City Emergency Communications Center celebrates 30 years of service

Thirty years ago today, Dec. 4, 1979 was the first time a Minneapolis resident could dial one phone number to summon help from the Police or Fire Department. That was the day the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center, often known today as the 911 center, started taking calls. During that time, operators and dispatchers have helped respond to millions of emergencies.

Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center staff have also received national recognition for their work. In 2008, Minneapolis won the "911 Outstanding Call Center Award," a national award presented by the E911 Institute in Washington, D.C. Minneapolis 911 was honored for its work during the Aug. 1, 2007 collapse of the I-35W Bridge.

Before the service began in 1979, if you had a police emergency, you dialed the Police Department’s seven digit number and, if you needed help from the Fire Department, you dialed a different seven digit number.

Prior to 1979, when a police emergency call came in, the person answering the phone would write down the caller’s problem and location on a card. That card was then placed on a conveyor belt that traveled to dispatching desks for each of the police precincts. When the card got to the right desk, the dispatcher radioed the information to a squad car and help was on the way.

In 1979, the police and fire emergency communications merged. With that change, callers could call a single number where Emergency Communications employees were entering information on computers and using upgraded radio equipment. The simple use of the number 911, was introduced to Minneapolis in December of 1982.

In 1979, Minneapolis had 61 full time employees who answered 425,000 emergency phone calls and dispatched help to 244,774 events. Today, the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center has 84 full time employees who handle an average of 1,000 calls per day. Last year, they answered 590,936 calls and dispatched help to 337,248 police emergencies and 34,339 fire emergencies.

These days, between six and eight 911 operators and six and eight public safety dispatchers are on duty to take calls that can range from loud party complaints to homicides. As calls come in, staff assesses the situation and enters crucial information into computers so that dispatchers can prioritize calls, send help and monitor the progress of emergency response.

Published Dec. 4, 2009