States slow to implement E911

Many states have not set dates for upgrading systems to manage wireless calls

Despite significant progress in many states, the implementation of emergency 911 infrastructure still has no definite completion date, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

With no federal mandate for full wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) implementation, state governments are setting their own timetables, the report states. 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 that they would 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 might not implement the service statewide. Five states could not provide a timeline.

Washington, D.C., and 48 state governments require wireless phone 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–The Wireless Association, a nonprofit group representing the cellular industry, about 82 million E911 calls are made annually.


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