Commission to Advance NextGen 9-1-1 Across Maryland Releases Final Report

Nationally,  the key underpinnings of the legacy 9-1-1 framework are based on the same wireline, analog, circuit-switched technology that was the foundation of the original 9-1-1 architecture in 1968. Aside from an enhanced data environment and the ability to support wireless and Internet telephony, the system has not significantly changed in more than 40 years.

With advances in technology, the emergency communication networks built four decades ago are becoming less efficient, less technologically advanced and, as a result, less able to provide the public with 9-1-1 services on newer technologies. In order to close this gap and benefit from the monumental advancements that are taking place in commercial communications, it is imperative for the State to advance the 9-1-1 infrastructure across Maryland—Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) provides that opportunity.

NG911 creates a robust and redundant infrastructure that will deliver 9-1-1 service today and into the future. It will process all call types—including voice, text-to-9-1-1, and crash notification—as well as images and video. In addition, it will enable improved location accuracy that will allow emergency personnel to send help more quickly and allow for seamless continuity of service in the event of call overflow and when transferring 9-1-1 calls to another jurisdiction.

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Maryland must accelerate its move toward Next Generation 9-1-1, deliver these essential services equitably across the state, and assure effective coordination with communications providers. Thankfully, the Emergency Numbers Systems Board (ENSB) has made tremendous investments to support establishing broadband fiber connectivity that will serve as the last mile of connectivity for 9-1-1 centers, preparing Maryland for the NG911 advancements.

County governments are at the heart of 9-1-1 service delivery. Accordingly, a 2017 MACo Legislative Initiative set the framework for a concerted statewide effort to guide this critical transition, harnessing the expertise of front-line county managers, industry experts, finance and procurement professionals, the telecommunications industry, cybersecurity specialists, and lawmakers.

In its 2018 legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill setting up the Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland. The Governor signed the bill into law on April 24, 2018. Chapter 302 of the 2018 Laws of Maryland requires the Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland to submit preliminary and final reports to guide the State’s implementation of Next Generation technology.

Four subcommittees were established within the Commission to review and provide subject-matter expertise regarding the main focus areas: Technology and Cybersecurity; Oversight and Accountability; Staffing; and Finance. Additional members and subject matter experts were invited to join and participate in the subcommittee discussions.

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The Commission’s 2018 report contains 23 recommendations for consideration by the Governor and General Assembly. Each one of them won unanimous support from Commissioners. Many will be included in urgently-needed, bipartisan legislation that will be introduced in January of 2019.

According to Maryland Matters:

The commission unanimously endorsed 23 recommendations in areas including standardizing technical guidelines, increasing cybersecurity plans, creating educational programs to train the next generation of 9-1-1 specialists and establishing statewide performance and accountability metrics including factors like call counts, time to answer, call blockages, abandoned call rates and more.

The commission’s work stems from the basic fact that as technology has advanced, Maryland’s 9-1-1 call centers simply haven’t kept pace. Today’s 24 call centers, managed by the counties in which they’re located and Baltimore City, are based on landline technology, even as about 70 percent of 9-1-1 calls nationwide are made from cell phones.

 Technology and Cybersecurity

The Technology and Cybersecurity subcommittee recognizes that the adoption of NG911 technology will enrich the ability of Maryland PSAPs to respond to 9-1-1 calls. This will be done by providing a reliable, resilient, ubiquitous, and cybersecure digital communications network that enables callers to communicate to 9-1-1 in the same manner as they communicate to each other, regardless of where they are located.

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Recommendations:

  • The MACo Emergency Communications Committee ( MACo ECC) shall recommend a timeline for integration of all 24 PSAPs to NG911 that follows the ENSB Strategic Plan.
  • Decisions about procurement of NG911 technology and services should remain with local jurisdictions.
  • The Emergency Services Internet Protocol Network (ESInet) and Next Generation Core Services (NGCS), which together provision NG911 service, must comply with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) standard, NENA-STA-010.2-2016, NENA Detailed Functional and Interface Standards for the NENA i3 Solution,10 and any subsequent updates to that standard.
  • Every effort must be made to procure and adopt NG911 technologies that improve access for people with disabilities and others who use assistive technologies, including mandatory connectivity to additional device-based and cloud-based data repositories at the NGCS level.
  • Service providers must be required to utilize enhanced location technology at call origination for call-routing purposes to enable the most accurate location from devices used to initiate contact with 9-1-1.
  • Technology and standards will continue to evolve. Maryland must continue to address new and innovative technologies to enhance public safety.

Oversight and Accountability

As technology, funding, and operational changes are introduced to build upon efforts already underway to facilitate the transition to NG911, the State will need to modify statutes and policies.Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 10.43.01 AM

Recommendations:

  • NG911 guidance should ensure coordinated, cohesive, and interoperable systems across Maryland.
  • The ENSB, in consultation with the MACo ECC, shall work to establish guidance and support for: NG911 integration and interoperability; GIS; training; certification; quality assurance; and recertification standards for PSAPs and 9-1-1 Specialists.
  • The Commission encourages the ENSB to develop consensus guidelines for local 9-1-1 authorities by establishing a minimum threshold for 9-1-1 records retention and encourages that all associated data-retention schedules be aligned.
  • As funds become available, the ENSB should modify future allowable expenses from the 9-1-1 Trust Fund in accordance with the recommendations in this report, along with State strategic initiatives. The ENSB also should establish procurement guidance for local 9-1-1 authorities.
  • Local 9-1-1 authorities in Maryland shall have formal, written agreements (e.g., SLAs with vendors, and MOUs, IGAs and Interlocal Agreements between and among 9-1-1 authorities) to foster effective call-handling and data-sharing practices in support of NG911 implementation and ongoing operations.
  • Local 9-1-1 authorities in Maryland should be required to complete the critical infrastructure vulnerability assessment/cybersecurity risk assessment. They also should share the compliance documentation with the ENSB as part of their annual county plan updates or any funding request. Cybersecurity risk assessments should be conducted at least annually.

