BALTIMORE-Statistics have shown that some 70 percent of calls made to 911 operators have nothing to do with life-or-death situations. People have been trained to call the number to gain immediate access to someone who may or may not be able to help. Although only one jurisdiction-Baltimore- has an up-and-running 311 system, many localities are considering the option to help take the nonemergency burden off 911 operators.
The National Emergency Number Association, which held its annual convention here last week, disagrees with this option.
Building on the convention theme, “Charting the Course for 911,” outgoing NENA President John Ellison told attendees the biggest problems impacting 911 service included not only Federal Communications Commission mandates on wireless inclusion in the 911 location scheme but the confusion surrounding number portability, how to work with new dial-tone providers and the movement toward instituting a “311” number for nonemergency calls.
“I’ve told a lot of you that we are not the National Nonemergency Number Association,” Ellison said. “We won’t spend a fortune to oppose what is going to be a local issue; we want to be careful not to go on that slippery slope of one nation/many numbers.”
Ellison added that consumers have to be better educated on what constitutes an emergency, and a new NENA-sponsored national public service announcement campaign aims to do just that. The two spots, one lasting 30 seconds and one lasting 15 seconds, star Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, who became intimate with the 911 system last year when he suffered a heart attack at his Southern Florida home. Thomas, accompanied by the actual emergency workers who were dispatched to help him, outlined the three times 911 should be called: if a crime is taking place, if there is a fire or if a life is in danger. “Help your 911 team-Know when to call,” was Thomas’ message.
Commenting on the rise in 911 calls made by wireless subscribers, Ellison also vowed that “people won’t be left out in snowbanks for two days” anymore. He vowed that NENA would remain in the forefront regarding implementation of Phases 1 and 2 enhanced 911 service. There are some areas of the country that are experimenting with Phase 3 (actual location), and Ellison believes the implementation deadline will be defeated.
Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, apprised NENA members on the role wireless communications will play in the future evolution of E911 services.
“I recently learned that experts are telling the National Highway Safety Administration that shaving nine minutes off the time between an accident and when the victim receives treatment can save 3,000 lives annually,” Wheeler said. “Wireless technology enhanced with location capability (Phase 3 of the FCC’s mandate) can play a major role in saving those nine minutes.”
Despite U.S. leadership in medical and telecommunications innovation, there still is no way to link the two without involving a person with a wireless phone or someone answering a 911 call. “Imagine the simple connection of sensors in a car to a wireless phone which, in case of an accident, automatically dials the 911 dispatcher to relay critical information such as the velocity of the car upon impact, whether the air bag detonated, whether the car rolled over or was rear-ended, and the weight of the car,” Wheeler continued. “Scarce emergency resources ranging from dispatchers to ambulance crews to helicopters could be focused to where they are most needed-a technology triage.”
Wheeler then urged NENA to work with his organization to “come up with a 21st century program combining microprocessor and wireless technology to further increase highway safety.” A partnership, if implemented quickly, could have some impact on a highway bill Wheeler said currently is being considered by Congress.
The partnership needs to consider and solve seven issues related to emergency response:
Getting the call through-Triangulation is one answer, but in some jurisdictions, new wireless antenna sites are being blocked. The partnership needs to educate consumers and local governments on the importance of wireless buildouts to public safety.
Making the right call-Echoing NENA’s new PSA announcement, Wheeler said consumers need to be educated regarding the proper times to call 911. CTIA has joined NENA, the Associated Public Safety Communications Officers International Inc. and other groups to affirm 911 as the emergency number.
Giving public safety answering points the right equipment-911 operators should make the best use of wireless callers, their “eyes and ears” on the road. This takes new equipment, and Wheeler pledged CTIA’s support to gain it.
Getting the call to the correct PSAP-A significant percentage of wireless calls made from a triangulated area still are going to the wrong 911 operator. Phase 2 call-back capability will help solve this problem by providing the location of the cell site, but PSAPs must coordinate their networks with the state’s.
Paying for enhanced 911 services-There are few statewide or interstate funding mechanisms that allow wireless operators to recoup the costs of E911 service; New Jersey is an exception.
Differences between wireline and wireless E911-Wireline carriers did not have to make changes to their networks to implement E911, Wheeler said, and wireless carriers will be liable for billions when they overlay existing networks with a location capability. “It is going to cost the carriers a great deal more to deliver latitude and longitude than it costs the wireline carrier to deliver caller ID,” he said.
Legal issues-Only 15 states have “good Samaritan” laws that cover wireless subscribers. Other states have laws that need clarification, one state holds E911 providers liable and 15 states have no law at all.