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Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

American 9-1-1 centers signal unease over “wasteful” provisions of LIFT America funding bill

While thankful for the support for system upgrades the newly introduced House LIFT America Act demonstrates, American 9-1-1 groups are concerned that elements of it could prove wasteful and delay and complicate deployment of a Next Generation 9-1-1 nationwide.

“The infrastructure bill is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fix the cracks in the foundation of all public safety response: America’s 9-1-1 systems,” Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA: The 9-1-1 Association, said. “It is absolutely essential that we get it right. But unfortunately, the language introduced today could strand already-substantial state investments in NG9-1-1 deployments and create cybersecurity risks for state, local, and tribal governments.”

Last week, all 32 Democratic members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee united to introduce the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act (H.R. 1848). It aims to simultaneously modernize U.S. infrastructure, revitalize its economy, address climate change, and protect public health and the environment. Among its $312 billion investment budget, the bill includes $15 billion in grants for deployment and implementation of Next Generation 9-1-1 services.

In theory, these services would make 9-1-1 services more accessible, interoperable, effective, and resilient. In addition to traditional calls, they would allow users to send text messages, images, or videos during emergencies.

Despite working with lawmakers over the last few weeks on text for a Next Generation 9-1-1- Act to accelerate deployment, NENA and its allies have asked that congressional workers turn from the LIFT America Act toward a bill closely founded on the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2019. In a letter from February, NENA called on Congress to deploy such systems in every community, create a federal NG9-1-1 grant program and direct the executive branch to reclassify Public Safety Telecommunicators as public safety personnel, rather than clerical workers.

“There is already widespread agreement in the 9-1-1 community on the standards and technologies needed to make Next Generation 9-1-1 a reality in every community within this decade,” Fontes said. “What we need now is a major federal commitment and a workable policy framework to get it done.”