9-1-1 Funding

The 9-1-1 Network is funded by surcharges on telephone bills, the Emergency Telephone Surcharge, ranging in amount from 43¢ per month in some Front Range Counties to $1.50 per month in some rural Colorado counties. The surcharges are paid to the local Emergency Telephone Authority, which uses them to pay the 9-1-1 Network service provider. An Emergency Telephone Authority is typically an independent authority formed by agreement between a county and the cities, towns and fire districts within the county, to fund 9-1-1 Network and call processing costs. In some areas, two or more counties have joined together to form a single Authority.

The 101 9-1-1 Call Centers in Colorado (generally operated by County Sheriff or City police agencies on behalf of themselves and other First Responders serving their county or area) are funded in part by a portion of the Emergency Telephone Surcharge, and in part by the countys’ towns’ and/or cities’ general funds (from local property and sales taxes). The Emergency Telephone Surcharge has historically been used to fund call processing systems, including computer aided dispatch (“CAD”) systems, and in very small counties to help fund radio systems and Emergency Call Center Personnel. Changes in Colorado law have relaxed some limitations on use of surcharge funds but, ironically, the amount of the surcharges collected in these more sparsely populated counties leaves little for such expenses after payment of the 9-1-1 Network charges.

The more urbanized Front Range Counties with larger and denser populations, greater numbers of telephone customers and correspondingly greater surcharge receipts, tend to have the most up-to-date 9-1-1 Call Centers. The more urbanized counties generally have higher 9-1-1 Call volumes, more incidents to which to respond, more complex road networks and issues such as traffic delays to deal with, etc.; so that they face higher operating costs. Many of these Authorities are Next Gen 9-1-1 ready (or as ready as they can be prior to deployment of a Next Gen 9-1-1 Network), and have been able to accumulate some cash reserves to help meet anticipated Next Gen 9-1-1 Costs. 9-1-1 Authorities may not borrow money, and must accumulate reserves for anticipated capital costs such as replacement of critical systems.

Rural Colorado Counties tend to have small populations and correspondingly smaller surcharge revenues, even with a higher surcharge amount. They also tend to have much larger areas to serve. Some rural counties with large through-highways or large numbers of recreational visitors have significant emergency response costs imposed by non-residents (up to 80% of emergencies from highway or other incidents not which do not involve County residents). As a result, many 9-1-1 Call Centers outside of the Front Range are not always able to afford technology and to provide services which are taken for granted along the Front Range.

The 9-1-1Colorado Foundation seeks to supplement surcharge funding to modernize 9-1-1 Call Centers and the 9-1-1 System.

The Emergency Response and 9-1-1 Systems

Providing the public a simple means to get help in any emergency, anywhere, anytime, is not so simple a task. There are different parties responsible for different parts of the Emergency Response System, of which the 9-1-1 System is a critical part. There are also different technologies and services involved, and different funding mechanisms, for different parts of the Emergency Response System.

The 9-1-1 System, which the Foundation seeks to help modernize, has two main parts: the 9-1-1 Network or System, and the 9-1-1 Call Centers (also known as “Public Safety Answering Points,” or “PSAPs”)

The Emergency Response System

There are two parts to the Emergency Response System: the 9-1-1 System and the First Responder Agencies. In the case of medical emergencies, Hospital Emergency Rooms also play a role after subjects are rescued, stabilized and transported by First Responsers.

The 9-1-1 System includes (i) your service provider’s connections to the 9-1-1 Network, (ii) the 9-1-1 Network which connects to the 9-1-1 Call Centers, and (iii) the 9-1-1 Call Centers. The First Responder agencies include law enforcement (Police, Sheriff’s or Marshall’s office or State Patrol), fire departments which also provide paramedic response, and ambulance or Flight for Life service.

