Since the first 9-1-1 call was made 50 years ago, not much has changed about how Maryland’s 9-1-1 system functions. As a result, there are times when 9-1-1 doesn’t work.
That’s what happened to Carl Henn on July 25, 2010.
The 48-year-old was having a picnic with some friends at a park near his home in Rockville. When a sudden thunderstorm rolled in, the group scattered, running for cover in their cars. After about 10 minutes, the storm passed, and that’s when the group found Henn lying on the ground unconscious. He had been struck by lightning.
Two people began CPR while others frantically called 9-1-1 from their cell phones. But they got busy signals.
“They were pounding on doors of neighborhood houses trying to call from a landline, and that didn’t work,” said Carol Henn, Carl’s wife, who heard from friends afterward what happened. “So they ran out into the street and flagged some kind passerby person and threw him in the back of that truck and took him to the hospital themselves, doing their best to continue CPR the whole way.”
Carl Henn died two days later.
At the time, Montgomery County’s 9-1-1 center was inundated with calls about things like fallen trees. The Washington Post reported that the 9-1-1 center received five times more calls in the hour during and after the storm than in the hour before the storm hit.
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan, who represents Gaithersburg and Rockville, said Henn was one of three of her constituents who died when 9-1-1 didn’t work.
For the last two years, Kagan unsuccessfully introduced bills aimed at modernizing the state’s 9-1-1 system. This year, she has five bills designed to move the state toward what’s known as Next Generation, or Next Gen, 9-1-1.
Twenty states have begun building a Next Gen 9-1-1 system, as have local jurisdictions in another 12 states, Kagan said.
“We are vulnerable based on a freak weather accident, … a train derailment, or God forbid, a terrorist attack,” she said.