Lawmaker pushes for fed leadership on 911

A congressman last week called for the creation of an office within the Homeland Security Department to spearhead and help fund the installation of Enhanced 911 (E911) systems across the country.

A DHS office would provide "crucial, unified federal leadership and coordination," said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, during a hearing last week on wireless E911 implementation.

With E911, emergency personnel can view a caller's phone number and address on screen so they can quickly dispatch help to the right location. E911 is the basis for wireless E911, which makes it easier to locate mobile phone callers.

Upton also said DHS should establish a block grant program to help state and local governments complete their E911 systems.

"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 funding problems persist, deployment will be thwarted," Upton said. "Hence, federal investments are crucial."

The push is based on a recommendation in a report sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission and released last October by Dale Hatfield, an adjunct professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary Communications at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Hatfield, one of the panelists at the hearing, said that although he didn't know whether such an office would fit within DHS, strong federal leadership could bring attention to the initiative. "I am even more convinced [of] the need for such an office," he said.

Although basic 911 covers most of the population, E911 is still being implemented in many parts of the country.

E911 must be available in an area before wireless E911 can be implemented. The wireless version makes it possible to view mobile callers' phone numbers and, based on the access point they dial into, their general location. Officials said many wireless phone users mistakenly believe such a service already exists throughout the country.

More than 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. In their testimony, government telecommunications representatives 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 equivalent. Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chairman of 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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