An FCC official said today he is pleased with the development of technologies to deliver indoor 911 location accuracy. In remarks this morning at the National Emergency Number Association’s 911 Goes to Washington event, David Furth, deputy chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, noted that at a 911 technology showcase he attended on Capitol Hill yesterday, he saw “how quickly technology is pushing the envelope on this.”
He noted that rules the FCC adopted in 2015 (TR Daily, Jan. 29, 2015) set a “floor” for the delivery of indoor 911 location accuracy.
“The technology is actually getting us closer to the ceiling a lot faster, which is great,” Mr. Furth said.
In the 2015 order, the FCC, among other things, established thresholds that carriers must meet to provide dispatchable location or 50-meter horizontal accuracy. By 2020, the threshold is 70% for national carriers and by 2021 it’s 80%. Mr. Furth said some technology already is capable of reaching the 70% mark and is moving to the 80% threshold.
On another area, Mr. Furth also noted the increase in public safety answering points (PSAPs) that are now capable of receiving texts.“It’s an improving picture, but it still is a glass half full, or maybe one third full, two-thirds empty, because we still have a lot of areas where text-to-911 is not available,” he said.
As of last month, 33% of U.S. counties had PSAPs that were text-to-911 capable, up from 23% in June 2017, 17% in June 2016 and 10% in June 2015, according to the FCC’s text-to-911 registry.
As of last month, 23% of U.S. PSAPs could accept texts, up from 15% in June 2017, 10% in June 2016, and 5% in June 2015.
Mr. Furth also noted that the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council continues to work on important 911 issues. He also observed that the FCC recently released its latest report that detailed, among other things, state diversion of 911 surcharges and fees for other purposes (TR Daily, Feb. 7).
The FCC said that six states diverted 911 funds for other purposes in 2016. The total amount diverted by reporting jurisdictions, or five states, was $128.9 million, or about 5% of the total collected in 911/enhanced 911 (E911) fees, the report said. The states identified in the report as diverting 911 fees were New Jersey, West Virginia, Illinois, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and New York. New York was the only one of the six states that did not submit a report to the FCC. But the Commission said that “sufficient public record information exists to support a finding that New York diverted funds for non-public safety uses.”
Mr. Furth also noted that the FCC is reviewing the performance of communications networks during last year’s hurricane season, which featured the first time that three Category 4 hurricanes have hit the U.S. in the same year.
“911, overall, performed extremely well in the hurricanes,” Mr. Furth said. However, he noted that PSAPs in the impacted areas saw high call volumes, sometimes more than they could handle. “Those are issues that we are looking at as we move forward,” he said.
Most PSAPs remained operational, he said, although some were knocked out and calls were not rerouted. He also noted that commercial network outages affected the public’s ability to access 911.
Also at today’s event, Laurie Flaherty, director of the National 911 Office, said that final rules are in the Office of Management and Budget clearance process to distribute $115 million in 911 grants authorized under the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012. She said that her “best guess” is that the rules may be out in time for a call for applications this spring, with awards being made in late spring or early summer. She also noted that her office has completed a study required by Congress on the cost of deploying NG-911. A report on the study is also in the OMB clearance process, she said.
She also cited statistics from her office’s 2017 National 911 Progress Report (TR Daily, Jan. 19). Regarding NG-911 deployment, she said it is occurring “not as fast as anybody would like it to be, but there is steady progress there.”
Ms. Flaherty also described five new projects of her office, including revisions of a model state 911 plan and model state 911 legislative language, a strategic plan for a nationally uniform 911 data system, and a national NG-911 road map and agenda.
Also at today’s event, NENA officials said they were disappointed that the OMB last year decided not to reclassify public safety telecommunicators into the “protective service” job category (TR Daily, Nov. 28, 2017).
They said many people in the public safety community used emotional arguments in pushing for the change rather than just simply providing data about why public safety telecommunicators should not be in the same job classification as commercial dispatchers and instead should be treated the same as other public safety professionals such as law enforcement and fire personnel.
There also was a perception among some, including on Capitol Hill, that many in the public safety community wanted the classification change for salary and benefits reasons, even though the federal job classification is purely used for economic statistical comparisons, they said.
NENA Chief Executive Officer Brian Fontes and Trey Forgety, NENA’s director-government affairs, said the public safety community should prepare early to make its case when the federal government considers changes to its job classifications in 2017.
“This is an opportunity that we have to prepare for the next go-around, but the next go-around is a ways off,” Mr. Fontes said. “There’s a lot of lessons to be learned from this process.”
State and local officials should submit data that can be used for the next classification decision, the officials said. “We have a lot of work to do at the chapter level,” Mr. Fontes said.
Even then, Mr. Forgety said, “It’s going to be an uphill battle.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org