Editorial

Better 911

Saturday, November 29, 2008

911 emergency services in Cape Girardeau got a huge upgrade last week. The city opened its new 911 dispatch center at Fire Station No. 3 on North Sprigg Street.

At a cost of about $1.5 million, the center now has much of the advanced equipment that identifies the location of those who are seeking emergency assistance and calling from a land line. Previously, dispatchers had to use paper maps to locate where calls were coming from.

Much of the cost of the new 911 center was covered by the E911 tax that each land-line telephone subscriber in the city pays. However, this tax does not apply to cell-phone services. The use of cell phones has grown significantly in recent years, but the new center's technology can't pinpoint the location of a cell-phone caller. And callers using Voice-over-Internet Protocol on their computers have to provide their addresses.

It would take legislative action to allow the city to add the E911 tax to cell-phone bills. When the technology for tracking cell-phone locations first became available through GPS technology, there were some concerns that the ability to monitor the whereabouts of cell-phone users might give a government agency intrusive access to the privacy of citizens who use the mobile devices. Nowadays, virtually every cell phone is GPS-equipped, and there seem to be fewer privacy concerns.

In short, cell-phone users who call 911 understand that being able to locate them quickly when trouble strikes is part of the life-saving benefit of having a 911 system. This would be a good time for legislators to take another look at giving communities the option of adding the E911 tax to cell phones.

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