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$ 10 billion for next-gen 911 in budget package looks promising, experts say

By on September 22, 2021 0

Written by Colin Wood

The House Energy and Trade Committee included $ 10 billion last week in funding a nationwide deployment of the next-generation 911 as part of the $ 3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that Congressional Democrats and President Joe Biden hope to pass. And after several unsuccessful attempts in recent years to fund first responder upgrades, analysts at a nonprofit emergency response organization told StateScoop that the latest attempt could save lives if the legislation was passed. adopted.

Dan Henry, regulatory adviser and director of government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association, said the $ 10 billion could be “on the edge” of estimates for a nationwide deployment – which are anywhere between 9. $ 5 and $ 12.7 billion – but he’s not complaining.

“The perfect bill is one that everyone can agree on that crosses the finish line,” said Henry. “We’re happy with how the language looks now. There are a lot of steps between here and getting the money into the hands of states, territories, and tribes. We believe that this bill positions us to achieve good results in the creation of the grant program, which we are really excited about.

In its current form, the reconciliation program would distribute funds to states, not to individual call centers. And while the exact rules for spending the funds will depend on how the grant program is designed, Henry said the money will help pay for things like hardware, software, cloud service contracts, etc. network infrastructure and training of call center operators.

“We can’t just stick our 911 specialists in front of a next generation 911 console connected to a next generation 911 network and expect them to know how to make that work seamlessly,” he said.

The legislation is also designed not to discriminate against states that are more advanced in implementing the next generation 911. The funding could be used, for example, to strengthen the resilience of existing networks by installing additional links or developing state-based security operations centers. .

Eddie Reyes, director of the Department of Public Safety Communication in Prince William County, Va., Told StateScoop his county has more advanced 911 technology than most. The county’s IT assets include software from Rave Mobile Safety, called Smart911, which provides call takers with detailed information about some callers. But Reyes acknowledged that this situation is atypical for emergency response centers.

“Most 911 centers struggle to buy paper for their copier, let alone a multi-million dollar call processing equipment system,” Reyes said.

Reyes said Prince William County will use new funds to upgrade call handling equipment, which is obsolete and cannot receive photos and videos. Reyes said he also wants to improve the location accuracy of his systems and ensure photos and videos can reach first responders on the ground so they can be as prepared as possible when they arrive at the scene.

“It’s one thing to send it to a police car that’s under a Wi-Fi hotspot, but it’s another to send it when they’re moving 60 miles per hour on the road. road with lights and sirens, ”he said.

Reyes said he looks forward to next-gen 911 because it is difficult to provide instructions to call takers on how to perform CPR without seeing if they are doing it correctly and because people in shock often find it difficult to report their location.

Heralded as a more secure, reliable and feature-rich platform for responding to calls for help, the next-generation 911 has been rolled out gradually across the country for several years. But an injection of $ 10 billion from the federal government could ensure that the quality and availability of service is uniform nationwide, said Brian Fontes, chief executive of NENA.

“For the millennial generation, we’ve always had 911, since birth, and with very rare exceptions, 911 works and it works very similarly across the country,” Henry said. “We want to continue this trend where you should be able to expect to send text, images, videos, have multilingual services, have the same text and real-time accessibility services across the country when you dial 911 or when you call the emergency. button on your smart watch or use a smart speaker.

This funding would also allow call centers to get rid of their old hardware and software more quickly, which the group has identified as a security risk, especially in transition systems that must accept. a more complex network environment.

“This will largely eliminate the Windows 95 problem of 911. Because the continued support for these things is not just a burden for [public safety answering points] but it is also a burden on the industry, ”said Henry. “It’s also a burden on 911 networks and interoperability. If you have a security environment that has a lot of stuff attached to it, you either have to go out of your way to account for all the lack of security that exists in that legacy environment, or accept that you’re going to have a large attack surface. which comes from having to interconnect with legacy or transition equipment. “