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Columbia Missourian

GUEST COMMENTARY: 911 tax should be seen as price tag for safety

By Karen Taylor
March 27, 2013 | 4:30 p.m. CDT

Community safety cannot be compromised.  There are certain issues and functions in our community that we must support.  Now is the time to support Joint Communications/911 and Emergency Management Services. It’s critical we vote "Yes" on April 2 for Boone County’s Proposition 1, which will provide funding for updating our 911 and Emergency Management System.  

It’s not exaggerating to say our current 911 system is out of date. Technology has changed and the system we rely on cannot adequately serve our community.  Technology has changed in a way that gives citizens more opportunities to utilize the 911 system. Unfortunately, our current, antiquated 911 system can't take advantage of that greater citizen participation.

Not that many years ago we all relied on landline phones. That meant if there was a car accident to be reported, we would have to drive to a location with a landline phone to call 911. Now we all carry cellphones and place that emergency call immediately.  What that means is that 911 is now flooded with calls for the same emergency. The good news is that we have concerned citizens helping each other.  The bad news is that Joint Communications is so overwhelmed with calls regarding one incident that they may not be available to handle a call for a different emergency.

Did you know that today we have one call-taker for all 160,000 citizens in Boone County?  That’s concerning to me.

In an emergency, waiting three to four minutes for your 911 call to be answered is just not acceptable. And even worse would be getting an answering machine. I believe our community expects their calls to be answered immediately when they place a 911 emergency call. That just isn’t happening today.

Boone County’s 911 system is failing to meet national safety standards. Our equipment is outdated, and our staffing does not allow us to handle the call volume.  You may be surprised to learn that our 911 equipment is so outdated that in certain instances, staff is searching eBay in hopes of finding replacement parts.   

A careful study was conducted by a group of highly qualified Boone County citizens charged with examining the current state of Joint Communications and Emergency Management Services. The overwhelming conclusion was that the facilities, equipment and personnel staffing levels are inadequate to handle current and future needs of our community. The time is now for us to upgrade the system.

No one wants to think about a disaster striking our community. I’m sure the Joplin community didn’t want to think about it either. But it happened and something similar could happen in our community, too. Now is the time for us to plan and prepare for a potential emergency. The recent snow storms highlight the need for us to be prepared.

Passing Proposition 1 would allow our community the benefit of up-to-date technology and adequate staff so that first responders can do what they’ve been so well trained to do.  

Supporting Proposition 1 will put our mind at ease. It will enable enough staff to be hired, new equipment to be purchased and provide a secure facility built to survive a disaster when we need it. It doesn’t do us much good to have a plan in place if the disaster team can’t activate the plan.

Our community is facing a crisis with our 911 and Emergency Management systems, and this additional sales tax is essential to the ongoing safety of the citizens of Boone County.

When we dial 911 we want to count on an immediate response. It can mean the difference between life and death. You can’t put a price on safety. I urge you to vote "Yes" on 1 for 911 on Tuesday, April 2.  

 Karen Taylor is a Columbia resident.