What I want for Christmas
Certain topics just won’t die. Funding for the 911 sector is one of them. One would have thought that Congress by now would have reauthorized the Enhance 911 Act of 2004, which authorized $1.25 billion over a five-year period for public-safety answering point upgrades. This seems like a no-brainer, especially since the money now would be used for the next-generation migration, as opposed to the original purpose, which was to bring PSAPs into compliance with the FCC’s Phase II location mandate.
I’m told that, because 95% of PSAPs nationwide have some Phase II capability, this was a stumbling block in terms of getting Congress to actually appropriate the money. For the most part, it didn’t. Only $43.5 million — less than 4% — made it into the hands of the 911 sector, and most of that was used to establish a national coordination office. But now, since that obstacle has been removed, we believe Congress should reauthorize this much-needed funding and open the vault.
Apparently, Congress doesn’t share this view, as it hasn’t happened yet. And it won’t during the current lame-duck session. But there is hope for the future, according to Brian Fontes, the CEO of the National Emergency Number Association. He believes that the reauthorizing legislation — dubbed the Next-Generation 911 Preservation Act — will have a funding mechanism, which is something that was sorely lacking in the Enhance 911 Act. Should that be the case, Congress will be much more likely to not only authorize the money but appropriate it.
There are many ways to generate the funds that would enable PSAPs to migrate to NG-911 technology. One possibility would be to attach a monthly fee to every device — wireless or wired — that is capable of accessing the 911 system. That seems like the fairest approach.
But it doesn’t really matter what form the funding mechanism takes, as long as there is one. PSAPs need to migrate to NG-911 systems, which will allow them to share data and reroute calls seamlessly to a neighboring center should a system failure occur. More importantly, it will let 911 callers send video, images and other data to PSAPs, which dramatically will improve emergency response.
I know that the Christmas season doesn’t officially start for another week, but Santa, if you’re listening, I’d like Congress to pass the NG-911 Preservation Act early next year. (While you’re at it, get them to add a provision that would end the practice of states raiding 911 funds for other purposes, once and for all.)
And if it doesn’t, please make sure that every member of Congress gets a lump of coal in their stockings next Christmas.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.