911 emergency system celebrates 50th birthday

The emergency system that has saved countless lives is celebrating a landmark birthday as 911 turns 50 years old this week.

“The very first 911 call was placed in Haleyville, Alabama back in 1968,” said Director of Emergency Communication Networks Division Department of Public Safety Dana Wahlberg.

911’s official birthday falls on Friday. From the rotary dial to the touch tone and all the way to our smart phones, the technology of 911 has adapted over five decades to fit the country’s needs. 

“We’re getting older but we’re getting much, much better,” said Wahlberg.

According to the Department of Public Safety, Minnesota dispatchers take more than three million 911 calls annually across the state’s 104 call centers. On the other end of every single one, are people like Darlene Pankonie, the communications center division manager.

“It’s been my life passion,” said Pankonie. “I’ve working in 911 Communications in Minnesota for 25 years.”

She has spent half of 911’s entire lifetime on the other side of emergencies, helping save lives.

“CPR instructions, choking instructions, controlling bleeding, and all of that, EpiPens, providing, telling people how to deal with opioid overdoses, that affects us today, more than ever,” said Pankonie.

Pankonie says that is why she plans to celebrate 911’s 50th anniversary.

“I can’t think of another job that’s more rewarding that every day you can say you’re helping people in their scariest moments,” she said.

She won’t just reflect on its public safety milestones; she’ll also honor every single person who takes the calls. 

“They have a lot to be proud of,” said Pankonie. “It’s a difficult job and when you do it well, you should be very proud of yourself and the lives you’ve affected and saved.”

Remember, if you ever need to call 911, the first thing a dispatcher will need from you is your location. So have an address, landmark, or intersection ready when you do. It's actually harder to track an exact location if you call from your cell phone. If you must text, just remember that takes longer.