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Life-saving 911 call costs $17.88!

Posted Sep 14 2008 2:42pm

For forty years, Americans have depended on the emergency telephone number, 911, as an essential public service. It’s always been free. But with increased use of cell phones and the need to update systems the financial pressures placed on local emergency communication centers have been tremendous – and increasingly expensive.

The city of Ventura, California, recently tried to address this issue by charging a fee for dialing 911. That’s right, it will now cost citizens $17.88 to make an emergency, life-saving phone call. Alternatively, citizens can sign up for a monthly fee of $1.49 that will allow them to make an emergency call at any time.

I think it’s an unwise decision. While county officials were quick to point out that the monthly fee is minimal (and supposedly, “good Samaritan” calls will be waived ), I suspect that most people will remember is that there is a fee – period.

Only a sixth of the estimated, eligible cellular and phone lines are signed up for the monthly fee. Some people chose to forgo the monthly fee plan assuming that their chances of requiring emergency assistance are low. Others will avoid it because their budgets are already strained. Either way, these are the people who will hesitate before making an emergency call. That hesitation could have dire, life-threatening consequences.

For example, calling 911 within 3 hours of experiencing symptoms of a stroke can significantly reduce long-term damage and disability due to that stroke. As it is, only about 5% of stroke victims arrive at the hospital in time to avoid this damage. If someone experiences sudden dizziness or blurred vision, are they more likely to ignore these symptoms or wait to see if they get worse before calling 911? I’m afraid so.

I hope this idea doesn’t catch on with other communities around the nation. Can we think of better alternatives?

The 911 Industry Alliance has several articles on the increased strain recently placed on emergency communication centers.

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