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Reps Torres & Eshoo Seek Update from U.S. GAO on Next Gen. 9-1-1 Implementation and Solutions to Patchwork 9-1-1 System

Date: 2016-06-22
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On Tuesday, June 22, Reps. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) requested an update from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the implementation of next generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) systems across the country and the impact diverting local and state 9-1-1 fees has had on emergency services.

NG9-1-1 systems use IP-based technology to receive data from a wider range of devices and mediums and provide more accurate locating capabilities than the older 9-1-1 infrastructure. The National 9-1-1 Program, housed within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office of Emergency Medical Services, is providing federal leadership in supporting the nationwide adoption of NG9-1-1. However, the implementation of NG9-1-1 has been inconsistent and many jurisdictions lack adequate funding to make the technological investments and provide the training necessary. 

“As we saw with this week’s release of the Orlando shooter’s 9-1-1 transcripts, in times of crisis, dispatchers are a key resource and often act as important witnesses. Unfortunately, their ability to perform their duties effectively is being hampered by underfunded 9-1-1 emergency telecommunications systems that have failed to keep up with changing technology,” said Rep. Torres, a former 9-1-1 dispatcher. “In order to efficiently respond to emergencies, dispatchers must be able to obtain as much accurate information as quickly possible. However, under our current patchwork system, calls are being delayed or misdirected and vital information may never reach emergency personnel.”

"Upgrading our nation's 9-1-1 system is a critical investment for the safety of every American," said Rep. Eshoo, co-founder of the Congressional NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus. “With over 70 percent of the 240 million 9-1-1 calls each year coming from wireless devices, it is clear we need to take immediate action to modernize how our PSAPs answer these calls. For years, Congress and members of the NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus have pushed for a nationwide transition to a NextGen 9-1-1 system to bridge this divide, but more progress is needed. I’m hopeful the GAO can shine a light on the challenges we face and provide policymakers at all levels of government with a path forward.” 

In their letter, Reps. Torres and Eshoo ask GAO to provide an update on the nationwide implementation of NG9-1-1 and ask how the federal government can further assist in those efforts. They also request additional information on how the diversion by some states of 9-1-1 emergency fees to other programs has affected the ability of communities to provide emergency services. 

The letter has received support from associated 9-1-1 organizations.  Patrick Halley, Executive Director of the NG911 Institute, commented that "The NG9-1-1 Institute appreciates the leadership of Rep. Torres and Rep. Eshoo in calling for an examination of the current status of NG9-1-1 implementation in the U.S. and what steps can be taken to accelerate the transition, including at the federal level.  We urge the GAO to quickly address the request and stand ready to serve as a resource in answering the critical issues raised in the letter."

Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA, The 9-1-1 Association, also applauded the letter, stating, “Everyone who is concerned about public safety needs to know we are at a critical time in the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1 systems.  Telecommunication providers are moving rapidly to all-IP networks, and FirstNet is developing the latest wireless broadband capabilities for public-safety field responders. Yet most of our nation’s 9-1-1 centers are still tethered to last-century, voice-centric technology. For the sake of the 240 million callers to 9-1-1 each year, and for the sake of every American community across the country, it is essential that government leaders focus more on achieving the goal of universal NG9-1-1 service by 2020.”   

Added George Rice, Executive Director of Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) on behalf of the NG911 NOW Coalition, “Accelerating the implementation of nationwide NG9-1-1 services is essential to keep up with modern technology, improve emergency services to the public, and provide a more reliable 9-1-1 system.  The GAO’s findings will be an important tool to highlight what steps can be taken at all levels of government to meet the ambitious goal set by the NG911 NOW Coalition earlier this year - by the end of 2020, all 9-1-1 systems and centers in all 56 states and territories will have sufficiently funded, standards-based, end-to-end, IP-based 9-1-1 capabilities.  We look forward to working with the GAO on this important effort.”

Rep. Torres is a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Rep. Eshoo is Ranking Member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The full text of the letter can be found here.

- People, Places & Things/9-1-1magazine.com (via Office of Congresswoman Norma J. Torres, 6/21/16)

Related Story: Will Congress Set The Tone for NG9-1-1?

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