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Bill Would Provide $172M for California 911 System Upgrade

The State Senate last week approved a flat, monthly fee on every cellphone and landline starting in January 2020, which would upgrade the state’s current 911 system. The bill awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approval.

by Rachel Rosenbaum, Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif. / June 27, 2019

(TNS) — A bill awaiting the governor’s signature would provide around $172 million in funding to update the state’s 911 system.

The Senate last week approved a flat, monthly fee on every cellphone and landline ranging from 34 cents to 80 cents (about double the current fee) starting in January 2020, which would upgrade the state’s current 911 system. The bill awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s approval.

The action comes on the heels of the state’s worst fire season, which officials say compounded the already degrading analog-based system, according to a California State Association of Counties press release. The new system will be digital and will be designed to handle photographs, videos and text messages, according to the bill’s text.

The state budget — approved by the Legislature earlier this month — allots $172.3 million for the state Office of Emergency Services (which will oversee the fees that are funding the new system) to improve emergency communication and warning systems, supporting the Mutual Aid system and resource pre-positioning (say, during red flag fire weather warnings), and fund relief efforts after disasters, according to the budget.

The annual revenue needed for the existing system, which handles over 27 million calls per year, is roughly $100 million per year, California Office of Emergency Services spokesman Jonathan Gudel said in an email Wednesday. As the department implements Next Generation 911, the annual revenue needed is estimated to be below $175 million per year during the transition when both Legacy 911 and Next Generation 911 will both be active. After Legacy 911 components are decommissioned, the new system is expected to cost an average of $150 million per year, he said.

“9-1-1 is a service and should not be viewed as a lump sum project, but an ongoing service,” Gudel wrote.

This new data-based infrastructure, called Next Generation 911, is supposed to be faster and more resilient.

Here’s how it works, according to (a national program that operates within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation):

The public sends information and data-like video footage to 911. Next Generation 911 call centers receive and triage information and rich data. Wireless networks share the information and rich data from 911 with first responders, who then are alerted to emergencies with real-time, critical information and data. The new infrastructure is also slated to improve dispatchers’ ability to help manage call overload, natural disasters, and transferring of 911 calls and jurisdictional responses based on location tracking.

The current system is prone to outages during disasters including wildfires, according to the California State Association of Counties. In 2017, more than 28 million calls were placed to 911, or 77,000 calls per day. The current system has an average of 15 network outages per month, equaling 255 hours per month that 911 is out of service, according to the press release.

Lawmakers who opposed the fee — Republicans Sen. Patricia Bates, Sen. Andreas Borgeas, Sen. Ling Ling Chang, Sen. Shannon Grove, Sen. Brian Jones, Sen. John Moorlach, Sen. Mike Morrell, Sen. Jeff Stone, Sen. Scott Wilk and Democrat Sen. Melissa Hurtado — preferred dipping into the state’s $21.5 billion surplus. But Democrats said they didn’t want to use short-term surplus for an ongoing expense.

Mike Mohler, deputy director of communications for Cal Fire, said the agency is in full support of the legislation, saying the 911 system is a cornerstone of public safety.

“We’re excited as it makes a difference, not only in public safety but also in response time for first responders,” Mohler said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Without the new investments, the 911 system is going to continue to deteriorate and notably, can cost lives and is absolutely a key factor in public safety and emergency response.”

Last summer, former Gov. Jerry Brown attempted the same fee increase to update the system, but the proposals were shut down in the Legislature.


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