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E-911 service to appear on ballot in November

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Gov. Mel Carnahan recently signed into law a bill that would enhance and expand 911 emergency service to wireless phone users, pending voter approval in November, according to a press release from the governor's office.

Supporters of the bill said this will save valuable time in life-and-death situations on the road, because emergency calls will be handled more quickly, the release stated.

The need for the 911 emergency phone service for wireless callers was made evident last Thanksgiving after a car and van crashed near Neosho in southwest Missouri, leaving three people dead. Motorists on U.S. Highway 71 were unable to alert police about the van, which they observed weaving in and out of traffic at excessive speeds.

"Had the new Enhanced-911 system been in operation then, we might have saved three lives," said R.D. Porter, president of the Missouri National Emergency Number Association, in the release. "The wireless system in place now is not serving the needs of the state of Missouri, but with voter approval in November, that will change."

Porter, coordinator of the 911 system in Pulaski County, said the Enhanced-911 system will be a blessing to travelers and to 911 operators.

"This is going to improve public safety and emergency response time in any situation where people are not familiar with the local area," Porter stated.

Steven J. Makky Sr., vice president of the state chapter of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, notes that voters will have the opportunity to upgrade the emergency response system statewide. "If the referendum is passed in November, it will put in place the structure needed to bring about improved services to Missouri citizens, Makky said.

Key to passage of the Enhanced-911 (E-911) legislation was the safety issue and the need to extend the 911 safety net to more callers, especially those calling from Missouri's highways on wireless phones.

Voters will be asked to approve the E-911 referendum on the Nov. 3 ballot. If approved, a surcharge of up to a maximum of 50 cents will be added to customers' monthly wireless phone bills to pay for the E-911 system.

A statewide survey by AT&T conducted recently revealed that wireless callers in Missouri need the new 911 emergency phone service provided for in the E-911 legislation. In its research, AT&T found that while awareness of 911 as an emergency number is almost universal among wireless phone customers, only 51 percent were aware of the Star 55 emergency number, which is currently designated for reporting emergencies via wireless phone.

"Our research showed that the E-911 law could be very important in saving lives on Missouri's highways," said J. Steve Weber, director of governmental affairs for AT&T in Missouri.

The AT&T research was conducted by Market Vision Research Inc. in February 1998.

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