House to consider E911 office

National Emergency Number Association

Before year's end, the House of Representatives will likely vote on a bill establishing an enhanced 911 coordination office within the Commerce Department to speed implementation of emergency response systems in communities.

The bill also authorizes $500 million in grants over five years to upgrade emergency call centers, known as public safety answering points.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee Oct. 1 approved H.R. 2898, also called the E911 Implementation Act of 2003, paving the way for a full House debate.

The proposed E911 Implementation Coordination Office — within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration — would help improve communication between federal, state, and local public safety organizations, emergency personnel and telecommunications companies deploying related services, according to bill proponents.

"E911 refers to the ability to capture precise location data from callers to emergency response centers," said Richard Taylor, president of the National Emergency Number Association and executive director of the North Carolina Wireless 911 Board, in a press release. "At present, roughly 93 percent of call centers have E911 for wireline callers, but only about 10 percent can locate wireless callers with any precision."

According to the bill, the office would "develop, collect and disseminate information concerning practices, procedures and technology" used in E911 implementation, advise communities and organizations in preparing implementation plans and provide annual reports to Congress on the office's activities.

The bill authorizes the office to provide federal grants — not exceeding 50 percent of an eligible project's cost — for planning, infrastructure improvements, telecommunications equipment purchases and training. If states or other jurisdictions, which collect taxes, fees, or other charges specifically for E911, redirect those earmarked funds for other purposes, then they must return any awarded E911 grants and become ineligible for future grants, according to the bill.

Its two main co-sponsors are Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.), who formed the Congressional E911 Caucus earlier this year with Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). The senators introduced similar legislation, which was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in July and will go to the full Senate for debate.

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