GAO: States implement E911 at varying levels

While significant progress is being made across the nation in deploying emergency 911 infrastructure for wireless callers, whose phone numbers and locations would automatically be transmitted to public safety dispatchers, there's no indication when implementation will be completed, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week.

The report states there is no federal mandate for full wireless Enhanced 911 (E911) implementation and state governments set their own timetables.

States must implement E911 services in two implementation phases. Phase 1 provides general the wireless caller's phone number and general location data, including pinpointing which cell tower or site is receiving the wireless call. Phase 2 provides a more accurate location ' usually within 50 to 300 meters ' of the caller.

GAO officials said nearly 80 percent of Public Safety Answering Points, which receive the 911 calls, are able to view the phone number of a wireless caller while 57 percent can also get a caller's location.

Of the 44 states that responded to a GAO survey, 10 have implemented Phase 2 statewide while 21 indicated they will do so in the next five years with at least one wireless carrier. Three other states said their implementation would take more than five years, while five states answered the service may not be implemented statewide. Five other states could not provide a timeline.

(Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Washington, D.C. did not respond to the survey.)

The report also states that 48 state governments and Washington, D.C. require wireless carriers to assess a surcharge ' ranging from 20 cents to $3 per month ' on their subscribers to help pay for E911 implementation. But, according to the report, four states did not use all E911 funds for implementation purposes.

'These states reported that some E911 funds were transferred to their state's general fund,' the report states. 'For example, one state told us that E911 funds were transferred to the general fund to help balance the state budget. Another state reported that some E911 funds were transferred to the state police since the police answer emergency calls in some areas of the state.'

According to CTIA-the Wireless Association, a non-profit group representing the cellular industry, more than 224,000 wireless E911 phone calls are made per day, or about 82 million calls annually.

The GAO conducted the survey as required by the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004.

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