Priority program sponsors to dispatchers: Hello?

The Federal Communications Commission and the National Communications System want to increase participation by local emergency dispatch centers in their priority service restoration program.

The Telecommunications Service Priority program puts authorized organizations first in line for telecom service restoration during a crisis. The nation's 7,500 Public Safety Answering Points'the local dispatchers who handle emergency 911 calls'are eligible to participate in the 15-year-old program. But a study by the FCC and NCS found that fewer than 10 percent are enrolled.

'Lack of awareness is the primary issue,' FCC spokeswoman Robin Pence said.

Many administrators do not know about the program or do not realize they have to enroll to participate, Pence said. Many PSAPs have arrangements with carriers for emergency service restoration, but those agreements may not give them the same priority as TSP.

During an emergency, dispatchers could find themselves waiting in line behind commercial entities such as banks in getting telephone lines restored, Pence said. She said the financial services industry has been aggressive about obtaining priority restoration agreements with carriers.

'Lack of participation could jeopardize the restoration of essential services and could put citizens at substantial risk of injury or loss of property,' FCC and NCS officials said in a letter to professional organizations serving this community.

To raise awareness, FCC and NCS are conducting an outreach program through the National Emergency Number Association, the National Association of State 911 Administrators and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials.

The cost to participate typically is $100 a year, plus a monthly fee of about $3.50 for each line covered, Pence said. Not all of a dispatch center's lines would need to be covered in the program.

Nonfederal organizations enrolling in TSP need a federal sponsor. The FCC has agreed to act as sponsor for all PSAPs wanting to enroll. NCS, which administers the program, will expedite processing of PSAP applications. Regulations give NCS up to 30 days to process applications, but the agency has committed to reducing this to 14 days and expects to process the majority within three days.

The FCC has posted guidelines for TSP enrollment on its Web site at www.fcc.gov/hspc/emergencytelecom.html. Additional information about the program is available at www.tsp.ncs.gov.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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