When you call 9-1-1, your telephone company or wireless carrier connects your call to the 9-1-1 Network. The 9-1-1 Network determines which Emergency Call Center should handle your call, based upon your location, and connects your call to that Emergency Call Center. Call Takers and Dispatchers at the Emergency Call Center determine the nature and location of your emergency, and dispatch the appropriate First Responders to your location. They may stay on the line and assist you until help arrives, such as by providing instruction First Aid or CPR, helping you to stay calm, or obtaining updated information on your situation to provide the First Responders. In other cases, the First Responder will disconnect the call after First Responders have been dispatched, so that the First Responder can take other calls and help other people with their emergencies.

The First Responders assist with your emergency. In the case of a medical emergency, the ill or injured person is transported to a Hospital Emergency Room for treatment.

The 9-1-1 Network

The 9-1-1 Network is the part of the 9-1-1 System that gets your call for help to the Emergency Call System. See a diagram providing an overview of the 9-1-1 Network components and operation, from the Colorado 9-1-1 Task Force March 27, 2008 Annual Report to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

The 9-1-1 Network takes the call from your wireline or wireless telephone service provider, determines where you are located, and sends the call to the 9-1-1 Call Center responsible for dispatching First Responders to your location. It also provides the 9-1-1 Call Center with your location, and with a call back number so the 9-1-1 Call Center can call you back if the call is dropped or disconnected.

It is important to note that due to technological limitations, wireless calls are routed to a 9-1-1 Call Center based upon the location of the wireless (cell system) antenna through which your call is received. If you are located near the boundary between two counties, your call may be initially misrouted and have to be transferred to the correct 9-1-1 Call Center which can dispatch First Responders to your location. A wireless caller’s location is usually updated in the 9-1-1 System within a minute, but it may take longer depending upon where you are located and the cellphone you are using. In one Colorado county, the location date is not updated with your actual location, and in some areas the updated location information may not be very precise.

If you have Internet (or VoIP) phone service, you are responsible for reporting the location at which you are using the service to your provider. VoIP phone service providers are required by the Federal Communications Commission to provide a profile page where you can enter and update your address for 9-1-1 purposes. When you move without updating this information, your 9-1-1 call can be sent to a city in another state which will not be able to dispatch First Responders to your location. That is, each 9-1-1 Call Center (I) has its own dispatch rules for the agencies in its jurisdiction (how many and what type of units to send to various types of incidents), (ii) keeps track of the First Responders on duty, their locations and status (whether they are answering a call or available to respond to a new incident), and (iii) has the radio and other systems necessary to dispatch the First Responders to incidents. If your call goes to the wrong jurisdiction, even the next county or city from the one where you’re located, that jurisdiction will not likely have access to the dispatch rules, First Responder status, or radio or other systems necessary to send a First Responder to assist you.

Your telephone service provider is responsible for connecting your 9-1-1 call to the 9-1-1 Network, and for providing location information for the 9-1-1 Network provider’s database. Your provider’s costs of connecting the call to the 9-1-1 Network and providing the location information are generally included in your provider’s regular service fees they charge you, although some providers assess a separate charge to meet these costs.

The costs of operating the 9-1-1 Network and maintaining the location database are paid out of the Emergency Telephone Surcharge, as described below.

The current 9-1-1 Network is based upon 1970’s technology, before the advent of the personal computer, when NASA rockets had less computing power than the cell phone you use today. Indeed, your cell phone has greater data processing and transmission capabilities than the 9-1-1 Network you rely on for help in an emergency. Unless we upgrade to a Next Generation 9-1-1 Network, the 9-1-1 Network will continue to be unable to handle messages from some existing and future communications systems. Upgrade and operational costs for a Next Generation 9-1-1 Network will be substantial, but will improve public safety response and be compatible with new and emerging communications systems and methods. Read more about Next Generation 9-1-1 Systems.

