The beating death of Tyre Nichols has renewed calls for reforming the police. But can anything really change?
In the late 1950s, the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended creating a single number for reporting fires. That was the catalyst for what is now the most recognized telephone number in the country: 911. A decade later the first 911 was call was made. Today, an estimated 96 percent of the population is covered by the emergency service. But the system was created for the landline, so as the country migrates quickly to mobile devices, government officials say the system is “dangerously out of date.” Diane and her guests discuss what can be done to upgrade 911.
- David Furth Deputy bureau chief for the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, Federal Communications Commission
- Steve Souder Director, Department of 9-1-1 in Fairfax County, Virginia
- Eddie Reyes Deputy chief, Alexandria Police Department in Virginia
- Richard Bennett Visiting fellow, AEI Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 70 percent of all calls to 911 centers now come from wireless phones. That's a huge number for a system built around the landline. Here to discuss current gaps in the emergency service and how 911 can be improved, David Furth of the Federal Communications Commission, Steve Souder of the Fairfax County, Virginia, public safety communications department, Eddie Reyes, deputy chief of the Alexandria, Virginia, police department.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd joining us by phone from Denver, Colorado, Richard Bennett of the American Enterprise Institute. I'm sure many of you are wondering how far your 911 call will reach. Give us a call on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you all for joining us.
MR. DAVID FURTHThank you, Diane.
MR. RICHARD BENNETTThank you, Diane.
MR. EDDIE REYESPleasure to be here.
MR. STEVE SOUDERAnd good morning.
REHMGood to have you all with us. David Furth, I'll start with you. Yesterday, in the New York Times, your boss, Tom Wheeler, the chair of the FCC, wrote that 911 faces an emergency of its own, 911 because of outdated technology. Tell us what's happening.
FURTHSure. And thank you for having me on the show, Diane.
FURTHLet me start by emphasizing what a marvelous creation the 911 system is. When we talk about 911, these are three digits that everyone in America knows and over 240 million 911 calls are answered every year by call takers around the country.
FURTHThat's the estimate that we have seen and we think that that's accurate. It's a service that people, hopefully, never have to use, but when they do, it needs to work. And as you pointed out in the introduction, the 911 system was created in the era of what we call plain old telephone service, traditional landline service and so the original concept was that you could dial these three digits from a landline phone and your call would be immediately routed to a local 911 call center.
FURTHAnd there are about 6,000 -- actually, closer to 6600 of those call centers around the country. They are typically operated by city and county governments and, in fact, with us here today are two of the people who run call centers here in the region and they can certainly tell you a great deal more than I can about how it looks from their perspective. So the system was designed with landline in mind and then, over time, as the country, as citizens have moved to wireless, to the internet, these capabilities have been added to the 911 system.
FURTHSo now, probably over 70 percent of 911 calls, come from wireless phones and there's also a small but significant percentage of calls that come from what we call voice over internet telephones, which, it's a landline telephone, but instead of using a traditional landline, it's using the internet to communicate.
REHMAll right. So Steve Souder, given what David Furth has just outlined, how well do you see 911 working now?
SOUDER911 system was created in 1968, 47 long years ago, has been just as solid as a rock. But if you look at it from the perspective that when the first electric line was run to a house many, many years ago, it was designed only to serve light bulbs. But then, came washing machines and refrigerators and a whole host of other things. The 911 system is somewhat the same way. It was originally designed for landline phones.
SOUDERIt's been accommodated and adjusted to address cellular 911 calls, but we're nowhere near where we need to be to accommodate a technology that is available to everybody in America today through their smartphones, meaning telephone and photographs and video and medical data and a whole host of things. We are not equipped to do that with the infrastructure that we have today.
REHMSo Eddie Reyes, from your perspective at the police department, what are your major concerns about how 911 is working today?
REYESSo as a chief of patrol for the Alexandria police department, my major concern is being able to find a caller that dials a 911 if they have not been able to give the address and the call goes dead. That's my major concern.
