Next-Generation 9-1-1 Takes Center Stage at Joint Committee Hearing

Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) took center stage Tuesday at a hearing held by the Joint Committee on the Management of Public Funds.

NG911 issues are of top concern for county governments that are seeking to improve and enhance their handling of 9-1-1 calls from cell phone users with technology that will increase response times, location accuracy, and allow text, photo, and video data to be shared by callers to First Responders on their way to the emergency.

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally and MACo Research Director, Robin Clark Eilenberg testified on the importance of implementing NG911 in Maryland, as well the funding gap in maintaining the current 9-1-1 system in Maryland.

From left to right, Ross Coates, Charlynn Flaherty, Robin Clark-Eilenberg, Kevin Kinnally

From the MACo testimony,

As Maryland and its counties move toward implementing an NG911 network, one key issue that must be addressed is how to fill the void left by Verizon and its vast communication infrastructure. And, while the technology to implement NG911 is available now, there are many issues that local governments must work through, including uniform specifications, the process of transition, governance, and funding.

The transition to NG911 cannot be achieved without significant funding to upgrade our existing 9-1-1 equipment and communications systems, which are already under-funded through existing user fees. While the exact cost of Maryland’s transition is unknown, the Federal Communications Commission has estimated that it will cost $2.68 billion to implement NG911 nationally.

As more people abandon traditional landlines in favor of cell phones, revenue from the fees has been stagnant. And because the fees were not indexed for inflation, they’ve stayed the same while 9-1-1 expenses have increased. Accordingly, the county “additional charge” covers less than 50% of county PSAP operational costs, and in 2015 counties supplemented with approximately $55 million in general revenue.

County Budget Officers have expressed concerns that the local 9-1-1 surcharge will not be sufficient to pay for maintenance and use of the current system while simultaneously allowing PSAPs to invest in making the transition to NG911.

Committee Co-Chairs, Senator Cheryl Kagan and Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez

Deputy Director of Homeland Security in Prince George’s County, Charlynn Flaherty described NG911 as a “New 9-1-1 system, new network, and new way of doing business.” Flaherty also expressed a need for increased state funding for the successful transition to NG911, “We know what we need to do, we just need help getting there.”

According to Ross Coates, Manager of the Harford County Communications Center, “We’re in a very precarious situation as a county, while call volume is skyrocketing, revenues are going down and grants are dwindling, which is very concerning for us.”

Scott Roper, Executive Director of the Emergency Number Systems Board (ENSB), which oversees 9-1-1 in Maryland, testified “We want to make sure we meet the needs of the counties, as well as the needs of the public.”Roper also discussed the importance of collaboration between local government officials and wireless telephone carriers. The ENSB estimates it could take up to 18 months for the ENSB to determine a timeline and cost estimate for the implementation of NG911 in Maryland.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for updates on the work of MACo’s Emergency Management Affiliate on this subject.

Useful Links

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: The Road to Next-Generation 9-1-1

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Next Steps on Next-Generation 9-1-1

Previous Conduit Street Coverage: Counties Left in the Dark When 9-1-1 Fails