CHICAGO--National Emergency Number Association (NENA) President Bill McMurray, speaking yesterday at the 2005 VoIP: Telephony conference, predicted that the FCC’s order requiring voice-over-IP providers to offer the same enhanced 911 services made available by wireline and wireless carriers ultimately would result in technologies that improve the performance of public-safety answering points and first responders in the field.

PSAPs are eager to leverage the advantages of an IP-backbone infrastructure, which would make possible a plethora of advanced applications. For example, PSAPs could receive advanced crash-notification data from an in-vehicle telematics service via an IP network, McMurray said. Also, PSAPs and medical personnel at hospitals and trauma centers could receive text messages from emergency medical technicians at the accident site as EMTs receive vital medical information in return. Meanwhile, police and fire department incident commanders could receive hazardous materials information and streaming video of an event in real time, he said.

McMurray believes these capabilities, in time, will be made possible by technologies spawned as a result of equipment and systems developed by VoIP vendors designed to meet the FCC’s mandate.

“Therein lies our pathway to our future network design,” he said. “The solutions you develop for the nomadic consumer will present needed solutions for a myriad of other problems.”

McMurray added that PSAPs and VoIP vendors could learn a lot from each other and urged vendors to begin a dialogue with NENA. He said PSAPs need an “intensive training program” regarding IP-related issues and that NENA wants to train the telecommunications industry on what PSAPs need in terms of IP-based capabilities to facilitate the development of PSAP-friendly systems. “We need to learn from you, and you need to learn from us,” he said.

McMurray dismissed criticism of the FCC’s timeline, which requires VoIP providers to offer E911 services within 120 days after the order is published in the Federal Register, though wireless carriers had roughly 13 years to comply with a similar edict.

“I will grant you that the timeline is aggressive, but I will suggest to you that it should not have been a surprise to the voice-over-Internet industry that enhanced 911 was going to be an essential service requirement,” McMurray said. “We’ve all seen the growing recognition that enhanced 911 is a growing priority; in fact, it’s been called a national necessity.”

He said funding continues to be an issue for PSAPs. Last December, President Bush signed a bill that authorizes $250 million annually for the next five years for PSAP upgrades to bring them into compliance with the FCC’s Phase II mandate that requires wireless carriers and call centers to pinpoint the location of wireless 911 callers. But Congress has yet to appropriate the money.

The law also would punish states that divert to other purposes funds collected from wireless subscribers for E911 by making offending states ineligible for the federal grants. McMurray said the law “doesn’t have a lot of teeth” in terms of enforcement, but he doesn’t believe many state legislators will want to risk being tried in the court of public opinion.

“If they try to divert these funds now, the media will be all over them,” he said.