‘Father of 911’ Roush gets kudos as system celebrates 50 years

Ed Reuter (third from left), executive director of the Statewide 911 Board, presents the family of J. Edward Roush with a plaque commemorating 50 years of 911 service Thursday, March 1, at the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department. Roush, a U.S. congressman from Huntington, was instrumental in enacting the 911 system, saving countless lives nationwide. Celebrating the occasion are (from left) Paul Wright and his wife, Roush’s daughter Melody Wright, of Winona Lake; Reuter; Roush’s son, Joel Roush and his wife, Margaret Roush, of Huntington; and State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell.
Ed Reuter (third from left), executive director of the Statewide 911 Board, presents the family of J. Edward Roush with a plaque commemorating 50 years of 911 service Thursday, March 1, at the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department. Roush, a U.S. congressman from Huntington, was instrumental in enacting the 911 system, saving countless lives nationwide. Celebrating the occasion are (from left) Paul Wright and his wife, Roush’s daughter Melody Wright, of Winona Lake; Reuter; Roush’s son, Joel Roush and his wife, Margaret Roush, of Huntington; and State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

School children in Huntington County, hopefully, and even the generation before them, have “911” hard-wired into their response system, if the need ever arises that they must ask for emergency help.

But not everyone knows the major role Huntington and a former U.S. congressman have in bringing the nation under one unified emergency telephone number.

On Thursday, March 1, the 50th anniversary of 911 service in the state of Indiana, a ceremony was held at the Huntington County Sheriff’s Department, where the county’s emergency dispatch department is located, to honor the late J. Edward Roush – also called “The Father of 911” – and celebrate the lives saved and rescued as a result.

Roush served as Indiana’s Fourth District congressman from 1958 to 1976, but perhaps his greatest achievement was in championing the 911 system and seeing it to fruition in 1968. On March 1, 1968, Huntington became the first American city served by the AT&T-owned Bell System to receive 911 service, with Roush himself placing the first 911 test call.

State Treasurer Kelly Mitchell represented Indiana at the ceremony, attended by local law enforcement and first responder agencies as well as local politicians and officials.

“As the chair of the Statewide 911 Board, it was my honor to recognize the innovation and forward thinking Indiana had 50 years ago,” she said.

Huntington Mayor Brooks Fetters proclaimed the day as “Congressman J. Edward Roush, Father of 911 Day.” He quoted Roush, who asked, “One simple little question: why is it we don’t have just one telephone number to report a fire throughout the country? One that a child in the first grade would learn, and one which would be on the mind of every citizen and a part of his knowledge?”

“Unwilling to accept the statements that such a change would require the establishment of a national study commission and that the coordination of such an effort would need to be led by one central agency with the prestige to deal with the problem, Congressman Roush made this pivotal statement: ‘I appreciate your comments, but I still can’t believe that it would take that much effort for us to get one telephone number.’”

Roush’s one-man crusade to create a single, national phone number revolutionized the emergency response system in the U.S., and made 911 a reality in less than a year, Fetters said.

Roush’s family, son Joel Roush, of Huntington, with his wife, Margaret, and daughter Melody Wright, of Winona Lake, and her husband, Paul, attended the ceremony. They were in Washington, DC, recently when current U.S. Rep Jim Banks spoke on the House floor, recognizing Roush as the driving force behind the emergency telephone system.

Banks’ Senior Advisor Chris Crabtree attended Thursday’s ceremony and presented the Roush family with a flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 16.

“Any honors that we’ve given the family pale in comparison to the 911 calls that happen every day that save lives,” Crabtree said. “Every time a life is saved it’s a tribute to Congressman Roush.”

Melissa Taylor, the director of the Huntington County Public Safety Dispatch and president of the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, said in 2017, the central dispatch office received 21,451 911 emergency calls.

“We’ve seen that number grow over the years as we’ve consolidated our dispatch centers,” she added.

The city and county joined together into one central dispatch in 2013. Currently, the center is using an “Enhanced 911 System,” which was introduced in 1993 using AT&T phone lines, Taylor said. However, an initiative called NextGen 911 is planned, which will help create a more reliable and improved experience for those calling for help. The system will allow 911 dispatchers to more accurately assess an emergency and pinpoint the right response.

“We are moving in a newer direction,” Taylor said. “We’re already utilizing a little piece of the NextGen 911 system. We have texting capability, which I never would have thought would happen with a 911 center. We not only receive texts from cell phones, but we can also initiate texts from the dispatch center.”

Taylor said texting works well in situations in which people who cannot hear, or find themselves in danger and do not want to make any sounds but need to make an emergency call for help. In 2017, the Huntington County Dispatch Center received 28 texts to 911, and the center sent out 478 text sessions, especially during 911 hang-up calls.

“Kids nowadays don’t want to answer their phone; they don’t even want to talk on the phone, so we get a lot more response back when we send out a text session,” Taylor noted. “We’ve also had situations in the state of Indiana where there has been that domestic situation, or there has been that person that’s hiding in a closet and trying to be quiet because there’s an intruder – things like that.”

Another lifesaving communications platform is called FirstNet, which will help 911 dispatchers communicate more quickly with police, fire and EMS. Integrating with NextGen 911, FirstNet can be used to create a flow of communication from the caller to the dispatcher to the first responder.

Taylor announced that in May, the Huntington County Dispatch Center will operate on a new Spillman Flex software system, which can integrate data between the dispatch center, police, fire, records and the jail.

Other benefits to the computer aided dispatch include a new mapping system and a new automatic vehicle location system, allowing dispatchers to see where officers are located throughout the county.

“I know 50 years is a long time, but it still feels new, to put all those pieces together,” Taylor added. “We’re very, very excited to see what’s going to happen with NextGen 911 and excited to see what the future holds.”

Remarks were also made by Huntington County Sheriff Terry Stoffel, Bill Soards, president of AT&T Indiana and Edward Reuter, executive director of the Statewide 911 board.