9-1-1 Call Centers

The 9-1-1 Call Centers are where your 9-1-1 call is received. Different 9-1-1 Call Centers have different procedures, equipment and systems, but perform the same essential functions. A call taker will take your call and determine the nature of your emergency. That call taker may stay on the line with you, or may perform a type of “triage” and then transfer your call to another call taker based on the type of emergency. The call taker may also dispatch First Responders to your location, or a separate dispatcher may handle dispatch operations in coordination with the call taker. Some Emergency Call Centers have Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems which will automatically dispatch the appropriate First Responders as soon as the call taker enters the code for the type of emergency. The CAD system will make recommendations of units to dispatch, or automatically dispatch them, based on (i) the type of incident (domestic dispute, traffic accident, structure fire, etc.) (ii) your location as provided by the 9-1-1 Network (if available) and confirmed by the 9-1-1 call taker, (iii) First Responder training, and (iv) unit location, equipment and availability.

The Call Taker at the 9-1-1 Call Center may stay on the line with you until the First Responders arrive, depending upon the nature of the emergency, whether another person has already called regarding the emergency, and the number of calls. The call taker may suggest action to take until first responders arrive, provide other assistance such as instructing you how to give first aid to an injured person until paramedics arrive, or gathering further information.

The most basic equipment or systems an 9-1-1 Call Center must have include:

  • A telephone system which will allow 9-1-1 calls to be answered by the call takers/dispatchers, and which will display the telephone number and address of the caller.
  • A system for dispatching and communicating with First Responders, typically including police and fire radio systems.
  • A method for keeping track of which First Responders and units are on duty and available.
  • Backup power for their systems so that the 9-1-1 Call Center can remain in operation during a power outage. Today, this is more important since more advanced Call Center systems are computer-based.

In the early days of 9-1-1, many 9-1-1 Call Centers had only telephone systems, and police and fire radio systems, and used tote boards and/or paper-based systems (even note cards) for tracking unit availability and recording critical call information. Today, 9-1-1 Call Centers have benefited to from the revolution in computer technology that has impacted almost every other area of modern life; with the better-funded systems benefiting more than others.

9-1-1Call Centers may now have digital Call Recorders, Computer Aided Dispatch CAD systems, Emergency Notification Systems, and computer programs to guide the 9-1-1 call taker in instruct callers in rendering first aid. Call Recorders make audio recordings of all 9-1-1 calls. CAD Systems record information pertaining to every 9-1-1 call and First Responder activity, and provide additional information for the call taker, dispatcher and/or First Responder pertaining to the incident, the location, prior incidents at the location, etc. Emergency Notification Systems allow 9-1-1 Call Centers to make outgoing calls to people in an area threatened by a a wildfire, flood, severe weather, chemical spill, etc.,  warning them of the danger. Read more about 9-1-1 Call Center Systems.

Foundation Funding Goals

The Foundation seeks to provide public education and fund improvements in Colorado 9-1-1 Call Centers and the Colorado 9-1-1 System.

There is broad variation in the 9-1-1 Call Center equipment and systems employed at Centers throughout Colorado. The 9-1-1 Call Centers serving the more populated counties along the Front Range tend to have more modern systems, be capable of receiving wireless call location data, and be Next Generation 9-1-1 Network-ready or close to it. Centers serving more rural counties may have more basic systems (and may struggle to afford even those basic systems), some are unable to receive wireless call location data, and few are Next Generation 9-1-1 ready.

The Foundation seeks to fund the upgrade of Colorado 9-1-1 Call Centers on a needs-basis so that all 101 Colorado 9-1-1 Call Centers, and people living in or visiting the areas they serve, will have the benefit of modern public safety systems. Funding on a needs-basis will avoid providing funding to Call Centers which are already well-funded.

A portion of the Foundation’s funding will be devoted to public education. Our goals for the Foundation’s Public Education Program are to (i) reduce misuse of the 9-1-1 Network, (ii) promote more efficient use of the Network, and (iii) increase registration of wireless and Internet phones and text-messaging and e-mail addresses with Emergency Notification Systems. Read More About Public Education. Read About “When to Call 9-1-1.”