REHMBut I thought that if you had a cell phone, you knew exactly where that person was.
REYESAnd that's what 98 percent of Americans think. And the only 2 percent that know different are those of us that are in the 911 industry. And so our biggest concern, obviously, is trying to get the caller's location as one of our highest priorities next to the emergency so that if that call goes dead -- because right now, what traditionally transfers over from the wireless 911 calls is just the cellular tower location, not their physical location.
REHMI see. And Richard Bennett, to you. Explain how 911 works when it's a landline and compare that with today's cell phones.
BENNETTOh, sure. And thanks for having me, Diane.
BENNETTWhen you make a call on a landline, the telephone number actually corresponds to the physical address where the account is located. So in order to connect the call, the 911 center has to know where you are. But like the last gentleman said, when you make a call on a mobile phone, there -- while the mobile phone is capable of giving you a precise location through the GPS down to a question of a few feet, we don't always have our GPS receivers turned on, right, because it's a battery -- so you have to turn it on and then it takes anywhere from 30 to 90 seconds to get a fix on the satellite before we know exactly where the person is.
BENNETTAnd that's only a two-dimensional location. So if they're in a building, if they're up on the 20th floor, we don't know that versus, you know, whether they're on the fifth floor or on the roof. So there's that. But, you know, we actually don't have that information if it's a landline call, either, because once we get into the telephone system in an office, the location fix doesn't actually tell us what room they're in necessarily or what floor they're on.
BENNETTSo there's some imprecision in both systems, but given enough time, the mobile phone can report a more precise location that the hard line phone does.
REHMSo explain what happens, David, with the towers and the cell phone and the call. There's kind of a triangulation there, isn't there?
FURTHWell, there are two things that have to happen with any 911 call. The first thing is that the system has to get enough information to know which call center is this call going to be directed to. So for example, if we're here in the District of Columbia, the system has to know we're in the District of Columbia so that it will send the call to the District of Columbia call center.
FURTHWhereas if I'm in Montgomery County where I live or if we're in Fairfax County where Steve Souder's center is, again, the system has to work to, first of all, get the call to the correct PSAP. So it needs enough information about the location of the caller to know that. That is typically with a wireless call generated from the cell tower. And in most cases, that will give you an accurate determination of which call center the call should go to, but in some instances, that call may go to an adjacent call center and then it has to be transferred.
FURTHSo that's issue number one. And then, issue number two is the one that Mr. Bennett was talking about, which is the ultimate goal of a 911 call is to make sure you know where the caller is so that you can send the fire truck, the police car, the ambulance to that person's location. You need to know a lot more than just what cell tower are they talking to...
FURTH...because that could give you a radius of miles. So that's where technologies like GPS come in because GPS was actually first put in cell phones to respond to requirements the FCC put in place about 20 years ago when wireless first started coming online and people were using it to call 911. And, in fact, GPS does turn on automatically when you make a 911 call, whether or not you have it turned off for other purposes. But that GPS fix then may take some time and, in addition, in certain locations, like if you're inside a building, the GPS signal may not give you information. So...
REHMSo what happened on 9/11 serves as an example because Richard Bennett was saying that in buildings, you may not be able to make those calls or they may not go through, Steve Souder.
SOUDERThat's absolutely correct. The elevation within a building is as critical as the actual physical address of the building and we commonly refer to the address as the X and the Y or the latitude and the longitude. And the new Z factor is the elevation, if you will.
SOUDERWe have no Z factor today for all practical purposes. And at best, we have a less than always accurate XY coordinate as well.
REHMSo in the first place, if I am making a 911 call, I am nervous. I am really upset. I'm scared. I may not even be able to give you the information verbally or orally that you need. I mean, if you don't know where my cell phone is calling from, I am in big trouble. We're gonna take a short break here and when we come back, we'll talk about the new technology that my help to create that kind of connection. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about 911, the call mechanism for emergency situations that all of us know by heart. The question is, in the age of cell phones, considering the fact that 911 was designed for landlines, just how well is 911 working? And just before the break, I was talking about the kind of terror that one might feel making that call and might not even be coherent, but I'm on a cell phone. How quickly are you going to be able to identify me, Eddie Reyes?
