The work has just begun
The last 12 months for the National Emergency Number Association, or NENA, has been a mixed bag. The organization, which represents the interests of public-safety answering points nationwide, published in February its long-anticipated report that outlined NENA’s vision for the future, which centers on a next-generation 911 system that leverages a system-of-systems architecture heavily dependent on IP-based technologies.
But NENA also learned that knowing where you want to go is quite different than knowing how to get there. Funding continues to be an issue, as Congress has reneged on its promise made two years ago to provide up to $1.25 billion over a five-year period for PSAP upgrades. In addition, the traditional funding mechanism might have to be overhauled and the role of local, state and federal government redefined for the promise of next-generation 911 to become a reality.
Outgoing NENA President David Jones, director of emergency services for Spartanburg County, S.C., recently spoke with MRT about these issues.
What do you consider NENA’s major accomplishments during your tenure as president? It was probably the work on the Next-Generation 911 initiative. We released the initial report in February. From the perspective of a future path forward, that was probably the top accomplishment. NENA’s focus is squarely on the migration to next-generation 911 systems.
How does NENA define next-generation 911? When you hear the term “interoperability,” it means more than just radio. It needs to be networks; it needs to be systems — voice, data, video and pictures. All of the systems that need to share this data also need to be able to communicate with each other. That’s where next generation comes in. It’s obviously going to be some sort of broadband network that can support all of these types of data.
What obstacles does NENA expect to encounter along the migration path? Technology is probably the easy part. The public policy issues and the funding are going to be more difficult because we’re talking about a different way of providing 911 compared with the past 30 years. Historically, 911 and other forms of public-safety communications have been provided locally. Today, 911 is no longer local. I have to be concerned here in Spartanburg, N.C., about how I’m going to receive a telematics call — which might contain voice, data and even streaming video — from a call center in Dearborn, Mich.
Little of the money Congress has promised to bring PSAPs up-to-date has been appropriated. How problematic is that? It is very problematic. Congress, when it enacted the Enhance 911 legislation in 2004, promised $250 million each year for five years. To date, virtually none of that has been appropriated. A little money has been spent to get the coordination office off the ground. Right now, what we have is about $43.5 million from the [700 MHz] auction, but that won’t be held until early 2008, so we might not see that money until fiscal 2009. In the current budget, the Congressional E911 Caucus has requested about $42 million for the office.
We have heard that the problem is the budget deficit. At this point, do you think that’s a reason or an excuse? We don’t have any indication that it’s an excuse. No one is coming out and saying that the money is not necessary. Unfortunately, the issue is that the federal government is having intense budget issues right now, with the deficit and an ongoing war. Those are factors that make funding additions much more difficult. Further, this administration has taken the stance that 911 monies can be made available through the grants process administered by the Department of Homeland Security. That may well be the case but, no grants had been awarded for 911. That changed very recently with a grant in the state of Kentucky for 911 upgrades. So we are seeing, perhaps, a change in that.
Does everything grind to a halt without that federal money? It was never envisioned that the federal government would provide all of the funding necessary for next-generation 911. However, as state and local governments continue to invest in their own infrastructure, NENA is trying to look at this holistically from a national perspective. We want 911 managers to keep that perspective in mind as these upgrades and replacements are going on.
Looking back at the last year, what are the things you’d like to have a chance to do over? While it was a good year for our government affairs program in terms of legislation, I wish we had been more successful in terms of funding. That was our number one priority. It continues to be the number one priority. It just was a very difficult year to get those new monies appropriated.
What might you do differently if you had the chance? I don’t think our strategy would change. We were very aggressive over the last year, in our dealings with Congress and the administration, as well as the FCC. We never had the expectation that we would get the full $1.25 billion — that’s just not reasonable in today’s economic times. But we’ll keep plugging away and be as aggressive as we know how to be. But we do need to rethink how 911 is funded. Traditionally we have used a surcharge system. I’m not saying that’s bad, but we have to make sure future funding models take into account [voice over IP] and ensure that, for any device that accesses the 911 system, those users pay the appropriate amount. That’s not easy.
NENA and APCO are at odds over how VoIP providers should provision 911 services (see story on page 26). What is driving the disconnect? NENA’s legislative strategy is to always be at the table. This is not a negative remark against any other entity or association. But we feel that to be effective, we have to be at the table in the spirit of good-faith negotiations. So we’re not going to simply raise objections to ongoing bills. Instead, we’re going to negotiate and compromise when it’s occasionally necessary. We’re going to be in there looking for a path forward. In this particular case, we feel that the legislation provides a path forward for 911 because it codifies the FCC action — which we believe is necessary — and a path forward for the VoIP service industry. You have to remember that NENA, from its origins 25 years ago, has strived for partnerships with the private sector. That has not changed. We’re always going to look for mutually beneficial strategies.
NENA 2006 Basics
What: The 25th National Emergency Number Association Conference and Trade Show
Where: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh
When: June 10-15
Pre-conference Courses: June 10-11, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Exhibit Hours: June 12-13, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Conference Hours: June 12, 1:30-5:00 p.m.; June 13, 8:00-9:00 a.m. and 1:30-5:00 p.m.; June 14, 9:45 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Keynote: Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), June 13, 9:00-10:00 a.m.
More info: www.nena.org