Congressman speaks up for E911

National Emergency Number Association

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A congressman today called for the creation of an Enhanced 911 office within the Homeland Security Department and a major block grant program to help state and local governments complete their E911 systems.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said such an office would provide "crucial, unified federal leadership and coordination." The push is based on one of the recommendations in a report sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission and released last October by Dale Hatfield, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Upton was speaking during a hearing on the progress of wireless E911 implementation before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee. Upton is chairman of the subcommittee.

"In addition, we should make a significant federal investment through grants to states to assist local public safety answering points (PSAPs) in completing their wireless E911 systems," he said. "One of the starkest observations made in the Hatfield Report is that, no matter how well the wireless carriers succeed in upholding their end of the bargain, if PSAP funding problems persist, deployment will be thwarted. Hence, federal investments are crucial." Although Hatfield, who was one of the panelists today, said he didn't know whether such an office would fit within the Homeland Security Department, he said strong federal leadership could bring attention to this matter. "I am even more convinced for the need for such an office," he said.

John Melcher, president of the National Emergency Number Association, dedicated to implementing E911 throughout the United States, said E911 isn't a homeland security issue but a telecommunications/public safety one. He said his group formed a team composed of many public and private stakeholders that could recommend where a federal E911 office could be located.

Although basic 911 covers most of the population, E911 is still being implemented in many parts o the country. Using E911, a PSAP has the equipment and database information that enables a call-taker to view a caller's phone number and address on a screen. E911 is needed before wireless E911 can be implemented in an area. Officials said many wireless phone users mistakenly believe such a service exists throughout the country.

More than a 140,000 wireless 911 calls are made daily, representing more than half of all 911 calls, said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who several months ago formed a bipartisan E911 caucus with fellow committee member Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and others.

Testimony from government telecommunications and other panelists said progress is being made — however, deployment has been hampered by a lack of funding and coordination.

In his recommendations, Hatfield said the FCC should encourage each state to develop harmonized deployment through an E911 coordinator or an equivalent. He said the FCC should also establish an advisory committee "to address the overall technical framework for the further development and evolution of wireless E911 systems."

Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said it boils down to, "Can we take the search out of search and rescue? The search is the costliest part of the equation. Bottom line is, we can't wait much longer for E911 to be fully implemented."

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