A 'call' answered, for smarter, leaner government in Illinois - Metropolitan Planning Council

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A 'call' answered, for smarter, leaner government in Illinois

Courtesy of Flickr user Ann Fisher

It didn’t get much attention, but consumers scored a big victory on June 29, when Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 96 into law requiring the state to modernize and consolidate its emergency response systems. 

What does this mean to residents? Consider that in Illinois, approximately 72 percent of all 911 calls are made on a cell phone. Yet, our 911 systems—and their funding formulas—were all established based on a land line model. The legislation has not been updated in 15 years to accommodate this transition to a more mobile society with increased demands for service. 

Moving to a Next Generation 911 system requires changing equipment, operations and funding frameworks. Next Generation 911 systems use today’s IP-based technology to connect callers and their location information to 911 professionals, who dispatch needed services in emergency situations. These new systems offer more flexibility in managing personnel and routing calls, as well as a platform that supports updated technologies, such as text messaging and video streaming. These capabilities are not part of the existing basic 911 or even Enhanced 911 systems. In fact, in 10 Illinois counties today, callers can’t even dial 911—they must dial a 10-digit number to request emergency assistance! 

In 10 Illinois counties today, callers can’t even dial 911—they must dial a 10-digit number!

The new law requires consolidating and updating the state’s public safety answering points, or dispatch centers, to increase efficiency and cost effectiveness. As technology costs increase, consolidating smaller systems reduces the cost of implementing enhanced features, resulting in more efficient use of funds. For example, DuPage County already has consolidated from 20 public service answering points down to eight, with an estimated annual savings of $4.5 million. The county plans to further consolidate to four public safety answering points.

All phone users fund the 911 system through surcharges on monthly bills. Before the law was passed, different rates were charged on landlines versus wireless lines. The new law equalizes the surcharge and ensures stabilization of the revenue pool as landline tax funds decline with decreasing usage. Additionally, consolidation provides better coordination between systems, so that in a major emergency event—such as a tornado, flooding, power outage—if one public safety answering point impacted by the event is inundated with 911 calls or loses connectivity or service, 911 calls from their service area could be routed to other answering points.

These reforms mean Illinois will move to a statewide emergency response network system that better serves the public and more effectively utilizes tax dollars—a win for public safety and for taxpayers.

DuPage County Board Member Gary Grasso serves as chairman of the county’s Emergency Telephone System Board. 

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