9-1-1 is the universal emergency telephone number, but concerns are being raised at the State Capitol that, in more and more instances, if you dial 9-1-1 you might not get the emergency help you need.
State Public Safety Director Mark James puts it bluntly to a special House committee evaluate the state 9-1-1 system, "The reality is there is greater than two-thirds chance that emergency responders cannot find you if you are calling 9-1-1 by cell phone in Missouri."
Rep. Mark Bruns (R-Jefferson City) chairs the Interim Committee to Evaluate the 9-1-1 System. Bruns sees two big problems. There are 3.2 million landline telephones in Missouri and 3.7 million cell phones and while Missouri charges a 75-cent fee on landlines to fund the 9-1-1 system, it is the only state that doesn’t charge a similar fee on cell phones. The revenue generated by the fee can no longer keep up with the costs of running the system. The other problem, according to Bruns, is the disparity of 9-1-1 access in metropolitan and rural areas of the state. He notes that 21 rural counties don’t have 9-1-1 systems.
Testimony before the committee disclosed that most 9-1-1 systems are outdated and more revenue needs to be generated to make upgrades and expand it to cover the entire state. A big problem faces the committee: Missouri voters rejected 9-1-1 cell phone fees twice; in 1998 and 2002.