Staffing

The staffing and operational components of 9-1-1 are vital to the day-to-day operations. All 9-1-1 Specialists, i.e., telecommunicators, must be recognized as true public safety partners. Effort must be made to ensure that Maryland’s 9-1-1 systems provide the same standard level of care to callers in their greatest times of need, regardless of where they are located.

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Recommendations:

  • Recognize 9-1-1 Specialists as the “First of the First Responders” in the public safety community.
  • The ENSB, in conjunction with the ECC, shall work to establish guidance and support for training, certification, quality assurance, and recertification standards for PSAPs and 9-1-1 Specialists.
  • Establish a statewide educational and best practices repository that is moderated by the ENSB executive director’s office to serve 9-1-1 Specialists and PSAPs.
  • Establish statewide adoption of certification and recertification programs for 9-1-1 Specialists based on national standards and the use of third-party vendor products.
  • Coordinate and advocate for professional-based education curricula that foster 9-1-1 communications careers by encouraging the development of programs the community colleges and high schools.
  • Encourage localities to increase compensation for 9-1-1 Specialists commensurate with skillsets required to support NG911.

Funding

Changing communications technology has prompted the need to transition to NG911 to meet the public’s expectations and provide the highest level of emergency services. In order to develop a fair, reasonable, efficient, and effective way to adequately fund the State’s transition to NG911 so “all boats rise together,” it is important to understand the current model and utilization of funds as well as examine how the structure will support the transition to NG911.

After recognizing that the current model only funds an average of 39 percent of the costs incurred by local 9-1-1 authorities, the Finance subcommittee worked to identify the necessary changes to support NG911, as well as a greater distribution of funds to support the local authorities.

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Maryland established 9-1-1 in 1979, but it did not begin collecting a fee until 1983. The fee was increased in 1990 and 2003, which means that it has not been updated in 15 years. The figure below depicts the history of 9-1-1 funding in Maryland.

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Maryland’s 9-1-1 surcharge is levied on each telephone bill. It is comprised of two separate fees that offset local and state 9-1-1-related capital and operating costs. Of each $1 charged today, 25 cents are deposited into the 9-1-1 Trust Fund and allocated to the ENSB for capital expenditures. The remaining 75 cents are reserved for the home county of the customer. The bulk of this is used for staffing and recurring operating costs. For prepaid phones, the fee is 60 cents and is divided between the state and counties in the same proportion as the 9-1-1 surcharge.

Monies collected through fees assessed on wireline and wireless bills and prepaid wireless transactions fund approximately 39 percent of the current legacy 9-1-1 costs. The result is that counties must supplement the 9-1-1 system with local funds. Based on information provided by the ENSB, the Commission concludes that the current 9-1-1 funding model is insufficient to support the legacy 9-1-1 system, let alone the NG911 transition.

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To assist in determining a funding model that will be sustainable and forward-looking for Maryland, the Commission examined funding models in other states.

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According to the Commission, the current fee of $1.00 per phone bill is both inadequate and inaccurate. It does not reflect the reality that one phone bill may represent five people. Each is capable of dialing 9-1-1 and Maryland PSAPs need to provide staffing to answer all five calls and the network must accommodate all five calls; the funding model of $1.00 per phone bill clearly is not capable of supporting this.

The Commission’s proposed funding model aims to create parity between Maryland’s fee structure and the fee structures of other states in the Mid-Atlantic region.

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The proposed model would increase the amount of money collected for the State 9-1-1 Fee from $.25 to $.50 and allow counties the option to increase the Local 9-1-1 Charge up to an additional $.75, for a county total not to exceed $1.50.

Using the assumption that the Local 9-1-1 Charge remains at $.75, this would provide approximately $145,108,772 in total revenue. This provides more revenue in the State 9-1-1 Trust Fund; the Commission envisions expanding the permitted grants from the ENSB to include items like call-handling equipment, management information systems (MIS), and mapping software related to 9-1-1. This would provide a tremendous fiscal relief to counties.

Next Steps

MACo, working in concert with other stakeholders, will advocate for bi-partisan legislation to implement the Commission’s recommendations to provide the level of public safety services our residents deserve and demand.

As the Commission takes action and continues to expand its focus, it is recognized that additional recommendations may develop. The current list may expand as a part of the final report due in December of 2019.

The Commission was driven by the dedication and leadership of the Honorable Senator Cheryl Kagan, Commission Chair and Mr. Steve Souder, Commission Vice Chair and 9-1-1 expert.

As reported by Maryland Matters, when 9-1-1 fails, people die:

Kagan said her dedication to the issue stems from the 2010 death of Carl Henn, a Rockville resident and community activist. Henn had biked to a community picnic in Rockville when he was struck by lightning from a fast-moving storm. When friends tried to call for emergency help, they were met by busy signals for nearly 20 minutes, as the Montgomery County call center was flooded with hundreds of calls for help from storm damage and related emergencies.

Kagan was overcome with emotion during a commission meeting this fall when she read a letter from Henn’s wife, Carol, thanking the committee for its work.

“Even in preschool, children everywhere are taught that when there is a problem, call 9-1-1 and help will come. No matter when, no matter what,” Carol Henn wrote. “When Carl was struck and no one could get a phone line through to 9-1-1, I learned that I had taken for granted what cannot be taken for granted. It’s not magic – it works when folks like you have the resources, support, and systems to make it work. That’s why what you are doing is so important and so appreciated.”

“He had to die as the result of this. The people of Maryland deserve better than that,” Carol Henn said.

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