REYESWell, not very quickly if you have not been able to give us your location. Now, the other thing that makes this region here very dynamic, Diane, is the fact that this is a region that's made up of a very transient population and a very visitor-heavy population. So the majority of people that live here have only been here for a short period of time...
REHMAnd are keeping their own area code on that cell phone.
REYESWell, that and they don't know 14th Street from 395. Because they've just either recently arrived here or they're just visiting here as tourists. And the majority of our callers are in that type -- so in addition to the panic that you're describing, either from a medical emergency or from a violent encounter, then you mix in the visitors and the newly arrived here and it really gets the situation complicated.
REHMSteve Souder, talk about the area-wide issues.
SOUDERYou mentioned at the early part of the conversation that 240 million 911 calls are made a year. That equates to about 660,000 911 calls a day. And regardless of where that call was generated from, it's answered at one of those 6,000-plus 911 centers. And what is answered is this: 911, where is your emergency? Not what, not how, not when and not why...
REYES...but where. Because it is the single, most critical component that is acquired when you have a 911 call being received.
REHMSo people should keep that in mind, that where is the most important question you must answer.
SOUDERIt is absolutely. But at the same time, I'm fully aware of why the public may not always know where they are located. Which comes to the point that Eddie just spoke about with regards to transient people or people traveling on the interstates or it's at nighttime and you can't see landmarks and street signs and things of that nature.
FURTHIf I could interject also, the Commission has been very focused on this issue of location for years. And I mentioned rules that were adopted a couple of decades ago. But the Commission also revisited this issue just earlier this year. And what the Commission did was to say, we need a better array of technology that can help to locate wireless calls, particularly in those indoor environments where a GPS may not work and also to get that Z access, to get that altitude in an instance where somebody is in a multistory building.
FURTHAnd the Commission unanimously adopted new rules that are going to then lead to the wireless carriers putting new technologies into their wireless networks that are going to, over the next few years, really enhance the ability to get a precise fix and a quick fix on somebody, even when they're making a wireless call indoors. So it's not going to happen overnight, but there are a lot of technologies that people are already familiar with in their smart phones that they can use for location. We can leverage those for 911.
FURTHSo what we're seeking to do is tap that potential to get us on a path so that a lot of the issues that Eddie and Steve have talked about in terms of people not knowing where they are and it being difficult to find them, we can come up with technological solutions to that problem.
REHMRichard Bennett, how much is it going to cost the federal government to update this technology?
BENNETTI think very little cost is actually going to be borne by the federal government. The principal costs are going to be borne by the handset manufacturers and by the carriers. What the feds actually need to do is to take advantage of the location services that we already have that are used by commercial firms that do business with mobile phone users. There are a couple of mechanisms in addition to the standard triangulation with cellphone towers to give you location and, even in addition to GPS, there are databases of Wi-Fi access points that are used to get a quick fix on location, because that information's pretty much instantaneous.
BENNETTIn this particular case, I'm actually calling you through a wire -- a smartphone that's on a Wi-Fi network in my home that connects to my broadband provider. And I've named my Wi-Fi access point after my street address. So the information -- so my location information is, you know, is broadcast by my Wi-Fi access point 10 times a second. So that information is not hard to come by. And we can also -- we could actually get commercial products on the market that plugged into a socket on the wall and broadcast the street address so that it could be picked up instantaneously.
BENNETTSo it's not a huge problem.
REHMAll right, Richard, you talked about the carriers bearing some of the financial load. Do I understand correctly, Steve Souder, that Verizon, for example, wants out of the 911 business.
SOUDERThat's correct, Diane. Verizon (word?) ...
REHMWhat does that mean? How can they say we want out of it?
