Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D., N.Y.), Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), and Norma Torres (D., Calif.) have introduced legislation to support upgrades to 911 call centers, including a five-year extension of the NG 911 grant program administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. “In addition to any funds already made available for grants under section 158 of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Organization Act (47 U.S.C. 942), there is authorized to be appropriated to carry out such grants such sums as may be necessary for fiscal years 2018 through 2022,” the proposed Next Generation (NG) 9-1-1 Act says.
The NG 911 Act would direct NTIA’s Implementation Coordination Office (ICO), which, like the grant program, was established by the 2004 ENHANCE 911 Act, to seek comment on and recommend changes in state and local laws to better support NG 911 deployment, as well as recommendations for additional actions the federal government could take to enhance and support NG 911 services.
Among the specific issues the bill would direct ICO to consider in the comment process are “whether there is a need for a national public safety answering points certification or credentialing process with respect to Next Generation 9–1–1 services;” whether federal and state law changes are needed to address NG 911 liability and indemnification protections, data privacy and security, and access for individuals with disabilities.
The bill would direct the ICO, in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security and the National Institute for Science and Technology, to “provide support to States, localities, vendors, and other entities in addressing cybersecurity issues related to Next Generation 9–1–1 services.”
The bill would also direct the ICO to create a clearinghouse of technical and nontechnical information on NG 911 development and deployment; to provide guidance on model NG 911 governance structures, network deployment models, and sustainable funding models; to assist federal, state and local 911 entities with coordinating acquisitions and procurements; to work with the General Services Administration to see if state, regional, and local 911 entities could take advantage of its blanket purchase agreements for NG 911 equipment.
The bill also would direct the ICO to coordinate with other federal departments and agencies, including the FCC and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) “to coordinate Federal Government activities related to the development and deployment of Next Generation 9–1–1 services at the Federal, State, regional, and local level” and to issue annual NG 911 status reports, beginning two years from passage of the legislation. The bill would authorize “such sums as may be necessary” to carry out those activities.
The bill calls for NIST to report on NG 911 cybersecurity vulnerabilities, recommend best practices, and identify “specific assistance that can be provided by the Federal Government related to the adoption of any best practices.”
The bill would direct the FCC to report on telecom carriers’ adoption and adherence to “the network reliability best practices established by the Commission as part of its rulemaking related to Improving 911 Reliability; Reliability and Continuity of Communications Networks, Including Broadband Technologies”; and on public safety answering points’ adoption and adherence to “the public safety answering point best practices for cybersecurity recommended by the Task Force on Optimal Public Safety Answering Point Architecture in its final report issued on 8 February 19, 2016.”
The bill also would direct the Government Accountability Office to report on “the resiliency, reliability, and survivability of public safety answering points during natural disasters and other catastrophes.”
Rep. Eshoo, who co-chairs the Congressional NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus, said, “Our 9-1-1 call centers are the first point of contact for Americans in an emergency situation, but they rely on technology that has been in place since the time of the first 9-1-1 call 50 years ago. We need to make certain the public safety community has all the tools it needs to serve and protect our communities because in life-threatening situations, seconds matter. This legislation will help bring our 9-1-1 call centers into the 21st Century.”
Rep. Pallone, who is the ranking minority member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said, “In the wake of so many natural disasters this year, it’s clearer than ever that we need to upgrade our 9-1-1 systems to be more secure and resilient. Americans deserve access to better technology when they call 9-1-1—that means ensuring that 9-1-1 knows your location when you place a call at the very least. I’m proud that we’re introducing legislation that will help save lives and modernize our 9-1-1 centers.”
Rep. Torres said, “As someone who spent seventeen years as a 9-1-1 dispatcher, I know first-hand the demands and stress of the job. Dispatchers must process powerful pleas for help and deliver the information in just seconds to our first responders. I’ll never forget my experience in the job — where I was asked to interpret callers’ information only from the limited information they could share over the phone. The transition to a new system won’t be easy, but NextGen 9-1-1 will provide our dispatchers with greater tools to save lives — tools I could have used to expedite help to those I was trying to help. The Next Generation (NG) 9-1-1 Act of 2017 will bridge the gap between what is needed and what is possible.” —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org