Tragedies Illustrate Need For E-911 Act

A bill that would improve the 911 system for cellular telephones has widespread support from emergency service providers, state and local governments and the wireless industry.

Last week, the Communications Subcommittee of the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee heard testimony on the E-911 Act (S. 800). Those attending the hearing expect smooth legislative sailing.

"S. 800 received unanimous praise. I didn't hear any words of caution," said Matt Raymond, press secretary for Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), the sponsor of the bill and subcommittee chairman.

The bill would make 911 the universal emergency number for wireless and wired telephones and would encourage statewide coordination of local public safety, fire service and law enforcement officials. It also includes provisions to limit the liability of wireless carriers for failed emergency calls.

"The House vote was 415 to 2. We hope that the Senate will have a similar overwhelming vote. After all, lives are at stake," Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, said in his testimony at the hearing. CTIA is an industry group that represents cellular, personal communications services and wireless companies.

Mark Wildey, a public safety coordinator for the West Metro Fire Protection District in Jefferson County, Colo., testified on the impact of wireless telephones during the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

"Because of wireless phones, we were able to maintain contact with individuals inside the school. They helped us know which people inside were secure and which people were in immediate danger. This allowed the direction of the SWAT teams and then ultimately paramedics," Wildey said.

Raymond said the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee could mark up the bill as early as next month.

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