SOUDERThey have been our long-time wire line provider and certainly they're our provider through the wireless environment as well. But for a variety of reasons, they wish to extract themselves from that market. But there has to be a new network in place to carry the dynamic information, which will come from our smart devices and the photos and the video and the things that we mentioned earlier. But to Richard's point, although certainly there will be some costs that have to be borne by the carriers, there is a huge cost that will have to be borne by the locale, whether that's a city or a county.
SOUDERIn each 911 center today, the call handling equipment, the monitors and the variety of other tools that today's first responders -- the first of the first responders sit before, it is antiquated equipment. It is equipment that is associated with the original 911 system. It is not capable of handling much of the dynamic information that will come with the next generation of 911. So all of that equipment has to be replaced and a new network has to be build out to accommodate that as well.
REHMI have a tweet here from Texas. It says, can the guests address Smart 911 and perhaps other 911 options which provide more support for location? Do you know about that, Richard?
BENNETTWell, there's a -- the FCC's had a couple of initiatives to try to update the nature of the 911 service. There's been E-911 and then NG911, which is the one that's currently ongoing.
BENNETTThe NG stands for next generation.
BENNETTBut when you -- when I look at the details of those, I'm kind of depressed. Because Next Generation 911, while it accommodates text messaging, you know, text messaging is a 30-year-old technology. And it's really, it's so disheartening that it's taken us 30 years to incorporate that into the 911 service because it's so valuable, I think especially when people have intruders in the home. Being able to communicate silently is, you know, is enormously beneficial.
BENNETTBut it just takes forever to advance these systems.
REHMAnd, Eddie Reyes, you are concerned about other aspects of this Next Generation 911.
REYESSo, well, it's -- I feel excited with this next generation of technology coming in, as Richard has alluded to, it's got some unintended consequences, the challenges of emerging technology. So now that Text-to-911, while it serves its purpose in this situation that Richard described where you need to text in a very clandestine manner, how do you generate that location just like the challenge that we're talking about right now with the wireless phones. I mean, if you can't generate the location, you're almost back to where you were with the wireless to 911 call.
REHMAnd what about video? Does next generation promote video?
REYESWell, it can. But, again, that's such a far-out phased approach. I think the phased approach that we're talking about here is to get text first. Once that's stabilized, then photo, then video.
REHMGo ahead, Steve.
SOUDERSpeaking of text to 911, in my community -- Fairfax County, Va. -- we implemented Text-to-911 on the 22nd of September of this year. It is our hope and it is our intention that our partner, Public Safety Answering Points, 911 centers around the metropolitan Washington region, will quickly follow suit. And it is the first step in a multi-step evolution, if you will, from current generation 911 -- legacy, as we like to call it -- to the next generation in 911.
SOUDERI think the value of what we're doing here in the metropolitan Washington region, by doing it collaboratively as a region, with all parties at the table, will eventually allow for one, it's quicker deployment. Two, it's more cost-effective deployment. And also, it will take away from the public's mind as to what they can do in any one jurisdiction as we move around the metropolitan area. The public will not now be puzzled by, can I do Text-to-911...
SOUDER...in my community or do I have to go next door? You know.
REHMOkay. So I'm sort of focused here on Verizon and wondering if I were to have Verizon service and I found myself in an emergency situation, what happens?
FURTHWell, we need to distinguish two things in what Verizon does, when we talk about what Verizon does. First of all, it has its own customers. And Verizon is certainly...
FURTH...not going to fail to deliver 911 calls from its customers. What they're talking about...
REHMRight now. Right now.
FURTHWell, ever, ever. What they're talking about moving out of is a kind of specialized role they play in the network of 911 in those areas where they serve. And I'll take Fairfax County as an example. All of the 911 calls -- whether they come from wireless carriers or wherever -- are routed into a switch that aggregates those calls and sends them to Fairfax County's 911 center. That switch is a very old piece of technology. And this is true for many of these switches around the country. These are the telephone technology gateways that the system relies on but that are increasingly outmoded. And that's one of the concerns that the chairman was raising.
