It's not an avalanche yet, but the pace of the nation's progress toward establishing a universal emergency telephone number (911) has definitely quickened.
In 1979, 12 years after a presidential commission recommended setting up a single emergency number, a quarter of America had access to 911. Now, at least a third have use of that number.
''Interest is gradually growing as more jurisdictions cut over to 911,'' says Roger W. Reinke of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the US Commerce Department.
Palm Beach County, Fla., and northern Virginia (Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Arlington) have recently cut into 911. The city and county of Charleston, S.C., cut in Dec. 15, 1981. Later this year Minneapolis-St. Paul will make the switch.
None of the 911 bills introduced in Congress during the early 1970s became law and in 1973 the Nixon administration ordered that implementation of 911 should come at the state and local level.
Oregon became the 13th state with 911 legislation when its Legislature passed a bill in July requiring public safety agencies to participate in 911 before Jan. 1, 1982. The other states are: California, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Maryland, and Kansas.
If the actions of regulatory commissions are included, even more states have become officially involved with implementing the emergency number. In 1981, the Arizona Corporation Commission authorized a surcharge on telephones for 911.
''Surcharges seem to be the direction we are going,'' says Reinke. On election day, 1981, voters in King County, Wash., which includes Seattle, approved collection of a county surcharge to implement an enhanced 911 emergency phone system.
Surcharges are not a new development. California legislation provides for a statewide surcharge. Maryland is collecting a surcharge.
Paying for 911 is a big problem. A large investment is required for consolidating communications. Telephone companies are very much involved because of the capital required for new equipment.
Getting public safety agencies to agree on a central answering point remains the second big problem. Since agency and phone exchange boundaries often overlap.