WASHINGTON (CN) - Following multiple reported 911 outages last year, the Federal Communications Commission proposed a rule to strengthen accountability for emergency services.
In April 2014, a software problem in a 911 call routing center in Colorado caused disruption in emergency services in seven states for up to six hours.
Later that year, the entire state of Vermont lost 911 services for 40 minutes. The FCC says "a growing number of disruptions" of 911 calls have been caused by software, database failures, and problems caused by transitions to IP-based networks.
"While innovative technologies have the potential to improve many aspects of 911 service and enhance the ability of first responders to do their jobs more effectively, these recent outages have revealed that technology changes may also introduce new vulnerabilities," the commission wrote.
"Failure to take appropriate action risks undermining the reliability and resiliency of current 911 services and endangering the transition to [next generation] technologies that offer even greater public safety benefits. The American public must have confidence that 911 will work every time help is needed. Any failure to meet this expectation puts individual lives at stake and erodes vital public trust in our nation's emergency services."
The commission's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau published a report in October, and based on it, the FCC issued a proposed rule to ensure that 911 service continues to be reliable as technology changes.
The commission proposed expanding the definition of "covered 911 service providers" to include call routing, text-to-911 providers and automatic number identification providers, among others.
911 service providers would also be required to "take reasonable measures" to ensure that the services are reliable as they related to backup power, diverse network monitoring, and circuit diversity.
Service providers would be required to notify the FCC and the public when they make major changes to the network architecture of the scope of their 911 services.
The commission seeks comments on a variety of aspects related to the proposed changes. Among others, the commission wants to know what steps it should take to coordinate with state and local authorities.
"By initiating this rulemaking, we do not intend to impose 'one-size-fits-all' mandates on the nation's 911 infrastructure when different states and communities need flexibility to respond to each situation in the way that best suits their particular circumstances," the commission wrote.
"Rather, we seek to ensure that the commission remains equipped...with the proper regulatory tools to enforce continued and clear lines of accountability for reliable 911 call completion, including as the nation transitions to an IP-based [next generation] architecture."
Comments on the proposal are due by March 9.
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