A bipartisan bill from Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Richard Hudson, R-N.C., is aiming to accelerate Federal efforts to modernize the country’s rapidly aging 9-1-1 systems.

“Communications have changed dramatically since the first 9-1-1 call was placed over fifty years ago, but emergency call centers have not kept pace with these innovations,” Rep. Eshoo said.

“Over 85 percent of Americans now own a smartphone, and our 9-1-1 call centers aren’t equipped with the most up-to-date technology to respond to text messages or images from smartphones,” she said. “Our bill provides much needed funding for states and local communities to bring their 9-1-1 infrastructure into the 21st Century, helping first responders and public safety officials save lives.”

The bill – the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2023 – authorizes $15 billion in Federal funding to help state and local governments deploy Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) systems across the country.

The bill’s cosponsors said the upgrades are “urgently needed” to help move the country’s legacy 9-1-1 call centers into the digital age, enabling them to handle text messages, pictures, videos, and other information sent by smartphones, tablets, and other devices in an emergency.

“Modernizing our 9-1-1 infrastructure will make you safer and help first responders on the front lines,” said Rep. Hudson. “Next Generation 9-1-1 will begin saving lives in our communities the moment it is deployed, which is why I am proud to lead this bipartisan legislation.”

The legislation has already received praise from industry leaders.

“With more and more Americans using smartphones as their primary phones, it’s time for our 9-1-1 call centers to adapt and be able to respond to incoming text messages, images, or videos,” said Rosa Ramos, president, California Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association. “We thank Reps. Eshoo and Hudson for introducing the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2023 to ensure states and local communities have the funding to help first responders and bring their emergency communications infrastructure into the 21st century.”

National Emergency Number Association CEO Brian Fontes said in a press release, “Every second counts in an emergency. But as more people rely on mobile phones and internet-based communications, our aging, voice-centric 9-1-1 infrastructure is struggling to keep up. NG9-1-1 is critical to providing faster, smarter, and more effective emergency response. This legislation would be a vital step in ensuring that all states and communities have access to the benefits of NG9-1-1, regardless of zip code.

Both the House and Senate have introduced versions of this bill in previous Congresses. However, the bill does not currently appear to have companion legislation in the Senate.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs