9-1-1 In Louisiana
I. General Characteristics– 9-1-1 in Louisiana is a parish-based collection of systems with a myriad of configurations. All are similar in some ways, but no two systems are identical. The differences are in small part due to the manner in which they were created, but are primarily a reflection of their location and the political realities of that location. There are issues and problems, which are common to each Communications District but the solutions are, more often than not, unique to that particular Communications District.
The establishment of a single, 3-digit phone number for citizens in need of fire, medical or police emergency services has mandated a degree of unification and uniformity of operation among public safety entities which were historically accustomed to functioning autonomously. Prior to 9-1-1 a citizen needing a fire department would dial that agency’s 7-digit number and the fire department’s internally developed protocols would govern how that call was handled. Now that caller dials 9-1-1.
When a citizen dials 9-1-1, the call is automatically routed to a pre-determined location, known as a Public Safety Answering Point [“PSAP”]. The call is answered by a call taker who determines the nature of the emergency and either handles the requests for emergency services or routes it to the appropriate public safety agency for emergency response.
Who performs the call taker function and what happens from that point varies widely from Communications District to Communications District. Some Communications Districts hire their own call takers, some use Sheriff Department employees, some use Fire Department personnel and others use combinations. 9-1-1 became the catalyst for all public safety agencies to work in concert. Each configuration is a reflection of the particular characteristics of the Parish where it operates.
II. The 9-1-1 Concept – The concept of providing a three digit number for use in requesting emergency services originated in England in 1937. In 1958, the International Association of Fire Chiefs introduced the concept in the United States. The adoption of an abbreviated, uniform, easy-to-dial and easy-to-remember number for emergency services was recognized as an important public safety innovation.
In 1968, the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement recommended the establishment of an emergency number, and the numbers “9-1-1” were reserved by AT&T for that purpose. In 1973, the Office of Telecommunications Policy issued a national policy statement recognizing the benefits of 9-1-1 and encouraging nationwide adoption of the number.
III. Legislative History in Louisiana – In 1979, Lafayette Parish pioneered the creation of a 9-1-1 system for its area. House Bill 480 of 1979, authored by Representatives LeBlanc, Bares, and Thompson and handled by Senators Mouton and Champagne on the Senate side, established the first Communications District in the State of Louisiana for the purpose of establishing and maintaining an emergency telephone service for Lafayette Parish. This enactment, which became Act #788 of 1979, set the precedent for a 9-1-1 system with each Communications District boundaries being based on the geographical boundaries of each of the sixty-four parishes in Louisiana.
Representative Downer’s House Bill #1065 of 1983 enacted the generic state legislation found at R.S. 33:9107 et seq. which established the overall mechanism for creation of Communications Districts in each of the remaining parishes [Act 550 of 1983].
House Bill #1065 provided that Parish Policy Jurors or a board named by the Policy Jury could operate a Communications District to establish and operate a 9-1-1 system for their parish. The law permitted a wide-range of methods by which Communications Districts could operate the system
Louisiana RS 33:9105. Methods
The emergency telephone system shall be designed to have the capability of utilizing at least one of the following four methods in response to emergency calls:
(1) “Direct dispatch method”, that is a telephone service to a centralized dispatch center providing for the dispatch of an appropriate emergency service unit upon receipt of a telephone request for such services and a decision as to the proper action to be taken.
(2) “Relay method”, that is a telephone service whereby pertinent information is noted by the recipient of a telephone request for emergency services, and is relayed to appropriate public safety agencies or other providers of emergency services for dispatch of an emergency service unit.
(3) “Transfer method”, that is a telephone service that receives telephone requests for emergency services and directly transfers such requests to an appropriate public safety agency or other provider of emergency services.
(4) “Referral method”, that is a telephone service that, upon the receipt of a telephone request for emergency services, provides the requesting party with the telephone number of the appropriate public safety agency or other provider of emergency services.
The governing authority of the district shall select the method that it determines to be the most feasible for the parish.
The enactment of Act 550 of 1983 confirmed that Louisiana had elected to implement its 9-1-1 systems on a Parish-by-Parish basis. Further the incorporation of four general methods of operation was a recognition that the needs and abilities of the parishes varied. Other states approached 9-1-1 implementation on a State-wide basis, while others used a regional approach.