At NENA, migration is the buzzword
Recently, I spoke with outgoing National Emergency Number Association President Bill McMurray about his year in office, touching upon both the high and low points. Incoming President David Jones joined us during the NENA conference in Long Beach, Calif., and shared his hopes and expectations, as he accepts the torch from McMurray. Here’s what they said.
MRT: What was the highlight of your year as president?
McMurray: The federal legislation that provides funding for PSAP (public-safety answering point) upgrades and punishes states for raiding E-911 funds. The column you wrote that declared the bill dead was my favorite part of the year. It was a “Dewey beats Truman” moment, but it illustrates just how last-moment it was. The bill was dead as a doornail and we brought it back to life. That was a major highlight.
MRT: How were you able to get it done?
McMurray: Hiring [Executive Director] Rob Martin was a key. He brought a tremendous perspective to NENA, and he was an important source of team building with external entities. We know we’re not alone and that our voice is better and louder when we work with similarly minded organizations. So we concentrated on building working coalitions. We also thought outside the box and brought in consumer-oriented groups such as AARP and the American Heart Association. There is a whole range of affected groups when you’re talking about PSAP effectiveness.
MRT: How disappointing was it then to learn that Congress likely will appropriate far less than the $250 million authorized for each of the next five years to fund PSAP upgrades?
McMurray: Maalox must be sponsoring this process, because there are times I think it was created solely to generate stomach turning and angst. Did we hope for the whole $250? Sure. But we knew we weren’t going to get all of it. What we’re hoping for this year is enough money to get the national coordination office started. That will be a key.
MRT: What other developments do you count among the year’s highlights?
McMurray: The NRIC (Network Reliability & Interoperability Council) consensus on accuracy testing and reporting concerning wireless 911 calls. Public safety has been at odds with the wireless industry as to how the tests should be conducted. The carriers wanted them based on their national footprints, while we wanted them based on the PSAP level, so they would be more granular. That’s about as far apart as you can get. At the end of the day, the recommendation was for a reasonable geo-political reporting area: the states.
MRT: David, what is on your radar screen as you begin your term?
Jones: We can’t lose sight of the fact that less than half the PSAPs nationwide are compliant with the FCC’s Phase 2 mandate and about 30% aren’t even Phase 1 compliant. We have a responsibility here to partner with the appropriate parties to get Phase 1 and Phase 2 deployed. Also, as Bill said, getting the coordination office started is very important. We know that economics in D.C. are tight right now and we respect that, but our primary goal is to make sure we have enough funding to get that office set up. We also have to take a look at how we generate revenue. Generally we’re funded by wireline and wireless surcharges and general tax revenues. The traditional model is broken and needs to be fixed.
MRT: We heard a lot during this year’s conference about the future migration of PSAPs to IP infrastructures. What are your thoughts on that?
Jones: We made a decision a long time ago that we would be more forward-looking, and that means IP. We have legacy systems right now that are based on technologies of the 1960s. IP can be our saving grace. NENA has to educate its membership regarding the huge benefits PSAPs will receive from an IP network, which include much lower cost and myriad capabilities they currently don’t have.
MRT: How much resistance do you expect to receive from the PSAP community? After all, change can be scary and intimidating.
Jones: Certainly there are issues that need to be addressed. Power is one of them. With IP, if the power goes out, there’s no service. Also, quality of service always is a significant point of discussion. We have to make sure we provide the same quality of service we have provided for the past 30 years. But all technology takes time to mature and, eventually, these technical difficulties will be resolved. Technology won’t be the issue.
MRT: If not, then what will be the issue?
Jones: Migration. How do you move from legacy to IP nationwide? We have to manage the migration of 6500 PSAPs across the country, and each has a unique point of view. That will be a challenge.
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