Emergency communications service in Michigan counties: Part One

The “Guide to Michigan County Government” is a great source of detailed information about the structure, function and services provided by counties in Michigan.

Michigan’s counties play a critical role in providing emergency communications service, also known as 911. The “Guide to Michigan County Government” is a publication of Michigan State University Extension and is a great source of detailed information about the structure, function and services provided by counties in Michigan. Here’s a new piece I’ve written for the updated fifth edition, expected to be released early in 2017.

Basics

In 1986, the legislature established the emergency telephone service, a service accessible to the general public by dialing 9-1-1. They did this by enacting Public Act 32, also known as MCL 484.1101-484.1717. The entire act sunsets on December 31, 2021, which means the legislature will have to take action on a replacement, an extension or updates by then. As is widely known today, the system literally connects the caller with the public safety services in the county or community. The service is now commonly available, consistent with the goal of being any place in the nation and having 911 as the number to call for emergency assistance – police, fire and emergency medical services.

Initially, the system relied upon a cooperating telephone company, a central dispatching system which consisted of a bank of sophisticated computerized tracking and recording equipment, and a group of trained and capable workers. The costs of the program were funded by a surcharge on telephones, state grants, county funds, and in some counties, a property tax.

Over time, the communications systems became much more complex and competitive, and the emergency systems and residents became more dependent on the 911 system. With the development of wireless telephone systems and the internet, the complexity of providing an equitable funding system became a growing issue.

Act 32 also created the State 911 Committee (SNC) to provide information and recommendations to the legislature and citizens. Much of the work of the SNC deals with adapting the system to the growing needs of citizens for emergency services and the ever-increasing complexity and capability of electronic communications. Up-to-date information and recommendations of the SNC can be found on the Michigan State Police website.

Calls to 911 in Michigan are answered by staff at a Public Safety Answering Point, or PSAP. Police, fire and emergency medical services responses are provided by PSAPs on a 24-hour, seven day per week basis. Individual PSAPs may also provide additional services. On July 1, 2016, Michigan had 145 PSAPs run by various governmental bodies:

  • Cities/Municipalities: 68
  • County: 65
  • Multi-County: 5
  • Universities: 4
  • State: 3

Much more information about PSAPs and 911 services in Michigan can be found in the annual reports to the legislature on the SNC website. The SNC has also developed a statewide plan, updated in 2011, which provides some history of the 911 service in Michigan and outlines both the current environment and future issues.

In Emergency communications service in Michigan counties: Part Two, we’ll talk about how 911 is funded and the future of 911 services in Michigan.

Watch for future Michigan State University Extension articles with more information about county government. Professor Ken VerBurg’s book, “Guide to Michigan County Government, Fourth Edition”, is available in electronic form online on a CD or a USB drive with nearly 500 pages of detailed information about county government and extensive footnotes to constitutional and statutory information. The update process is underway to be sure the information and statutory notations are current, with rollout of the fifth edition expected early 2017.

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