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Emergency Communications: The Future of 911
Linda K. Moore
Today’s 911 system is built on an infrastructure of analog technology that does not support many of the features that should be part of an emergency response. Efforts to splice newer, digital technologies onto this aging infrastructure have created points of failure where a call can be dropped or misdirected, sometimes with tragic consequences. This Congressional Research Service (CRS) report discusses how modernizing the system to provide the quality of service that approaches the expectations of its users will require investments in new technologies. These new technologies, collectively referred to as Next Generation 911 or NG9-1-1, should incorporate Internet Protocol (IP) standards. An IP-enabled emergency communications network that supports 911 will facilitate interoperability and system resilience; improve connections between 911 call centers; provide more robust capacity; and offer flexibility in receiving calls. Congress has passed three major bills supporting improvements in the handling of 911 emergency calls. The most recent of these — the NET 911 Improvement Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-283) — required the preparation of a National Plan for migrating to an IP-enabled emergency network. The plan is to be prepared by the E-911 Implementation Coordination Office (ICO), created to meet requirements of an earlier law, the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-494). ICO is co-administered by the Nati Telecomm.and Information Admin. and the Nat. Highway Traffic Safety Admin. of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT). The ICO is scheduled to terminate on Oct. 1, 2009. This leaves little time to implement recommendations for the National Plan; other goals set for the ICO by Congress will likely not be met. To assure continuity of leadership, Congress may choose to re-authorize the ICO. It could also consider other means to coordinate Congressional policy and monitor progress toward the fundamental policy goal of creating an IP-enabled emergency communications network. Given the immediate opportunities to fund recommendations, the absence of leadership and planning could have negative consequences.
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