REHMOkay, but you still haven't answered my question.
FURTHI'm getting there.
REHMOkay. Go ahead.
FURTHSo that technology has to be replaced and it has to be replaced with something that uses modern Internet-based technology that's going to aggregate those calls and potentially provide more flexibility in terms of how the system can handle things like call overloads. And what Verizon has said is, well we don't want to be the company that provides that service. Somebody else has to. There are other companies that are willing to step in and to provide that service so 911 calls will get through. The question is, who are those companies and what are the standards? What are the practices that they need to be held accountable for to make sure that 911 service continues to be reliable.
REHMCan somebody explain to me exactly why Verizon has decided it doesn't want to be part of the 911 system? Richard.
BENNETTYeah. I can take a stab at that. I mean, I'm not a -- I haven't been told this actually by Verizon. But the general problem is it's not just the frontend of the 911 system, the part that they use it that the citizen accesses that's the issue, it's the backend that delivers the calls to the call centers. And so the whole 911 system is based on the assumption that the plain old telephone network is the only network there will ever be. But what's actually happening is the -- all the carriers that have traditionally operated the telephone network are transitioning away from the old legacy technology that it was built on to an Internet-protocol based technology that's entirely different.
BENNETTIt offers some new capabilities. It's lower cost. It has higher bandwidth. It's broadband. And so they, as part of the overall business plan at the traditional carriers -- Verizon, AT&T and CenturyLink -- they want to decommission the old network and replace it, you know, with new technology.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But what happens in the interim, Steve?
SOUDERWell, to Richard's point, I believe it's a business model that, in this particular case -- since we have focused on Verizon, but I don't think they should be singled out because all of the local exchange carriers throughout the nation pretty much are viewing this the same way -- but it is a business model that was dated in the past. And with everything becoming wireless today, it's a business model that quite frankly I don't think they want to replicate a lot of the cost with changing out to the future. So they are excusing themselves from providing the network -- the network that has provided traditional, historic, legacy 911.
SOUDERSomeone will have to step in to provide that network. And that network has been referred to as the Emergency Services Internet-Protocol Network, or ESInet. So the ESInet in the future will be the current Verizon and other local exchange carriers.
REHMOkay. But think about the number of, say, elderly people or people who live in areas where they can't afford that kind of Internet services. What happens to them?
FURTHWell, it's important to understand that in Next Generation 911, all of the traditional ways in which people access 911 will still be supported. If you have a landline in a next-generation environment, that landline will still get the 911 call through. It will simply be going over a next-generation network instead of over the old telephone network. And there are some big advantages to that.
REHMHow broadly does the next generation 911 exist now?
FURTHIt's very patchy. There are a number of states and localities that have started implementation. There are others that are engaged in study. And that's encouraging. But one of the points that the chairman was making in his article yesterday is it's moving too slowly. And the longer the transition is, the more disruptive it is to the system, the more vulnerable the system is and the more it will cost. And so the goal here is we need to figure out ways to speed this transition up and that's the challenge that faces us.
REHMBut tell me, vulnerable how? Because locals may have stopped using one system and are transitioning to another but haven't gotten there yet.
FURTHIt's a number of different things. One is that you may have places that are still using older technology that is increasingly isolated from all of the Internet technology that is now the buttress of communications networks anywhere. So you'll have these islands of old technology but 911 being dependent on that. In addition, you have the challenge of the transition itself. For Steve Souder or Eddie Reyes, as they think about how to transition their call centers to Next Generation 911, they have to keep operations going 24/7. They have to keep the lights on. They have to be answering the calls. That costs money. A lot of that money comes from fees.
FURTHBut there's additional costs to build the new infrastructure they need so that we can retire that old infrastructure more quickly.
REHMDavid Furth, deputy bureau chief for the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau at the Federal Communications Commission. Short break. When we come back, your calls, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about 911, the state it is in and the state we'd like it to be in. Here's an email from Robert, who says, ask Google. They know where I am. Steve?
