When people dial 911, they expect their calls to be answered, and they expect the telecommunicators on the other end of the calls to know where they are and to send them the help they need.

I am proud to have served as president of the National Emergency Number Association, an organization whose members are dedicated to making sure 911 calls are answered and properly handled. However, 911 professionals are often being asked to do their jobs without the resources and the technology they need. It is our responsibility to make sure our nation's 911 system is as good as it can be. It is equally our responsibility to ensure we have a well-envisioned path forward so that we do not continue to simply embrace what we have but rather look toward the next generation of 911. All of this requires leadership and funding at all levels of government.

Currently, 64% of public-safety answering points (PSAPs) in America have the ability to precisely locate wireless 911 calls. There are still more than 50% of counties that do not contain a PSAP capable of locating wireless 911 calls covering more than a quarter of the U.S. population. There still are also more than 300 counties that do not even have E911 for wireline telephone service. And now we are faced with the deployment of voice-over-IP E911 service, which offers many new technical and regulatory challenges. It is essential that we do all we can to fund those PSAPs still lacking the money to become E911 capable.

911 is fundamentally a local and state issue. Thus, NENA continues to educate state and local government leaders on the importance of properly funding PSAPs. However, understanding that many areas will take a long time or may never have the necessary funding in place to become E911 ready, NENA worked hard with the Congressional E911 Caucus to pass the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004, a bill that established a national 911 Program Office and authorized up to $250 million per year for PSAP grants.

To date, funding the ENHANCE 911 Act has not been an easy task. Despite our best efforts, we were unsuccessful in securing an appropriation for PSAP grants in the fiscal 2006 budget. However, we worked hard to ensure that funding was provided in the Digital Television and Public Safety Act, part of a larger deficit-reduction bill, which provided $43.5 million for ENHANCE 911 Act grants. The funding will come from a spectrum auction that will occur “no later than Jan. 28, 2008,” so this funding will not be available until 2008 or 2009.

Although this was a major accomplishment, NENA is still focused on the near term and securing funding in the fiscal 2007 budget. Understanding that full funding for the ENHANCE 911 Act is very unlikely in the current budget climate, the E911 Caucus co-chairs have requested $42 million in this year's budget. Supporting this request continues to be a major focus of NENA.

In addition to simply funding the current 911 system, we must continue to look ahead to the future of a fully IP-enabled 911 system. We have near-term problems that must be addressed, but it would be a mistake to continue pouring money into an outdated 911 system without a clearly defined path forward to a next-generation 911 system.

NENA's Next Generation E911 Program is focused on that path forward. I invite all of those interested in the future of 911 to review the “Initial Findings and Recommendations” of the 2005 NG E911 Program, which is available at www.nena.org. We also are actively working with congressional staff on VoIP 911 legislation that will, among other things, require the national 911 Program Office to produce a report on issues pertaining to the migration to a next-generation 911 system.

The months ahead will require persistence and dedication from NENA staff and members, as well as public-safety allies who are interested in the success of 911. We will stop at nothing to make sure the ENHANCE 911 Act is funded and that next-generation 911 issues remain a top priority. We invite you to get involved with our efforts.

David Jones is NENA's past president and director of emergency services for Spartanburg County, S.C.