Congressional group puts spotlight on enhanced 911

Members of Congress last month formed the E-911 Caucus, a committee of lawmakers who want to make sure that emergency call centers get the funding they need to comply with the Federal Communications Commission's Enhanced-911 services mandate.

When fully in place, the E-911 services will let emergency dispatchers track the location of any cellular phone that is turned on.
'We're grappling with huge distances in Montana,' said Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.), who will serve as a co-chairman of the caucus along with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.).

The distance from the eastern edge of the state to the western edge is farther than from the District of Columbia to Chicago, he said. 'We've got a lot of dirt between light bulbs. Wireless is the only way.'

E-911 services use a variety of technologies, including triangulation and Global Positioning System transmissions, to pinpoint the location of cell phone callers, Burns said.

The nation's wireless carriers have until 2005 to adapt their service so that emergency dispatchers can find the location of a 911 call made from a cell phone. All the nation's wireless carriers missed the FCC's original deadline of October 2001 to begin making the first series of enhancements to the 911 system.

Fallen, can't get up

E-911 systems will help save lives and avert emergencies, Clinton said. 'It's long past time for the federal government to address these issues, so local governments can upgrade their systems,' she said. 'State and local response centers are still operating in the past.'

The caucus will focus on funding and training for public-safety answering point (PSAP) readiness, Clinton said. 'We also want to make sure FCC has the authority to provide leadership.'

Getting the funds has been a sore spot. Millions of dollars in New York City telecommunications surcharges, which had been earmarked for upgrading 911 communications systems, have been siphoned off for other purposes by the city's cash-strapped government, Clinton said.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), also a caucus member, has been working on E-911 since 1996, she said.

'Most people buy a cell phone 'just in case,' ' Eshoo said. 'But dial 911, and they can't assist you or find you. We can do much better.'

More than half of all 911 calls are from cell phones, Eshoo said. The ultimate goal of the caucus is to make sure that 'everyone who has a wireless instrument can access 911' and get help, she said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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