Lawmakers form E911 caucus

National Emergency Number Association

Lawmakers from the House and Senate formally launched a Congressional E911 Caucus Feb. 25 to raise awareness of the need for enhanced and wireless 911 services across the United States.

Despite widespread use of 911 as an emergency number, major gaps still exist throughout the country, congressional officials and public safety representatives said.

More than 430 counties, many in rural areas, still don't offer Enhanced 911 (E911), a system that automatically routes a caller's number and location to the public safety communications center receiving the call.

And with use of wireless phones on the rise, the need for such a system has become even greater, officials said, because many emergency communications centers lack the proper technology to display a caller's wireless phone number and location.

Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) are co-chairs of the caucus. Its goals include educating the public about 911; promoting the issue to fellow members of Congress and state and local governments; and ensuring that systems, networks and operators know where to find technical expertise and funds.

"This is a very personal issue for many people I represent," Clinton said, adding that the service is needed not only for tragedies and accidents, but also for "increased risks that we now confront."

Wireless phone users, Eshoo said, may believe that wireless service is provided in their area, but they may find that they can't even reach a public safety official. She said 156,000 wireless 911 calls are made every day, representing more than half the 911 calls made daily in the United States.

Implementation of wireless 911 is occurring through a phased approach.

About 1,360 local jurisdictions — out of 3,140 total jurisdictions — are implementing technology that would display a wireless phone user's number to an emergency call-taker. However, only 33 jurisdictions are in the second phase that would also display a caller's location.

John Melcher, president of the National Emergency Number Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to implementing 911, said 41 states have a funding mechanism in place to collect and disburse money to help public safety agencies enhance their systems.

However, in some states, money for improving 911 service has been used for other purposes. For example, in California, $70 million was taken from earmarked 911 funds to help balance the state budget, said Thera Bradshaw, president of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International.

Providing such service is an extremely complicated process, requiring the coordination of many agencies, said Bradshaw, who also is assistant general manager with Los Angeles' Information Technology Agency.

"You know Senator Clinton says it takes a village to raise a child," Bradshaw said. "Well it takes a village to make 911 and emergency communications what it should be."

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