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Future of 911 Service Threatened in Several Rural Counties of Northwest MO

911 service fees from land line phones have decreased 55 percent in just five years. That decrease threatens funding to emergency response service.
(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) During an emergency, it's the comforting voice on the other end of a 911 call that make a big difference. However, right now the 911 system itself is approaching its own crisis.

"We're at end-of-life for our current system. 2016, the current manufacturer of our system will no longer support it," said Blair Shock, Director of Emergency Management for Clinton County.

Andrew, Clinton, Caldwell and Dekalb counties' joint 911 service recently was offline for about 12 hours due to technical problems. In today's world of communications, emergency responders agree that's unacceptable.

"Twenty years ago, 911 was a luxury. Today 911 is an expectation," Shock said.

But instead of just technical issues, there's a larger, more serous threat to the system. 911 operations statewide rely on a service fee included in the bill of all landline phones. That charge doesn't apply to cell phones.

"Landlines were a thing, everybody had a phone at home, we were able to collect our revenue off of them, said Marty Gray, communications coordinator for Caldwell County. "Now, everyone has a cell phone or a pre-paid phone and revenue has dropped drastically to where it's put our system in danger."

Revenues for the four-county 911 operation have dropped 55 percent in just five years. Budget cutting means the system is down to its bare bones. In less densely populated areas, an inefficient 911 system means slower response times.

"The big part is you're in rural America and you're not within a city where you have a fire department or an ambulance a block away," Gray said. "You want to get there as quick as possible. That's what people expect with 911. I dial a number, you're there, you answer it and you send me help."

And the hope is that help will still be there in the future.

"They expect help to be on the other end of the line, Shock said. "I think that's a realistic expectation, but that may not be a reality here forever."

State law currently does not allow a 911 service fee for cell phone users. That's something emergency responders across the state would like to see changed.
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