New law to clear up technical issues with wireless 911 calls

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas man called 911 to report a stolen laptop in Little Rock but didn’t connect with the right agency until his fourth call. 

A new law should help clear up the confusion by transferring the state to Next Generation 911 to process all types of emergency calls, from voice to text to multimedia.

“Grant County 911. What is your emergency?”

“I’m trying to get Little Rock 911.”

Gary Burris called for help after someone stole his computer out of his car.

“I was robbed at MacArthur Park and only got a computer when you call Little Rock police,” Burris said on the recording of the call.

When the dispatcher tried to transfer him, she couldn’t.

“You have reached the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911.”

“Hello?,” Burris said.

“Sir, hold on just a second,” the dispatcher said. 

“You have reached Arkansas State Police Troop A in Little Rock. If this is an emergency, hang up and dial 911.”

“Hello?,” Burris repeated.

“Sir, I’m getting an automated message with all of them,” the dispatcher said. “If you will, you might be in a different place where you can hit a tower closer to where you’re at so try dialing 911 again, ok?”

“Yes ma’am. Thank you,” Burris said and hung up. 

The Sheridan resident had to call 911 four times and leave the Little Rock park to get the right agency on the phone.

“When I finally got somebody, I said, ‘I could bleed to death out here,'” Burris said.  

The Grant County 911 coordinator, Randall Berry, told KARK in an email that his office couldn’t transfer Burris’ cellphone call to Pulaski County or state police because neither have the infrastructure in place to receive it.

“Grant County 911 has 6 E-911 lines,” Berry wrote. “Two are Little Rock landline tandem lines, two are Pine Bluff landline tandem lines and two are Pine Bluff wireless lines. The call you are referring to came into Grant County 911 on a Pine Bluff wireless line. The 911 circuit tandems do not cross.”

“The caller stated he was trying to reach Little Rock 911,” Berry continued. “Due to the infrastructure the state currently utilizes, the call we received on our Pine Bluff wireless tandem can only be received by another agency on 911 if it can be transferred on the same tandem. We attempted to transfer the caller to Pulaski County and Arkansas State Police Troop A. Both those centers do not have a Pine Bluff tandem. Therefore, the calls revert automatically to the non-emergency lines of the departments once transferred.”

The same week Burris was robbed, the Arkansas legislature passed a law to fund upgrades to the state’s 911 system.

While Berry said this is an answer to the confusion, Burris is still left to question if police will catch his laptop thief.

“I’m watching you,” he said. “I know who you are. I’ll get your a**.”

The new law will pay for the improvements by increasing a phone tax by about 30 cents per month for each device, including tablets and others that use data. It will also add a 10 percent tax onto prepaid cellphones. 

In addition, the law aims to reduce the number of call centers, known as public safety answering points (PSAPs), from 127 to 77. However, it gives the Arkansas 911 Board the authority to provide funding to more or less PSAPs with a two-thirds vote. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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