The E911 system is one of the most important but least understood government services.
It is a complex telephone system with trunk lines and circuits dedicated exclusively for 911 calls. The “E” in E911 means “Enhanced,” which means we can find you when you call. This is very important to callers who may not be able to tell where they are. Even if you call 911 on a cell phone, we can determine your location, in most cases.
Vermont has the first statewide E911 system that uses the same method of moving information that is common to the computer world. This is important, because the E911 system must be at least as good as the technology used by consumers today, including VoIP phones, cell phones, and many other personal communication devices.
When you make a 911 call, your call is routed from your location to the 911 system over dedicated trunks and circuits, and sent into our system where the telephone signal is converted to computer language. Your call is then sent to one of eight 911 call centers scattered throughout the state, and answered by a highly-trained, certified call-taker. They will not only help you with lifesaving advice covering most any medical, fire or police emergency, but will also transfer your call to the appropriate type of responder in your area, staying with you until help arrives. All this happens in seconds.
This involves more than what is seen at the callcenter. Although our 911 call-takers are on the front line at five different local, county, or state locations across Vermont, it is the unseen effort that makes that possible. The effort is led by 11 people at the E911 board offices in Montpelier, and involves volunteer coordinators from every one of Vermont’s cities and towns, as well as the many phone companies doing business in Vermont.
The 11 people staffing that board are responsible by law to “develop, implement, and supervise the operation of the statewide enhanced 911 system.” The board itself consists of representatives appointed by the governor from every emergency response group in the state, including local police, fire service, emergency medical, state police, and county sheriffs, as well as a representative from town administrators, and three from the general public. The system was designed for everyone to “save a life, stop a crime, or report a fire.”
As with any mission-critical function depending on high-tech equipment, the E911 system must be updated at least every five years. The E911 board must keep the current system operating smoothly 24 hours a day, while laying the groundwork for the future. Calls must be delivered quickly with extreme accuracy and high quality. Although spread out to survive human or natural caused disasters, each call center is networked together, enabling a call-taker in any location to answer a call regardless of where it originated. The E911 board collects and manages the data that must merge in milliseconds with every call to ensure swift and effective response. The E911 board must train, certify, and continually educate the person answering your call so that they know how to deal with any emergency you might have. The E911 board must also maintain business relationships with the many telecommunications companies doing business in Vermont, paying the many bills and tariffs necessary to keep 911 working, and keeping current with regulatory issues.
Vermont has one of the best E911 systems in the nation. Any personal information necessary to do the job is highly confidential and protected by law. We hope you don’t have to call, but if you do, we will be there for you.
David R. Serra
Executive director for the State of Vermont Enhanced 911 Board