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NENA Exec: We Need To Get Moving on Enhance 911 Appropriations

February 2, 2007

Glen Bischoff of Mobile Radio Technology Bulletin has just posted an informative- and somewhat chilling piece of the progress (or lack thereof) of the Enhance 911 Act.

Passed three years ago, the Act authorized up to $1.25 billion for PSAP ((Public Safety Answering Point) upgrades.

Glen's spoken with Patrick Halley, government affairs director for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). upgrades.

Disturbingly, almost none of the money has been appropriated.

Glen says that Halley told him that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) pushed hard for specific, directed appropriations. Apparently this initiative was taken without tangible success. 

But now that Sen. Clinton's party is in the majority in the Senate- and Clinton is looking for credits to burnish her Presidential candidacy, Glen says this time is now the right time for her to push for E911 appropriations.

"But that doesn't change the fact a new and entirely different game has begun in Washington, and Clinton needs to step up to the plate," Glen writes. "She is a high-profile member of the political party that just wrested control of Capitol Hill and is co-chair of the Congressional E911 Caucus, whose sole mission is to further technological advancements in the nation's emergency call centers. This puts the senator in unique position to exact change -- and, fair or not, to shoulder the blame if the money doesn't begin to flow this year."

But the issue is more than just a policy wonk game. As Glen points out, are at stake. Not political lives, but human lives.

"Lives have been lost because PSAPs were not capable of locating wireless 911 callers. Without meaningful federal-grant money, not many call centers will be upgraded to comply with the FCC's Phase 2 mandate, which requires PSAPs to provide location information for 911 calls originating from wireless handsets," Glen writes.

He notes that currently, about half of the nation's PSAPs -- mostly in rural areas -- are unable to provide Phase 2-level service.

And let's not forget that the Enhance 911 Act prevents states that divert wireless E911 surcharge money to other purposes from receiving federal E911 grants, which means nothing if there's no grant money to be had. As Halley told me recently, "If there are no funds available at the federal level, it's a toothless clause." Clinton's adopted home state of New York -- where about 25% of PSAPs still are not Phase 2 ready, according to Halley -- once was the poster child for wireless 911 surcharge diversions, using funds on at least one occasion to pay for state police uniforms. "We're not seeing the gross abuses of the past, but they're still diverting funds," Halley said.

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