NENA’s Jaeger looks back on an eventful 12 months for the 911 sector
It is natural to spend some time in reflection when one’s tenure ends. Barbara Jaeger, the immediate past president of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) did just that in a recent interview with Urgent Communications. In a year that was more eventful than most for the 911 sector, Jaeger needed very little time to identify the most important milestone during her term in office.
“The text-to-911 agreement with the major wireless carriers,” she said.
Last December, NENA and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) reached the agreement with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, all of which voluntarily agreed to provision text-to-911 service to any public-safety answering points (PSAPs) requesting it no later than May 15, 2014. They also agreed to provide “bounce-back” messages to alert anyone placing a 911 text when that service isn’t available in their local area at that time. The deadline for bounce-back messaging was June 30 of this year, and all four carriers beat the deadline.
Jaeger said that the carriers were receptive to the input provided by 911 sector officials.
“They weren’t making a whole lot of progress on their own, and they really wanted to be a part of the solution, not the problem” said Jaeger, who is the state of Arizona’s 911 administrator. “And they didn’t want the FCC to come down on them. This was a public-private partnership that really worked.”
While acknowledging that the success was borne of a joint effort between NENA and APCO, Jaeger praised the individual influence of NENA CEO Brain Fontes, who previously had been the vice president of government affairs for Cingular Wireless, which was absorbed by AT&T several years ago.
“Brian really was the one who brought the carriers together—the [NENA] board didn’t do much” Jaeger said. “He really understands how the carriers operate, and coming from that world, he had an ‘in.’”
A key aspect of the agreement is that text-to-911 service won’t be made available to the public until a PSAP decides to provision it. Some may see that as a negative in the sense that the 911 sector is plagued by funding woes; consequently, text to 911 in some areas may stay on the back burner indefinitely, perceived as a “nice-to-have” service. But Jaeger said that it was imperative that local communities be able to decide for themselves when the time is right to move forward with text to 911, rather than being forced to adhere to an unfunded mandate, which can spawn a host of unintended consequences.
“Dispatchers already have a half-dozen screens in front of them –how much more can you put on them?” she said. “How many more tasks are you going to ask them to do? How are you going to handle those calls?”
Another highlight of Jaeger’s 12 months as NENA president was winning accreditation from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which establishes guidelines for standards development and ensures that member organizations conform to them.
“Getting their stamp of approval is a big deal,” Jaeger said. “ANSI looks for all of the holes in the development process to make sure that any standard you produce is going to hold up—even in court.”
Fontes agreed. “NENA has been developing standards for 911 for decades, but the ANSI accreditation is a nice feather in our cap, because it validates what we have been doing,” he said.
Finally, Jaeger said that she was quite pleased with the progress made by NENA’s Friends of 911 Foundation, which “really took off this year.” The effort received a major boost when the movie “The Call” serendipitously was released to theaters just as the foundation was getting started.
“That was a crucial time,” Jaeger said.
The movie stars actress Halle Berry, who portrays a 911 telecommunicator who handles the emergency call made by a young woman who has been abducted at a shopping center. Berry appeared at a special premier of the movie in Los Angeles that served as a fund-raiser for Friends of 911 and has spoken in praise of 911 telecommunicators on several major talk shows, which has given the sector some much-needed positive publicity.
Any funding received by the foundation will be spent on telecommunicator training, and a process is in place for agencies to apply for the money, Jaeger said, noting that there aren’t a lot of funds just yet. “But you have to start somewhere,” she said.
Jaeger feels good about where the 911 sector is these days as she hands the baton to incoming NENA President Buster Brown, a regional director for the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.
“All in all, the year was very successful,” she said.
Next: Brown looks ahead.