STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
GRANITE SHOALS — Growing up in Garland, Austin Stanphill didn’t have the option of dialing 911 in an emergency because that number didn’t exist in the state of Texas.
“You heard about 911 in other parts of the country,” said Stanphill, the Granite Shoals fire chief, “but we’d call zero for the operator and ask for the police department or the fire department. That’s how you did it. Nine-one-one was a big thing to us.”
But that changed with the efforts of Granite Shoals resident Bill Carter, who wrote the legislation for the state’s 911 system.
“Which has saved thousands of Texans’ lives,” said Granite Shoals Municipal Judge Frank Reilly.
Known as the “Father of the Texas 911 System,” Carter died Aug. 3 at the age of 89.
Reilly met Carter in 1984 after Carter was elected to the Texas House of Representatives and Reilly was a young staffer for another representative.
The judge noted Carter was a hard worker and had a willingness to learn the issues. That helped him move up in House leadership, Reilly said, as Carter became an expert in public safety and served as the chairman of the Public Safety and the Urban Affairs committees.
Carter was a longtime insurance agent living in Tarrant County when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1983. He retired from public service in January 2003. At the time, he was one of that county’s longest-serving House members.
By 1987, Texas had the statewide 911 system in place.
Granite Shoals Police Chief Gary Boshears noted how dialing 911 is second nature today, but that wasn’t the case in the 1980s.
“It’s so ingrained in our society,” Boshears said.
The 911 system wasn’t the only thing Carter had a hand in making happen. In 1985, he helped pass a law requiring drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seatbelts. A decade later, in 1995, he helped pass the state’s concealed handgun law, considered groundbreaking at the time.
But it was the work he did on the state’s 911 system that Carter recalled with great fondness last October when he was honored for his efforts.
Then, the former representative noted that the state had 911 services in Lubbock and Houston. He and his team studied what the two cities were doing to set up a statewide plan, expanding the system.
The first step was securing funding for the system. State officials spoke to county and city leaders about collecting money specifically for the 911 system. Then, state officials appealed to telephone companies to charge an extra 50 cents on residents’ monthly bills to benefit the system.
That money built hundreds of call centers across Texas and paid salaries for dispatchers.
After that, state officials had to educate residents on providing physical addresses when they dialed 911. Most gave physical descriptions of landmarks and turn-by-turn directions because they didn’t like the idea of having their addresses added to a statewide system, Carter said.
Today, when someone dials 911, it goes to the nearest call center, which can pinpoint the exact location from where the call is coming, even in a building that has numerous offices and multiple lines.
On Sept. 27, 2017, the Commission on State Emergency Communications marked the 30th anniversary of the statewide 911 services and recognized Carter.
He believed the system is a symbol of what can be accomplished when people work together.
When Carter and his wife, Virginia, retired to Granite Shoals, the couple moved two doors down from Reilly. But Carter couldn’t simply retire and enjoy Lake LBJ, Reilly said, adding that the public servant supported the city’s police and fire departments, the Roddick Tennis Center, and the Hill Country Community Theatre.
However, it’s his contributions to the state’s emergency system that define Carter’s legacy.
“It’s something you don’t think about,” Boshears said. “You need help, you call nine-one-one. All our kids at three years old dial nine-one-one. That’s where the real contribution is. People don’t have to wonder.”
“I think 911 is more universal now, a more recognized number,” he said. “It’s easy for everyone to remember. It’s a direct line.”