First responders and other emergency personnel use emergency communications systems to communicate with each other during day-to-day operations and large-scale disasters. Emergency communication systems are also used to enable communications between the public and response agencies. Emergency communication systems include
These systems often rely on different technologies that can inhibit interoperability and response. For example, 911 systems are not able to send 911 text messages to first responders in the field. State and local police and fire agencies use various radio technologies that can connect responders within their agency, but may not be interoperable with surrounding systems.
Federal, state, and local public safety agencies are investing in Internet Protocol (IP)-based technologies to improve communications, coordination, and response. The federal government has created an IP-based national alerting system that allows authorized agencies to send a single alert through multiple alerting systems. The federal government has also invested in FirstNet, a nationwide seamless, IP-based, high-speed mobile communications network that will enable public safety users to communicate via voice and data with other public safety agencies. There is also interest at all levels of government in upgrading 911 systems to next generation, IP-based systems, to enable callers to share data and to interconnect systems.
As emergency communications systems converge toward a common IP-based platform, there are opportunities and challenges. Advancements in geo-location technologies present opportunities to find 911 callers more easily; however, integration of these technologies into legacy 911 systems is challenging. Advancements in alerting have enabled officials to send alerts to mobile phones, yet some people still rely on landline phones for communications. Interconnecting systems could improve information sharing but presents challenges in terms of privacy and security of data flowing across multiple networks.
IP-based technologies enable emergency communications systems to interconnect, creating the potential for nationwide systems. The emergence of nationwide systems may create a need for new policies that integrate these new technologies into response plans and protocols, and policies that support collaborative planning, training, and exercises across all levels of government to improve response.
Further, migration to new technologies is costly. Not all jurisdictions may be able to fund technology upgrades. Adoption of new technologies may also require upgrades to and investments in emergency communications systems and private telecommunications networks.
The 116th Congress may continue its oversight of the effectiveness of emergency communications before, during, and after natural or man-made disasters (e.g., hurricanes, wildfires), and the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local agencies, and private telecommunications providers during response. Congress may also to examine the effectiveness of federal programs established to promote and support emergency communications, including
Congress may also focus on the activities of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB), which administers FCC policies related to emergency communications, including rules for carriers supporting 911 services; state and local use of 911 fees; public safety spectrum; public alerts, including rules for carriers delivering wireless alerts to mobile phones; disaster management and reporting of private network outages; and restoration efforts.