State of Maryland Moves to Update 9-1-1 System
(ANNAPOLIS, MD) In 1979, Sony introduced the Walkman, and the first cellular network was established. That same year, Maryland rolled out a new 9-1-1 service to save lives. The system used copper wiring and rotary phones to help people in need. It continued to rely on that technology as companies upgraded networks to fiber optic and telephones became cellular.
Almost 40 years later, the Commission to Advance Next Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland has laid out a plan to update and modernize emergency services. The members considered issues related to technology, staffing, cybersecurity, oversight, and funding in order to bring the system into the 21st century.
Commission Chair Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (District 17 – Gaithersburg & Rockville) said, “Maryland lags behind 22 other states in shifting to Next Generation 9-1-1 service. I am thrilled that this report includes 23 recommendations that were unanimously endorsed by the Commission’s members.”
Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) will handle voice (as the current system does) as well as texts, photos, and videos. Updated geographic information will allow 9-1-1 Specialists to locate callers with greater precision, saving First Responders valuable time. More robust network capabilities will allow a better response to potential emergencies that can overwhelm our local 9-1-1 centers. Together, these changes will help save lives.
Technology is not the only aspect that must change. People who answer the calls will need enhanced skills, better benefits, and increased pay. They are the crucial link in the emergency response chain and must make life-and-death decisions quickly. With the more advanced equipment they use, 9-1-1 Specialists are expected to have more education and meet higher standards.
Managing NG911 will require new oversight and coordination. The Commission recommends expanding the role of the Emergency Numbers Systems Board, which coordinates capital investment in 9-1-1 across the state, into setting standards and helping with ongoing needs.
All of these will require a significant investment in both equipment and people. Currently, our counties receive funding for, on average, just 39% of their expenses from the $1 fee collected. Maryland is the only state in the region that has not changed how the 9-1-1 fee is levied to reflect a modern telecommunications system. The report recognizes the critical funding shortfall and advises adjustments to the funding model.
The Commission appointees represented different perspectives. They included 9-1-1 experts from local and State government, private industry, and a bipartisan group of legislators. Despite the wide variety of backgrounds, consensus was reached as to how to move forward with NG911.
This is the first of two reports from the Commission. The recommendations from this report will be incorporated into legislation for consideration by the General Assembly in the 2019 session. The next Commission document, due December 1, 2019, will examine remaining governance issues.