Monday, October 13, 2008

Emergency Response Funding

Grants for $63 million were awarded under FEMA’s new Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) and the Interoperable Emergency Communications Grant Programs. To date, the Department of Homeland Security has spent $3.9 billion in grants to improve interoperable communications.

The EOC Grant Program received twenty two grants totaling $14.6 million with two counties in Illinois receiving federal grants totaling more than $1.14 million. The county funds will be used to construct an emergency operations center and to renovate another operations center.

The IECGP awards for $48.5 million will improve interoperable emergency communications to better respond to natural disasters, acts of terrorism and other man-made disasters. IECGP funding will help the states and territories implement their Statewide Communications Interoperability Plans and meet the priorities outlined in the National Emergency Communications Plan.

The state of Missouri received $642,205 from the IECGP program to develop five interoperable communications planning projects. Over $450,000 will be used for interoperable communications planning and training.

Two of the approved projects in Missouri include developing training materials for first responders and telecommunications on the regional communications system and developing a plan for existing VHF user equipment to be reprogrammed to the new Regional Area-Wide Multi-Band Interoperable Communication System.

So far, the Department of Public Safety in Missouri has created the state’s first information analysis center, drafted an interoperability communication plan, implemented a new distribution formula for local governments to receive homeland security grant funding, and put regional homeland security committees across the state in place to encourage input from stakeholders.

The state of California is working to streamline the state’s emergency response capabilities. The Governor recently signed legislation to combine the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security into a new cabinet-level California Emergency Management Agency to be called Cal EMA. This reorganization will help to coordinate emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and homeland security activities in the state.

The Federal government is addressing current problems in the 911 system. The limitations on the current 911 system stem from the 1970’s circuit-switched network technology in use. Today there are 255 million wireless telephones in the U.S. About 80 percent of Americans now subscribe to wireless telephone service and 14 percent of American adults live in households with only wireless telephones. Of the estimated 240 million 911 calls made each year, almost one-third originate from wireless telephones.

Unlike landline 911 calls, not all wireless 911 calls are delivered to dispatchers with ANI and Automatic Location Information. Without this information, identifying the telephone number and geographic location of the caller is difficult. Therefore the emergency system needs to have some system modifications and needs a new more capable system based upon a digital Internet-Protocol (IP) based infrastructure.

Upgrading the 911 system to an IP-enabled emergency network will allow E-911 calls to be made from more networked communication devices, enable the transmission of text messages, photographs, data sets and video, and enable geographically independent call access, transfer, and backup.

Recently, the DOT, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Department of Commerce (NTIA), published a joint notice in the Federal Register proposing regulations for the E-911 Grant Program. The New and Emergency Technologies 911 Improvement Act of 2008 amends the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004 to permit grant funds to be used for migration to an IP-enabled emergency network.