Simpson: PSAPs Should Accept Texts, Hold Carriers Accountable on Accuracy

Public safety answering points (PSAPs) should move to upgrade their facilities so they can accept texts and should hold wireless carriers accountable in their implementation of the FCC’s new 911 location accuracy rules, David Simpson, chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, said today.  Mr. Simpson delivered a luncheon speech at the National Emergency Number Association’s 911 Goes to Washington event.

Under a 911 location accuracy order adopted last month (TRDaily, Jan. 29), wireless carriers will be required to provide to requesting PSAPs live 911 call data, which will let the PSAPs assess whether the performance of carriers in their areas is consistent with the performance seen in the test cities. If the performance in their areas is below mandated thresholds, PSAPs can seek enforcement of the rules after first attempting to resolve the issue with carriers.

“This is the key to successful implementation, because PSAPs are in the best position to assess the performance of 911 location technologies in their own jurisdictions,” Mr. Simpson said.

Mr. Simpson also stressed that for the first time, there will be a permanent test bed and measurement can be determined using live call data, rather than test data.

Mr. Simpson also noted that the FCC adopted a text-to-911 order last August (TRDaily, Aug. 8, 2014) that requires carriers and interconnected, over-the-top texting providers to be capable of deploying text-to-911 services within six months of a PSAP request.

Since the order was adopted, an increasing number of PSAPs are becoming ready to accept texts, for a total of more than 200 PSAPs in 19 states, Mr. Simpson said.  “I encourage you to look to your colleagues and their success stories,” he said, adding that it will be “a dangerous situation” if the public expects to be able to text to 911 and many communities around the nation can’t receive them.

“We’ve got to work hard to make sure that this is a capability that Americans can rely upon across the country,” he said. “Decisions at this point to make this happen are not national … they’re local decisions by PSAPs.”

Mr. Simpson also mentioned 911 reliability rules that the FCC adopted in 2013 (TRDaily, Dec. 12, 2013), saying that PSAPs should report to the FCC if carriers are not complying with outage reporting regulations. “We need to hold them accountable,” he said.

He also briefly touched on the problem of 911 calls routing to the wrong PSAPs, noting that that can occur with Phase I 911, which relies on the location of the nearest cell tower instead of more precise location information.

Attendees at the event discussed a “USA Today” story today that cited problems in delivering 911 location accuracy information across the country, including a situation that led to the death of a woman in Georgia who drove into a pond.

“The bureau’s taking a closer look at this with the hopes of identifying best practices that will reduce the impact of misrouting,” Mr. Simpson said. He said it might enlist the help of industry and the Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council to reduce Phase I rerouting. Mr. Simpson stressed the importance of PSAPs having maps for neighboring jurisdictions in case they get misrouted calls.

On other issues, he also said he is looking forward to recommendations from the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture, saying reducing technical variability among PSAPs will lead to greater efficiencies.

Mr. Simpson also said that there is a need “to rethink” the separate treatment of 911 and emergency alerts.

He also stressed the importance of PSAPs guarding against cyber attacks. PSAPs should review the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cyber framework and discuss cyber risks with their providers, he said. “Risk shared by one is risk shared by all,” he warned.

During an earlier session at the NENA event, Laurie Flaherty, coordinator of the National 911 Program, said she doesn’t know when $115 million in 911 grants from the FCC’s AWS (advanced wireless services)-3 auction will be available. She said the program can’t draft proposed regulations for the grants until the funding is received. “We’re in pre-planning right now,” she said, encouraging stakeholders to weigh in with any suggestions on the structure of the grant program.

She said the last time Congress authorized 911 grants, it took about a year from the time funding was received before regulations were issued.  Ms. Flaherty also said her program is about to release updated statistics on 911 and next-generation 911 from survey responses submitted by 40 states. Having hard data is important as PSAPs and other stakeholders in the deployment of NG-911, she said.  She also said her office is facilitating an initiative that is focusing on NG-911 call center training.

And she said it is working with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications to encourage them to incorporate 911 into their programs. She said she was pleased with the mentions of 911 in OEC’s National Emergency Communications Plan, which was released in November (TRDaily, Nov. 12, 2014).

Ms. Flaherty also urged 911 Goes to Washington attendees to mention during their Capitol Hill visits this week the importance of 911 stakeholders being part of the planning for the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) system. —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily