E-911 systems feeling crunch

Published 8:59 pm Friday, July 24, 2009

Unlike emergency 911 systems in neighboring counties, Marengo County E-911 is remaining financially viable in the currently unstable economic environment. Other E-911 services have not been so fortunate.

“We’re holding on right now, and it’s not easy,” Greenville mayor and Butler County E-911 chair Dexter McLendon told his county commissioners earlier this month.

Due to the increasing popularity of cellular phones and the decreasing usage of landline telephone service, county E-911 services across the state are finding it harder and harder to operate.

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Recent reports of Butler County E-911 facing major financial issues because of the differing surcharges of landline and cellular phones is causing growing concern among other Alabama E-911 operations.

“We are greatly affected by people who drop landlines in lieu of cell lines,” said Marengo County E-911 director Lisa Mangum. “We are still better off than other counties are. We don’t have money coming out of our ears, but we’re not in dire straits.”

Marengo County E-911 charges $2 a month for landlines. The charges of other Alabama E-911 programs range from as little as 97 cents to as much as $4.35. Morgan County E-911 has recently increased its charge from 80 cents to $2.50. Yet the lower rates associated with increased cell phone usage is still taking its toll on Marengo County’s revenue.

“We determine what the surcharges [for landlines] are, and the Alabama Wireless 911 Board sets their rates,” Mangum said.

Recent upgrades to the Marengo County E-911 service include a new “ANI/ALI” system that automatically identifies a location based on the phone number, a new emergency rescue vehicle and an updated standard operation manual. Marengo County E-911 is also in the process of reviewing the existing radio system.

“Technology is changing every day, and there are constant changes that need to be made with proper equipment,” Mangum said.

In addition to surcharges, Marengo County E911 is dependent upon funding from Demopolis police and fire departments, the sheriff’s office, AmStar ambulance service, the Marengo County Commission and the Linden Police Department.

One cost-free way to improve the economic efficiency of local E-911 services is to establish a 911 address.

“A lot of people will move and only have a P.O. Box address,” Mangum said. “Every citizen needs a physical address so responders will know where to go.”

Mangum also said those who have recently painted or significantly altered the appearance of their house should report those changes.

“Knowing what the house looks like can significantly decrease response time in emergencies,” Mangum said.

Those seeking to establish an E-911 address or describe physical changes should call Lisa Mangum at 289-0911.