Ready for E 911
Though other jurisdictions still have to worry about preparing themselves for enhanced 911 guidelines, St. Clair County, Ill., can take a little break.
The county is one of the first in the country to be able to locate somebody using a cellular phone to make a 911 call. It's been a long road since the county's 911 call centers first began taking 911 calls from wireless phones in 1994.
"Last year, we filed [our first request] for phase two [compliance] -- the location of a cellular device within certain parameters established by the FCC -- and it took us until Oct. 20, 2001, to get our first carrier phase two compliant," said Norman Forshee, 911 coordinator of the St. Clair County emergency-telephone-system board.
Forshee said the challenges his county faced are the same problems other counties faced -- network carriers have petitioned the FCC for waivers and various changes to the enhanced 911 services, thereby delaying the roll out of those services.
But the real fun for call centers is yet to come, Forshee said, because new technologies promise new headaches.
"We need to now start talking about receiving the calls from OnStar, ATX and AAA, then computerized phones and satellite phones," he said.
Forshee said the National Emergency Number Association held meetings in December to discuss the ramifications of evolving telecommunications technologies and such issues as voice over IP; how 911 equipment will need to be changed to adapt to new technologies; how 911 service providers will have to change their networks; and what formats or standards will have to be adopted to make it all happen.
Taxing Wireless Towers
Pasco County, Fla., is in the throes of devising a wireless master plan to handle the proliferation of cellular-phone towers plaguing the county and to make sure wireless providers are assessed the appropriate taxes.
"It's a different approach to regulating the wireless industry," said David Goldstein, assistant county attorney. "[The plan] looks at the wireless providers instead of looking at the towers themselves that the carriers locate their equipment on. The only other county to pass this type of ordinance is Alachua County. We're still in the early stages of doing what they've already done."
Ted Kreines, the consultant hired by Pasco County, also drafted Alachua County's ordinance.
"The Pasco County issue is certainly transferable to everywhere in the United States," Kreines said. "In Pasco County, we have an aggravated case; it's particularly blatant - we have what we call 'bootlegging' going on. It's a widespread problem."
"Governments are aware that they may not have control of the situation," he said. "Carriers are aware that they may not be going through each and every step that they should be. They're aware that they're not paying their fair share of property taxes."
He said counties and cities should be worrying about making sure carriers are paying their fair share, given the number of towers and cell sites that will be necessary to meet cellular demand.
"The biggest problem with bootlegging is that not all of the carriers have ever come in for the kind of permit that [county officials] need to issue to know that they're there," he said. "As we get more and more into the lost revenue aspects of this, it becomes that much more important. People are losing revenue, big time."
Texas Tests E-Plan System
The University of Texas at Dallas began tests on a university-designed electronic system that will help emergency responders react more quickly to hazardous materials disasters.
The E-Plan is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission (TNRCC), said Steve Hamm, project manager of TNRCC.
E-Plan is a Web-based system that will store details about hazardous materials and emergency-response plans for thousands of sites, such as refineries and chemical plants, across the United States, Hamm said.
The ultimate goal is for emergency responders at all levels to be able to use the Net to access data about a facility when responding to an emergency involving hazardous materials.
The E-Plan Web site will provide information on building plans, contact names and telephone numbers, site maps, details about surrounding communities and the amount and types of chemicals stored at facilities, Hamm said.
The site will be secure, he said, noting that users, such as police officers and firefighters, will have access to different levels of information based on their user name and password.
"We'll have a lot of information at our fingertips that we've never had in the past during an emergency, which is when we need it," he said. "I see the system as a great tool for emergency responders. With E-Plan, someone back at the office can get on the Net, look up all the information, and the responders could have that information on their way to the facility."
He said officials will test the E-Plan for approximately another 18 months with a series of pilot projects, perhaps in the Corpus Christi area, Dallas and the Iberville Parish in Louisiana.
"We're on our second year of working on this," he said. "After Sept. 11, everyone's awareness has been heightened, and they would really like to see this data available. The hope is that this will go national."
Nextel's Spectrum Swap
Nextel is taking steps to solve a particularly vexing issue: interference.
Nextel, like other wireless carriers, owns particular blocks of spectrum. Unfortunately for the company, the spectrum blocks it owns tend to cause interference with local public safety communications systems.
The company is pursuing a plan to swap chunks of spectrum to solve the problem, said Larry Krevor, vice president of government affairs of Nextel.
"The underlying problem here is that you have a situation where the interference occurs to public safety radio systems in the immediate vicinity of commercial base stations," he said. "The problem ultimately stems from the way the spectrum is allocated by the FCC at 800MHz."
Over time and as cellular technology evolved, he said, the different uses of the spectrum band by commercial wireless carriers and public safety agencies created conflict between the signals.
Nextel is now proposing a substantial swap of spectrum.
Under the proposal, Nextel would exchange 16 MHz of its current licensed spectrum to make the realignment possible.
Nextel filed its proposal with the FCC last November, and asked the agency to expedite the proceedings in an attempt to solve the problem as quickly as possible.