House passes E911 bill

National Emergency Number Association

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E911 Institute

The House yesterday approved a bill that would provide grants, planning and coordination to local 911 call centers needing equipment upgrades, infrastructure and training.

House approval of the E911 Implementation Act of 2003 is a major victory for advocates who have been pressing the federal government to accelerate implementation of better technology and training at 911 call centers, also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). A growing problem has been accurately locating wireless callers, who now constitute more than half of the country's 200 million 911 calls each year.

Although 37 percent of answering points can display a wireless caller's phone number, only 18 percent can also show a wireless phone's location.

The bill, H.R. 2898, would provide federal matching grants to state, tribal and local governments for that purpose. It authorizes $100 million a year fiscal years 2004 through 2008.

As a condition of a grant, states and other taxing jurisdictions that levy and collect fees and charge for 911 service in an area must certify they're not using that money for other purposes. Lawmakers and other 911 advocates have complained that such funds are being diverted. Under the House bill, if states are found redirecting the money they would be ineligible to receive more 911 grants and may be forced to return earlier ones.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), establishes a joint federal office between the Transportation and Commerce departments to provide coordination and communication among federal, state and local governments, emergency personnel, public safety groups, telecommunications carriers, and telecommunications equipment companies.

The E-911 Implementation Coordination Office would, among other things, develop, collect and disseminate information on implementation practices, procedures and technology; advise and assist eligible entities in implementation plans; review grant applications; and oversee use of grant money.

According to the National Emergency Number Association, the country has 6,121 primary and secondary PSAPs. About 93 percent of them have enhanced 911 for landline callers — meaning a call is routed to the proper local 911 center and the caller's phone number and address are displayed — and 7 percent have basic or no 911.

The Senate Commerce Committee in June approved similar legislation (S. 1250), which could come to a full Senate vote before the end of the year.

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