911 centers called upon to sign up

Telecommunications Service Priority Program

Federal officials announced a campaign April 25 to make sure 911 call centers get their service restored swiftly in the event of a terrorist attack, widespread emergency or local crisis.

The Federal Communications Commission and the National Communications System (NCS), which is part of the Homeland Security Department, said they want to register every one of the nation's 911 call centers with the Telecommunications Service Priority program so that their service is restored on a priority basis in times of disaster.

Fewer than 10 percent of the 7,500 call centers nationwide currently participate in the program, which was set up in 1988 and is responsible for more than 50,000 of the nation's most critical lines.

"We must not assume that our 911 service provider or the telephone company will automatically give priority to 911 circuits if we haven't registered with TSP," said Evelyn Bailey, president of the National Association of State 9-1-1 Administrators.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the emergency number was knocked out in New York City for days and in some cases longer, underscoring a major gap for emergency service. The sign-up plan is also intended for emergencies when service is knocked out by natural disasters, leaving local residents helpless.

In a related move spurred by the terrorist attacks, NCS announced it is expanding the Wireless Priority System to Hawaii and areas of the Northeast and Midwest.

The wireless priority system gives national security officials and first responders priority in getting the next available cellular channel in order to place a call. WPS is available to designated government leaders. It complements the landline priority service — the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service — that was used extensively during the Sept. 11 attacks.

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