911 centers: Priority calls are for you

Although the 7,500 local dispatchers who handle emergency 911 calls across the nation are eligible to participate in the Telecommunications Service Priority program, only about 10 percent do.

'We've come to the conclusion that it's a lack of awareness,' said Ken Moran, director of defense and security in the Federal Communications Commission's Office of Engineering and Technology. 'So we are doing what we can to make it quick and easy for them to sign up.'

Lack of participation by local dispatchers, also called public-safety answering points or PSAPs, 'could jeopardize the restoration of essential services and could put citizens at substantial risk of injury or loss of property,' FCC and National Communications System officials said in a letter to community organizations.

Under TSP, authorized organizations are first in line for installation or service restoration during an emergency. The 15-year-old program administered by NCS now covers more than 50,000 critical phone lines.

Coverage falls into five categories. The top two are for national security. PSAPs are in the third category, which covers public health, safety, and maintenance of law and order.

Give a call

But many administrators do not know of the program or realize that they have to enroll in it, FCC spokeswoman Robin Pence said. Some PSAPs make their own arrangements for service restoration, which might not give them the same priority as TSP.

During an emergency, 911 dispatchers could find themselves in line behind commercial organizations such as banks in getting lines restored. Pence said the financial industry has been aggressive about its priority restoration agreements.

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

Nonfederal organizations need a federal sponsor to enroll. 'We've decided we will be the federal sponsor for all 7,500 911 centers,' Moran said. FCC will authenticate identity and help determine the most cost-effective coverage. 'Typically, these organizations are not flush with resources,' he said.

The cost to participate is about $100 a year, plus a monthly fee of $3.50 per line covered.

'There are affordable ways to participate,' Moran said. 'Almost no one puts all their lines in the program.'

FCC has posted guidelines for enrollment at www.fcc.gov/hspc/emergencytelecom.html. More information appears at tsp.ncs.gov.

NCS has up to 30 days to act on applications, but the agency has committed to reducing that to 14 days or faster.

Moran said PSAPs should enroll before a disaster strikes. 'This is the kind of thing you do when the sun is shining,' he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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