Pai Tells APCO the FCC is Working on NG911, WEA

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai lauded emergency workers Tuesday during a visit to the annual convention for the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (see story here.) “It doesn’t matter how big the community you serve is or where it is located, everyone in your line of work, from the information technologists to the trainers to the 911 dispatchers, must be on top of their game because lives are depending on it,” Pai said. “That’s an incredible burden. But time and again, day in and day out, you prove that you are up to the challenge.” 

The agency has taken steps to support emergency communications in the past three months. At the top of that list are rules to make it easier for the public to call 911 and easier for emergency responders to find those callers. The new rules will help those trying to dial 911 from centralized communications systems—like phones used in office buildings, schools, and hotels—directly access emergency response. “All too often, these systems require that you dial 9 to make an external call, which can create confusion and has caused too many 911 calls to not go through. This can be much more than just a minor inconvenience,” Pai said. 

Citing the story of Kari Hunt, who was killed by her estranged husband in a Texas hotel room in 2013, Pai said her nine-year-old daughter tried calling 911 several times on the hotel phone but could not get through because that system required dialing a “9” for an outbound line. Kari’s father Hank lobbied Congress and the FCC to change that. The Commission adopted rules on August 1 to implement the change in federal law, Inside Towers reported. 

Another problem the agency is working to fix occurs when first responders can’t easily find people calling 911 from hotels, office buildings, and similar locations. They may know the relevant building, but not the room or office where help is needed.

Earlier this month the agency adopted rules to help ensure that “dispatchable location” information, such as the street address, floor level, and room number of a 911 caller, is conveyed with 911 calls—regardless of the platform used. “Going forward, I am optimistic that first responders will get a 911 caller’s location more quickly and precisely, whether the call comes from a multi-line telephone system, fixed telephone service, VoIP provider, Telecommunications Relay Service, or mobile texting service,” he said.

Finally, discussing the Wireless Emergency Alert system, Pai said public safety workers have told the FCC the alert must be more geographically precise and only delivered to those in the affected area. Last year, the Commission required WEA carriers to deliver WEA alerts to areas specified by emergency managers, by November 30. He’s encouraged that a chip maker produced an initial software release to support geo-targeting earlier than initial projections. Major wireless carriers are lab testing “enhanced” device testing, according to the Chairman.

August 14, 2019   

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