GAO: States implement E911 at varying levels

Despite significant progress, the implementation of emergency 911 infrastructure has no definitive completion date, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week.

The report states that no federal mandate exists for full wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) implementation, and state governments set their own timetables. When complete, the infrastructure would automatically transmit wireless callers’ phone numbers and locations to public safety dispatchers.

States must implement E911 services in two phases. Phase 1 provides the wireless caller’s phone number and general location, pinpointing the cell tower or site that receives the wireless call. Phase 2 provides a more accurate location, usually within 50 to 300 meters of the caller.

GAO officials said nearly 80 percent of Public Safety Answering Points, which receive the 911 calls, are able to view a wireless caller’s phone number, while 57 percent can also get a caller’s location.

Of the 44 states that responded to a GAO survey, 10 have implemented Phase 2 statewide, and 21 indicated they will do so in the next five years with at least one wireless carrier. Three other states said their implementation would take more than five years, while five states said they may not implement the service statewide. Five other states could not provide a timeline.

Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington, D.C., did not respond to the survey.

Forty-eight state governments and Washington, D.C., require wireless carriers to charge callers a surcharge ranging from 20 cents to $3 per month to help pay for E911 implementation, according to the report. But four states did not use all E911 funds for implementation purposes, the report states.

“These states reported that some E911 funds were transferred to their state’s general fund,” the report states. “For example, one state told us that E911 funds were transferred to the general fund to help balance the state budget. Another state reported that some E911 funds were transferred to the state police since the police answer emergency calls in some areas of the state.”

According to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association’s Wireless Association, a nonprofit group representing the cellular industry, more than 224,000 wireless E911 phone calls are made daily, or about 82 million calls annually.

GAO conducted the survey as required by the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004.

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