Existing federal grant programs would be expanded to help state and local governments deploy modern 911 systems that enable citizens to text for help and send audio, text or video files during emergencies under legislation introduced on Thursday.
The Next Generation 911 Act of 2017, which was introduced by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), would support state and local efforts to incorporate new broadband voice and data communications technology into Next Generation (NG) 911 systems.
“Upgrading the nation’s 911 system is literally a life and death matter that must become more of a national priority,” Nelson said. “In this digital world, Americans must have more than one way to access the 911 assistance they need and expect when emergencies occur. No plea for help should go unanswered because a call center doesn’t have the technology to receive a text, video or picture.”
The bill does not define a specific dollar amount to support next generation 911 system technology. Nelson and Klobuchar expect a forthcoming analysis from the 911 Implementation Coordination Office to help gauge costs, but a 2009 Department of Transportation (DoT) study estimated that modernizing 911 systems could cost $9.2 billion to $13.2 billion.
“As a former prosecutor and co-chair of the NextGen 911 Caucus in the Senate, I know how important it is for our first responders, law enforcement officers, and public safety leaders to be able to communicate seamlessly during times of crisis,” Klobuchar said. “Our legislation would provide state and local governments with the resources they need to efficiently transition to NG 911 and strengthen our country’s emergency response networks.”
The bill, which would also require studies to help identify vulnerabilities that make 911 systems vulnerable to cyberattacks and weaknesses that cause outages when natural disasters and catastrophes strike, has drawn praise from industry groups like the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).
“NENA applauds the introduction of legislation by Sens. Nelson and Klobuchar designed to expedite the funding and deployment of Next Generation 911 systems nationwide,” the group said in a statement. “NENA looks forward to working with members of both parties to pass legislation that will bring our emergency infrastructure into the 21st century, to better serve the 650,000 Americans who call 911 every day.”