FCC officials, members of Congress, public safety and industry representatives, and others today cited the successes of the 911 system as well as the challenges still ahead.
Stakeholders welcomed today’s 50th anniversary of the first 911 call on the same day that President Trump signed the Kari’s Law Act of 2017 (HR 582), which Congress passed last week (TR Daily, Feb. 9). The bill requires multi-line telephone systems to be configured so users can dial 911 without dialing any other numbers. “I am thrilled that Kari’s Law has now become the law of the land. An access code should not stand between people who call 911 in need of help and emergency responders who can provide assistance,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.
“As we recognize the 50th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call, we applaud President Trump for signing into law this important step to improve our nation’s public safety communications,” said Reps. Greg Walden (R., Ore.) and Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.), the respective chairmen of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its communications and technology subcommittee. “In the heat of a crisis, Kari’s Law ensures that dialing 9-1-1 means your call will go through, no matter what kind of phone you’re using.”
“Verizon is proud to have strongly supported this very important piece of legislation,” said Robert Fisher, Verizon Communications, Inc.’s senior vice-president-federal government relations. “Children starting in pre-school are taught that when there’s an emergency, they should dial 911. There should be no barriers to making that connection.” Verizon said “all of the company’s internal systems in its wire line footprint have been reconfigured to meet this new, 911 direct dial obligation.”
The White House issued a statement today observing National 9-1-1 Telecommunicators Day, as well as the 50th anniversary of the first 911 call, which was made in Haleyville, Ala.
“Today, 9-1-1 services are available to roughly 97 percent of the geographic United States. Advances in technology have made this system more widespread, precise, and efficient — enabling dispatchers to provide rapid response and timely assistance when the difference between life and death can be only a matter of seconds,” the White House said.
Mr. Pai discussed Kari’s Law, the 50th anniversary of the first 911 call, and other 911 issues this afternoon during a speech at the National Emergency Number Association’s 911 Goes to Washington event. Public safety officials at the conference welcomed the signing of Kari’s Law and the 50th anniversary of the first 911 call. “No doubt, we have made remarkable progress over the past 50 years,” Mr. Pai said. “But this progress has given rise to major challenges: migrating from legacy technology to Next Generation 911; recruiting, training, and retaining 911 telecommunicators; finding adequate funding for PSAPs and ending the shameful diversion of 911 fees; maintaining reliability of the 911 system during disasters like hurricanes.”
Mr. Pai highlighted progress in implementing 911 indoor location accuracy rules adopted by the FCC in 2015 (TR Daily, Jan. 29, 2015).
“Industry has launched the location technology test bed, with new and innovative location technologies being developed and deployed. The National Emergency Address Database is being established. And later this year, carriers will propose for our consideration a vertical measurement — a so-called ‘z-axis accuracy standard’ — to help locate 911 calls in multi-story buildings by floor level,” the Chairman observed.
He also cited the signing of Kari’s Law, which he had supported. “But when it comes to enterprise-based 911 calls, we need to do more. This past September, the FCC began to examine what steps need to be taken so that a 911 call in these buildings will be routed to the correct PSAP and the PSAP will receive accurate location information, ideally including the caller’s building address, floor, level, and room number,” Mr. Pai noted.
The FCC adopted a notice of inquiry in the proceeding (TR Daily, Sept. 26, 2017).
“Another issue that’s been front-and-center during my Chairmanship has been 911 resiliency during major disasters,” Mr. Pai observed. “Throughout the 2017 hurricane season, we saw the best of the 911 system in action. And we also saw the challenges faced by PSAPs and first responders when a large-scale disaster strikes. … We’re seeking public input to learn how we can improve communications availability and reliability, including 911, during disasters and restoration afterwards.”
Another “issue on our public safety agenda is the transition to Next Generation 911,” Mr. Pai said. “The 911 system will be increasingly at risk the longer it relies on outdated legacy technology. NG911 networks can support greater resiliency, redundancy, and reliability than legacy 911 networks. NG911 will also provide the public and PSAPs with improved communications capabilities, including text, data, and video as well as more reliable voice communications. This will give first responders more complete information about emergencies before they arrive on the scene and will lead to faster and more effective response.
“We also need to think about how to integrate NG911 with other key elements of the emergency communications ecosystem, including FirstNet and emergency alerts and warnings,” Mr. Pai stressed. “Now, underlying almost all of these issues is the question of resources. And unfortunately, some of the resources that should go to 911 don’t. For too long, the FCC has been too quiet on the problem of 911 fees being diverted by state governments for purposes completely unrelated to 911,” Mr. Pai argued. “This has been going on for more than a decade, so this is not a new problem. For the past nine years, the FCC has put out a report quantifying the problem. The latest iteration found that in 2016, five states — Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and West Virginia — diverted $129 million [TR Daily, Feb. 7]. (And we were able to find that a sixth state, New York, engaged in fee diversion even though it didn’t bother responding to our request for information.) This likely understates the problem, since seven other states didn’t submit data.
“The persistence of this problem tells us that transparency isn’t enough to halt this practice of theft from the public safety community,” Mr. Pai said. “I stand ready to work with my colleagues and Congress to make sure that 911 fees go toward strengthening the 911 system we all rely on.”
Earlier in the day, Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn spoke during a one-on-one conversation at the NENA event. She criticized the FCC majority’s decision to move forward with Lifeline proposals that she said could result in millions of Americans, especially those who are economically vulnerable, losing service, due to proposals such as requiring providers to be facilities-based. Such an FCC action was bad for public safety, she said.
“If you don’t have a device on your person or near your person, you’re going to be in trouble,” Ms. Clyburn added.
Ms. Clyburn also criticized states that divert 911 funds for other purposes. “If the money is collected for these systems, the money should go to support these systems,” she said. Ms. Clyburn also mentioned the recent false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii (TR Daily, Jan. 16).
“That was a wake-up call for all of us,” she said. “We need to constantly review, you know, our processes.”
Others weighed in on today’s 50th anniversary of the first 911 call and other 911 issues.
“50 years ago, the first 9-1-1 call was made. Today, the wireless industry helps to deliver millions of 9-1-1 calls and texts from wherever we are, whatever the emergency,” said CTIA President and Chief Executive Officer Meredith Attwell Baker. “CTIA thanks the public safety professionals who answer these calls, and looks forward to ensuring that Americans can rely on an ever improving 9-1-1 system for the next 50 years.”
The Rural Wireless Association endorsed Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel’s call this week that NG-11 funding be included in any infrastructure plan (TR Daily, Feb. 15). “RWA agrees with Commissioner Rosenworcel that there is no more essential infrastructure for our day-to-day safety,” said Carri Bennet, RWA’s general counsel. “This is particularly true in rural areas, were hospitals are few and far between and a mobile phone could be a traveler’s only source of assistance on remote country roads. While progress is being made in the move towards NG-911, there is a long way to go. RWA supports efforts to deter states from diverting 911 fees to support other priorities. RWA appreciates the financial pressures faced by state and local governments, but believes that these governments should have no higher priority than protecting citizens’ safety.”
Bartlett Cleland, research fellow for the Institute for Policy Innovation, criticized states that divert 911 funds.
“While there are federal ‘sticks’ that can be used to beat the states into living up to their promises, the better solution is for taxpayers to focus more public attention on the snake oil salesmen who promise one thing and deliver another,” he said. “There are lives literally at stake, while elected officials at the state and local levels divert fees to pad their pet projects or state treasury slush funds. Our government leaders will only answer this emergency call if the voters make them.” —Paul Kirby, firstname.lastname@example.org