States need boost for 911 networks and staffing, analysts say

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Emergency call centers across the nation are “doing a good job” upgrading to modern technology compatible with next-generation 911, but the core infrastructure backing those systems needs a boost, according to a recent analysis from the public-safety consulting firm Mission Critical Partners.

The company, which offers its customers vulnerability assessments as part of its general service offerings, last week released a qualitative analysis after completing more than 100 such assessments over the past two years. Analysts said that while agencies are implementing strategic plans that keep their systems up-to-date — such as call-handling and computer-aided dispatch platforms — the emergency services IP networks, commonly known as ESInets, and next-generation core services aren’t being upgraded as quickly.

President Joe Biden’s domestic spending plan currently includes $470 million for next-generation 911, well short of the nearly $12.7 billion that federal agencies have said nationwide implementation could cost. John Chiaramonte, Mission Critical Partners’ president of consulting services, told StateScoop that these vulnerability assessments have made clear the need for new funding for 911 networks.

“There’s some that say the $470 million that’s currently in the pending legislation is a good down payment, but the progress that has been made by the nation with the transition to next-generation 911 has been limited by available funding and the limitations on grant programs,” Chiaramonte said. “The communities that have focused in on next-generation 911, either through raising subscriber fees or going after other types of federal grant programs, have been the ones that have been successful because they’ve really prioritized that transition. The majority of states, though, still have a lot more work to do.”

Overall, he said, call centers are doing well with technological upgrades and ensuring that they refresh their systems every 5-10 years, but issues of policy, funding and staffing have proven more “thorny.” The company found staffing is a particularly widespread challenge. Chiaramonte said working in a 911 call center is a high-stress, low-paying job that many people view as a stepping stone to other public safety work. And the pandemic made that staffing challenge even worse, he said.

“Very few people retire as a 911 professional, and that’s got to change,” Chiaramonte said.

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Mission Critical Partners, Next Generation 911, Public Safety
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