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50th Anniversary of 911

It all started in a small town in Alabama.

Growing up as a kid, I remember seeing different phone numbers posted in our kitchen, one for police and one for the fire department. When I was student teaching in 1970, one of the items we taught first- and second-graders was about 911. It may seem antiquated now, but 911 only became a reality in February 1968.

NPR had a story this morning about how a small telephone company beat AT&T to the punch by installing 911 in Haleyville, Ala. 

The system remained fairly static for many years when hardline phones dominated our daily communications. In the last 20 years, there has been a radical transformation of communications and the 911 system and its operators have had trouble keeping up. Cellphone usage, which was the first challenge, then location identification for those cellphones, and now the explosion of digital technology that governments everywhere are being challenged to keep up with. 

Next-Generation 911 is a huge hurdle for many to implement. Like everything else, it is a competition for government tax dollars to initiate the digital features needed to maintain a service that is relevant to how the average consumer/citizen functions in our modern society. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.