SOUDERYes, Google does know where we are. A very, very good point. If I were to make a 911 call from this studio right now, from a smartphone that was equipped with Google Maps, I would be able to know exactly where I am at. However, because my call is not going to be using that map to identify to the 911 center in the District of Columbia where I'm at, it instead will go through an antiquated -- you used the word earlier, Diane -- triangulation network. It could be based upon satellites, it could be based upon any number of things. And there's a very strong possibility that it would not identify my location as being where we are sitting this morning, somewhere other than that, not far away, but nevertheless not where we are today.
SOUDERThe point being made by the gentleman that emailed in is the fact that if Google knows where we are, why doesn't the phone company know where we are?
SOUDERAnd why can't the phone company tell the 911 center where are?
REHMHere's something from Taylor in Houston, Texas. There's lot of discussions about the shortcomings of the U.S. system. But can you pull out examples of state-of-the-art 911 systems, either here in the U.S. or in other countries?
FURTHWell, we're actually probably in a more advanced state than many other countries. There are many countries that don't even have a national number, and even those that do, don't necessarily have the location capabilities that our 911 network does. There are a number of states and localities that are looking at modernizing and upgrading their 911 systems, building these ESInets, which would be the new backbone that a community or a state could use to handle 911 traffic and using the Internet and Internet-Protocol.
FURTHAnd those -- many of those, though, are still really in development. We don't have any state or jurisdiction that I'm aware of that's fully implemented next generation 911. And the challenge, as I think several commenters have already said, is not so much on the frontend of the call, in the commercial networks, which have all kinds of capabilities, when we talk about Google and things like that. But it's getting that information into those call centers. The call centers need to adapt and that means they need to upgrade their technology. And that's the challenge. That's the hill we have to climb in order to make next generation 911 possible.
REHMAll right. Let's take a call from Eric, right here in Washington, D.C. You're on the air.
ERICHi, Diane. Hey, Steve. Eric Hall here. How are you buddy?
SOUDERHow are you, sir?
ERICI would appreciate if you guys could comment on system vulnerabilities caused by, you know, heavy reliance on backbone providers like Intrado and Verizon. And, you know, we've had a couple of high-profile events, failures, recently in various parts of the country. And, you know, from a system reliability standpoint, I'd appreciate comments about, you know, our reliance on those backbone providers.
SOUDERWhat is being referred to here is that if Verizon is not going to be the carrier of the future to transport these calls and their current network is going to replaced by an ESInet, the ESInet is going to have to be provided by some other alternative vendor. There are a couple of vendors currently that are working very, very stringently to do that. They are keenly aware of the absolute reliability that must exist with whatever the solution is that they put forward. There have, in fact, been some situation in the last several years where some carriers have not done as good a job as they would have liked to have done, let along as we would have hoped that they have done, not in an ESInet world but in a more traditional world.
SOUDERSo the 911 community is keenly aware of the importance of reliability, robustness, resiliency, whatever the word would be.
REHMI have an email here from Mary, who is a mother of a four- and a six-year-old. She says they do not have a landline. I've often thought about if there ever were an emergency situation, whether either myself or my husband would be unable to call for help, would our children find our iPhones too complicated to call for help. When I was in school, she says, they taught us how to run our landlines: pick it up, dial simple three numbers. How do you teach a young child, Eddie?
REYESSo we're doing that now. Our community-oriented police officers, when they go and talk to children in school, we're still doing it. And by the way, most elementary school children already have a cellphone.
REYESI would venture to say that most of them are pretty proficient at dialing 911. But we're still teaching the traditional, learning how to dial 911 in the elementary schools by the police officers. Because we believe that's one of the most essential functions that a child can learn.
REHMOn a landline or a cell phone?
REYESOn a cell phone. Because, as we've said earlier, 70 percent of the volume coming in to the E-911 center now is coming from wireless technologies. And I think that translates into 70 percent of the country now no longer has landlines.
