On March 11, the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee introduced the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2021 as part of the LIFT America Act (H.R. 1848). This legislation will provide $15 billion to update our nation’s 9-1-1 infrastructure, protect this infrastructure from cyber threats and ensure that first responders will be able to efficiently use Next Generation 9-1-1 technology to save lives. The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) is strongly advocating for this bill’s passage and is urging Congress to include this text in the upcoming House infrastructure package.
This bill provides the tools to effectively carry out the modernization of the nation’s 9-1-1 infrastructure. Of particular importance are the portions of this legislation that address interoperability, cybersecurity, training and consultation with first responders and other end users of the 9-1-1 system.
The emphasis on interoperability in this legislation is key to the long-term success of Next Generation 9-1-1. Interoperability ensures all requests for emergency assistance, no matter the jurisdiction, will include the delivery and sharing of voice, video, text, and other emergency services requests among Emergency Communications Centers and first responders. Interoperability allows this sharing to be accomplished on the basis “commonly accepted standards” as defined within this legislation, without the need for proprietary interfaces.
As cyberattacks become more frequent and attackers become more varied and sophisticated, it is critical that Next Generation 9-1-1 infrastructure be properly protected. The Nationwide Next Generation 9-1-1 Security Operations Center established by this bill will provide this needed protection. This center will carry out numerous functions that are essential to securing Next Generation 9-1-1 infrastructure such as identifying cybercriminals, vetting third parties that connect to the 9-1-1 system, providing local operations with layered security, and sharing information and plans to mitigate and respond to cyber-attacks.
Next Generation 9-1-1 has and will continue to place a great deal of information about reported emergencies at the disposal of first responders. This information is crucial in enabling first responders to swiftly respond to emergencies where every second could mean the difference between life and death. However, this information can also be overwhelming or worse time consuming if first responders are not properly trained to handle it. That is why The IAFC is very pleased that the grants provided in this legislation will go to training that will enable first responders to fully take advantage of this innovative technology.
As Next Generation 9-1-1 technology evolves and is deployed around the country, it is going to encounter numerous and vastly different use scenarios across law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies in urban, suburban and rural areas. To ensure that Next Generation 9-1-1 technology is utilized to the fullest extent possible, end users representing multiple agencies and geographic areas across the country must be frequently consulted to ensure Next Generation 9-1-1 is properly functioning and addressing their needs. The IAFC, understanding the importance of such consultation, strongly supports the inclusion of the “Next Generation 9-1-1 Advisory Board” in this legislation. The board’s 16 members from law enforcement, fire and rescue, EMS and 9-1-1 professionals will provide valuable information that will ensure the Next Generation 9-1-1 is well run and meeting the needs of its end users and the general public.
The IAFC is grateful to Chairman Pallone and the House Energy and Commerce Committee for crafting this legislation. We will continue to work with Congressional leaders to ensure this bill moves forward intact and is enacted as quickly as possible.
Ryan Woodward is a government relations manager with the IAFC.