carry out a nationwide, interoperable 911 system.11 The Progress Report tracks advances and provides ways to contribute.

In addition to NG911 and interoperability, the National 911 Office participates in projects at the 911 level involving cybersecurity, roadway safety and post-crash care, 911 standards tracking, data collection, 988 and 911 partnerships, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reclassification of emergency dispatchers. Grants to help 911 communication centers upgrade to NG911 capabilities followed an NG911 cost study delivered to Congress one year earlier (2018).

It can be rightly said that the National 911 Program is at the pinnacle of team sports: no matter the individual talents of players, they work together with no higher expectation and no higher importance than getting it right as a team in public safety and emergency response.

The National 911 Program webinar series focuses on all things 911 topics. Check it out:www.911.gov/webinars/.


1 “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society.” National Academy of Sciences (US) and National Research Council (US) Committee on Trauma; National Academy of Sciences (US) and National Research Council (US) Committee on Shock. 1966.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK222969/ (accessed April 3, 2023).

2 See note 1.

3 “The White Paper and the Future: Where to Now?” EMSWORLD. 2016; September. https://www.hmpgloballearningnetwork.com/site/emsworld/article/12239745/the-white-paper-and-the-future-where-to-now (accessed April 3, 2023).

4 “DOT in 911 History.” 911.gov. 2021; Dec. 15. https://www.911.gov/history-of-911/ (accessed April 3, 2023).

5 “Wireless Communications Interoperability: Awareness Guide.” Department of Homeland Security. https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Wireless_Communications_Interoperability_Awareness_Guide.pdf (accessed March 29, 2023).

6 “Tenth Anniversary Report Card: The Status of the 9/11 Commission Recommendations.” National Security Preparedness Group.  2011; September. https://bipartisanpolicy.org/download/?file=/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/CommissionRecommendations.pdf (accessed March 28, 2023).

7 See note 5.

8 “About the Program.” 911.gov. 2023; March 8. https://www.911.gov/about/ (accessed March 28, 2023).

9 “20 Years After 9/11: Examining Emergency Communications.” Congress.gov. 117th Congress—House Homeland Security. 2021; Oct. 7 and Nov. 2. https://www.congress.gov/event/117th-congress/house-event/114112 (accessed March 29, 2023).

10 “Next Generation 911 (NG911): Roadmap Progress Report.” The National 911 Program. 911.gov. 2020; June. https://www.911.gov/assets/National-911-Program_Roadmap-Status-june-2020-FINAL.pdf (accessed March 29, 2023).

11 See note 3.