REHMAll right. But here's an email from Tom, who says landline services is normally functional and reliable during power outages. The Internet and electronic devices are inherently unreliable during power outages. Can we afford, from a public safety perspective, to go with an Internet-only based system? David Furth.
FURTHWe have no choice. The technology is moving and we have to make the adjustments to the Internet Age. The landline world has already basically started to vanish. The challenge that we face is how to make sure that 911 service in the Internet Age is delivered with the same reliability. And just to take up -- pick up on the issue of backup power, the Commission, just a few months ago, adopted rules to require providers of Internet-based services in the home to offer their consumers -- their customers -- backup power options. Because they will not necessarily be receiving power through a landline. And so they need to have other backup alternatives.
BENNETTWell, mobile phones are battery powered, so they don't really care about area outages. So this is kind of a -- this is an overstated myth. And most of the new telephone services that use broadband technologies like cable-network-based-to-voice services have built-in backup batteries. So the -- and, you know, batteries are pretty easy to come by. And within the system itself, there are generators and batteries to supply backup. That's how the regular telephone network does it itself, is with batteries.
REHMDavid, you don't agree.
FURTHWell, I think I would want to qualify the statement that backup power isn't a concern if you have a cell phone. If you have a battery and you don't have the means to recharge it, that batter is only going to do you so much good for so long. So in any circumstance, and particularly when we're thinking about prolonged emergencies that may last more than a few hours, we have to be thinking about new ways to provide backup power alternatives to consumers. And they will be new ways. We can't rely on the way in which power was provided in the old network.
FURTHWe have to come up with new methods.
REHMLet's go to Chapel Hill, N.C. Hi, Kevin. You're on the air.
KEVINThank you, Diane. And first, let me say to Steve and some of the guys out there, you have a really great panel today so (unintelligible)
REHMI know I do. I know I do. Thanks.
KEVINYeah, these are good guys. I started my career in Fairfax County and I was really -- it was a benefit to see these guys work. I think, going into some comments here, it's interesting that we've been talking about this as an industry for so long. In 2008, when I was the deputy chief in Atlanta, we had a significant death that occurred because we couldn't find the caller. And so these are things that go back years, that have really just -- not just theoretical consequences, but consequences for people in real life and have caused actual deaths that we can go back and cite.
KEVINAnd it's interesting, I think one of the big problems that we face here is that some of the technology solutions that bridge the gaps between the PSAP, the 911 center technology, and the stuff that we're using in our cell phones and on our desks everyday is available and it's been available for years. But there's been very little implementation of that at the local level because of some of the costs associate with it. I know of at least two private vendors, for instance, that can install software solutions in PSAP centers that will give you the exact location of a 911 caller and pretty reliably too, even on the Z Access, you know, assigning a floor and a side of a room to people, in a demo that I saw in 2011 that was really very good.
KEVINBut most of this stuff that is too expensive for local 911 centers, which are run by usually small municipalities, usually not with the sort of tax base and the kind of robust resources that Fairfax County or the City of Alexandria might have. And it's actually interesting, the biggest steps forward I've seen in technology here happen on college campuses, where they're using tracking location apps and report-in apps that allow people to check in with the 911 center via text message, via app interface and stuff like that. It's really cool.
REHMAll right. I want to ask about those apps, Steve.
SOUDERYes. We all know the magnificent utility that goes with apps, whether it's for music or restaurants or whatever. There certainly is a growing number of apps that are being designed for use in the public safety communications world to complement and to enhance 911 use. We, meaning the industry, are watching them very closely. All of them are well intended. Some of them are not quite up to the standards that we need. But that is a very, very rapidly developing area that we have a keen eye for.
SOUDEROne thing I would like to also address is the fact that even though our reference to next generation 911 in this conversation has been largely based upon technology, the reality that the governance of 911 and the funding of 911 are equally legacy procedures. They were founded 40 years ago. And we need to look with a fresh eye to the future as to about how are we going to fund them and how are we going to govern them in the future, in a more cost-effective and uniform approach that brings cost-effectiveness not only to the carriers, local government, but ultimately to the citizen.
