3 9-1-1 Directors and the New Funding Era

It’s a new era for 9-1-1. When you ask Public Safety officials what is one of the greatest challenges confronting them the answer you hear consistently is funding. Many groups are studying the funding issue and offering opinions and options. Three significant reports on the funding issue include:

  • The FCC’s Report to Congress and Recommendations - Legal and Regulatory Framework for Next Generation 911 Services (February 2013).
  • The National 9-1-1 Program Report: Blue Ribbon Panel on 9-1-1 Funding (December 2013).
  • Eastern Carolina University, 911 Technology, Policy, and Information Management Group Report: Federalism in the Financing of 911 Emergency Call Services: Nature of the Federal-State Funding Arrangement to Finance Next Generation (NG) 911 Services (2013).

Most recently the FCC appointed a 25-member Task Force on Optimal Public-Safety Answering Point (PSAP) Architecture (TFOPA) to study and report findings and recommendations around three main areas: cybersecurity, PSAP architecture and funding.

The bottom line in the three reports cited and in the work facing the TFOPA is the fact that our current funding model, which is based on legacy, circuit-switched technology, is in many instances not sufficient to implement and sustain Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) technology solutions.

Public Safety officials and service providers would agree that we will figure out the technology, even as NENA i3 standards continue to evolve. But without a without a sustainable funding mechanism, as pointed out in all three reports, PSAPs will not meet their communities expectations to respond to an emergency using text, video, images.

Pennsylvania Tackles Funding Challenge

One of the states looking ahead to address the challenge is Pennsylvania.

We spoke with three PA 9-1-1 Directors, Brian Melcer, the Director of Public Safety for Lawrence County and the President of PA NENA 9-1-1, Gary J. Thomas, the Assistant Chief/9-1-1 Coordinator for Allegheny County and Chair of WestCORE and Scott Krater, Director of Schuylkill County Office of Public Safety and President of the PA Chapter of APCO to learn more about what they are doing locally to solve the funding issue.

PA is in the middle of rewriting legislation to secure a more sustainable funding model. Both Brian Melcer and Gary Thomas have recently testified before the state legislature to educate legislators on why a new model is necessary.

“We are facing our biggest challenge in funding the new technology and gaining a model that will grow as technology changes,” says Brian. “Our current model has been a patchwork effort to bring funding up to speed. The question is how do we address funding with a broadband system? In PA, we are trying to make the legislation technology agnostic. In the end, it will depend on what the legislature decides.

A Regional Approach

In addition to rewriting legislation, PA has also taken steps to incent counties to share services. Lawrence and Allegheny along with 11 other counties have come together to form WestCORE, the Western Pennsylvania County Regional ESInet. Gary says that by incenting a regional approach PA is rewarding agencies for reducing costs and increasing efficiencies without forcing consolidation, which is not always the right answer.

Gary adds that when the 13 counties asked themselves why each County needed their own backroom CPE, Customer Premise Equipment, to handle 9-1-1 calls, the answer was - they didn't. “We came to the conclusion,” says Gary, “that to serve 13 counties we only needed 3 CPE systems instead of the 13 we would have traditionally purchased and we could be just as effective if not more so.”

As a result of the regional approach, Allegheny County saved $2.2M in upfront capital costs and over $100,000 in annual recurring maintenance. The upfront capital cost savings fie WestCORE, for the 13 counties, was $4.8M.

“Now,” says Gary, “if Allegheny County took a call for Butler County and had to transfer that call we can transfer both the ANI (Automatic Number Identification) and the ALI (Automatic Location Information). In the legacy world we could only transfer the voice – not the ANI or the ALI. It’s all about collaboration and the citizens are the beneficiaries.”

Another example of a regional system in Pennsylvania is the Northern Tier Regional 9-1-1 System. Northern Tier was the first regional system in the state to combine resources and connect 10 counties in Pennsylvania. Both Northern Tier and WestCORE use Airbus DS Communications’ VESTA® 9-1-1 call-taking solution.

A Paradigm Shift

Scott Krater, in Schuylkill County, echoes what others are saying regarding funding.

“To create a sustainable model, we need a paradigm shift,” says Scott. “Today, many think of 9-1-1 as just the call. In reality, 9-1-1 begins from the time the person initiates the call to the time emergency services arrive at the scene. The public expects us to not only answer the call, but send it to the right person at the right location.”

Scott uses this analogy to explain. “The cost of sending a package doesn’t end after you place your order. It includes the services for placing the order, tracking the status, and through the final delivery. We need that same thinking in regards on how we fund 9-1-1.”

While Schuylkill County is looking at how they can share costs with their neighbors, Scott says what they want to avoid is losing the value of personal knowledge and interaction. “When someone calls 9-1-1 and gives you a landmark, and the call taker knows what you are talking, that can make all the difference in saving a life.

Takeaways

What advice do these next generation leaders have for all of us?

  • Look at the bigger picture and think out of the box because that will be necessary to ensure we meet citizens’ expectations going forward.
  • Educate your legislators.
  • Keep abreast of what is going on in the industry. Be proactive.
  • Think about the costs as an end-to-end process from the time the person makes the phone call until someone arrives on the scene.

In the end, as Gary says, “We have to keep up with technology to meet citizens’ expectations or we have failed.”

In order to resolve the funding challenge and come up with a model that generates sufficient funds and is sustainable, we all have to work together. This includes working with our federal and state lawmakers, regulators and our neighbors to produce a solution that makes it possible to implement new technologies now and into the future to improve public safety and, ultimately, save more lives.