REHMSo how far along is Fairfax County in overhauling the entire system to next generation, with all its shortcomings? And who's paying for it?
SOUDERWe will select the vender by the end of this calendar year that will completely upgrade all of our, what is referred to as premise equipment -- equipment that is within the 911 center -- so that it is capable of handling next generation 911 calls of all manner in the future. But that is coupled with the fact that in the National Capital Region, we are working collaboratively -- as I think I might have mentioned earlier -- on a region-wide replacement of the current network, the (word?) network, with this ESInet network that will provide the means by which calls are transferred around and to and from callers and call centers.
SOUDERI'd like to say, also, that if you look ahead five years, the only thing about 911 that I think will look the same five years from now is the number 911. Everything else will be different. The poles and the lines and the manholes, which traditionally housed the equipment that transport calls, they will no longer be dependent upon. The means by which calls are routed from point A to point B will be replace by GIS information. So we are in a very, very transformational period.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." But, guess what, folks? I'm going to keep a landline for as long as I'm around. Are you, Eddie?
REYESWell, because of the reliability issues that we talked about, the location services issues that we talked about, and because I'm a traditional guy. I still believe in the landline.
REHMAnd David Furth?
FURTHI have a landline but I have two children in their 20s and neither of them has one and I suspect neither of them ever will.
REHMSo how strongly would you each recommend a landline? Steve.
SOUDERI must confess that I do not have a landline.
REHMYou do not.
SOUDERI do not. I have faith that from my location -- and I had done a lot of testing before I relinquished my landline -- I'm fairly confident that a 911 call made from my home on a cell phone will get to where it needs to be.
REHMHow long is it going to take to get the country where it needs to be? David.
FURTHWell, that really depends on where this conversation takes us. When the chairman spoke out about next generation 911, his concern was that we're moving too slowly and, if we don't do anything, if we just let nature takes its course, we're going to end up with NG-911 in some places but not in many others.
FURTHSo that's where the call for Congress and for a really concerted action at all levels of government comes into play.
REHMSo Congress does need to play a role here in providing more money?
FURTHIn providing more money, in potentially helping to fund certain types of infrastructure that could be built at the national level, like mapping databases, for example...
REHMGotcha. All right.
FURTH...that state and local authorities then could leverage for their own investments.
REHMAnd by the way, we did invite the wireless association trade group to be on the show today. They declined. And you've got NENA and you've got APCO and all these other groups who, you know, what can we say?
FURTHNENA and APCO are public safety organizations that represent the public safety community and the 911 community. And so they've been very tireless advocates for improvements for moving to next generation 911. We have worked with them and we've worked with industry. Because this is really going to require a collaboration of the public safety community and state and local government, the federal government and industry to get this done.
REHMAnd there's one other matter and represented in an email from Bruce, who says, no matter how rapidly a 911 call is placed, the bottom line still seems to be how quickly responders can get to the location where they're needed. With the downturn in the economy and the shortage of police responders throughout the country, it seems to me, says Bruce, that even the best 911 call system is still dependent on the availability of responders. Eddie Reyes, you would agree?
REYESOne hundred percent. Absolutely.
REHMAnd does that frustrate you in your own department?
REYESWell, not only my own department but also here in the region, here in the National Capital Region. You know, as I network with all the other chiefs and sheriffs here in the National Capital Region, I know this is an epidemic here in the National Capital Region. But, you know, through my collaboration with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, this is national epidemic. Every single municipality right now has vacancies on their police force.
REHMEddie Reyes, deputy chief of the Alexandria Virginia Police Department, Richard Bennett of the American Enterprise Institute, Steve Souder, he's director of the Department of 911 in Fairfax County, Va., and David Furth at the Federal Communications Commission. Hold on to your landlines, folks. Thanks for being here everybody. I'm Diane Rehm.
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