NENA’s Response to President Clinton

National EmergencyNumber Association

FAX Memo

To: NENA Members

From: John Ellison, President

Date: July 31, 1996

Subject: NENA’s Response to President Clinton

“We need a new national community policing number that’s just assimple and easy to remember as 9-1-1 . . . ” “. . . the 9-1-1emergency number system today is completely overburdened.” These arepartial quotes from President Clinton’s remarks, made in Sacramento onJuly 23, 1996.

I am sure the remarks made during this press conference concerned youas much as they did me. The NENA Executive Board has been working to determineexactly what is planned in response to the President’s order, and preparingNENA’s position. NENA’s Washington Counsel, Jim Hobson, researched thematter and assisted in preparing a letter to be sent to the President aswell as Janet Reno, Attorney General, and Reed Hundt, Chairman of the FCC.While this letter is too long to send to you by fax, the following pointsare made in the letter and form the basis of NENA’s position.

* The nation’s 9-1-1 system is not overloaded. While some jurisdictionsmay have severe problems, the problem is not national in scope.

* Public education on the proper use of 9-1-1 is the way to resolvethe problem of abuse and improper calls. NENA will offer to develop andimplement a public education program to assist the President in his callfor “keeping the 9-1-1 lines clear for true emergencies” if fundingis provided.

* NENA feels very strongly that creating a N-1-1 number would be illadvised. The expense of the network and equipment alone would be prohibitive,and few jurisdictions can afford to hire new call-takers to answer theselines. We also fear confusion among citizens as to which number to call.

* NENA believes that local non-emergency numbers already in place arehandling the needs of the large majority of agencies. Improper 9-1-1 callscan be transferred to these local numbers now, freeing the 9-1-1 linesfor true emergencies.

* While NENA has reservations about the practicality of plans to selectivelyroute 7-digit or 800 numbers, we feel it is ultimately a local issue. (AT&Thas announced a program using 800-379-COPS, and telephone companies arebeginning to market a 7-digit number that can be selectively routed.)

NENA has made contacts within the Office of Community Oriented PolicingServices to become involved in the discussions concerning this issue. NENAis working to keep “One Nation – One Number” alive and well.We encourage you to remain watchful, and join NENA in opposing new N-1-1numbers for emergency or non-emergency calls.

The Letter

August 2, 1996

William J. Clinton

The President of the United States

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Clinton:

As President of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), Iam writing to thank you for the determination you expressed last week tomaintain 9-1-1 as the principal means to telephone for emergency police,fire or medical assistance. We stand ready to work with the Departmentof Justice, the FCC, the telecommunications industry and law enforcementprofessionals in “keeping 911 lines clear for true emergencies.”(White House Statement, July 23, 1996)

Based on NENA’s 15 years of experience in emergency communications,and the nearly three decades of history of 9-1-1 calling, we respectfullysuggest that there is no pat technical solution and no single nationalanswer to the problem of distinguishing and separately routing and respondingto emergency and non-emergency calls. Separately non-emergency calls willnot change the overall level of calls that still must be answered by someone.Fundamentally, the cost-effective use of the 9-1-1 network depends on widespreadpublic education and intensive training of emergency call-takers.

The single emergency number concept was inspired nationally but implementedlocally, according to the varying needs and resources of state, countyand municipal public safety administrations. Similarly, any plan for addressingperceived 9-1-1 problems caused by non-emergency use should take into accountthese local variations. For example, it is simply not accurate to declaregenerally, in the words of the July 23rd statement, that “all acrossthe country, usage of 911 systems has grown dramatically, far outstrippingthe capacity of 911 operators to answer the calls.”

To the contrary, 9-1-1 networks in most of the United States are notoverloaded. While many of the calls taken by emergency operators are classifiableas non-emergencies, these operators typically are well trained to end suchcalls quickly and courteously by referring the caller to other sourcesof assistance. Indeed, it is the very existence of well-identified, conventional7-digit non-emergency numbers that allows misplaced non-emergency callsto 9-1-1 to be re-routed speedily and effectively.

The 9-1-1 “horror stories” that garner media attention fromtime to time tend to emanate from congested urban areas where network capacity,consumer education and call-taker training may seriously need improvement.Accounts of system overloads also arise episodically from mass use of cellularphones by “good Samaritans” to report traffic accidents.

In the first of these cases, urban congestion, the solutions for largemetropolises such as Los Angeles and Atlanta may not be optimal for Norfolk,Virginia or Arapahoe County, Colorado. Each of these areas was cited inthe July 23rd statement for their large percentages of non-emergency callsmade to 9-1-1 numbers. In our experience, public safety officers with consistentcall overloads usually need more call-takers. The operative question, webelieve, should be how well the calls were handled. If Arapahoe County9-1-1 call-takers are able to receive so many non-emergency calls and stillrespond effectively to emergencies, the situation there is not one of nationalcrisis.

In the second case, episodic mass calling from cellular phones, theFCC issued July 26th a set of “wireless compatibility” regulationsfor 9-1-1 calling which, over the next 18 months to five years, will goa long way toward relieving this problem — through automatic identificationof the mobile caller’s telephone number and location — and are likelyto inspire additional non-regulatory solutions. While the cellular masscalling phenomenon remains a present aggravation for callers and responders,it is not unlike the multiple consumer reporting of power outages whichutility companies are learning how to deal with.

Finally, Mr. President, you were quoted as urging a national policenon-emergency number “as easy to use and remember as 911.” Nothingin your remarks suggests that such a national number be three-digit “abbreviateddialing.” NENA generally has opposed the assignment of abbreviated-dialingnumbers for non-emergency purposes, for at least three reasons: (1) Ifthe call is not an emergency, conventional dialing will suffice; (2) thecompeting use of three-digit numbers is bound to dilute the public abilityto remember and use 9-1-1; and (3) abbreviated dialing systems are quiteexpensive, as testified to by the billions of dollars already investedin the “wireline” 9-1-1 network and the large sums that willbe required to achieve “wireless compatibility.” In short, abbreviateddialing is not cost-effective if local 7-digit numbers or 800 numbers willdo the job.

Local police 7-digit non-emergency numbers already are in use. Otherscan be readily obtained where needed, including easy-to-remember combinationsof digits. If local police departments wish to pay for an 800-number servicesuch as the “379-COPS” access announced by AT&T, they shouldbe free to do so. But we strongly doubt that a national abbreviated-dialingsystem of non-emergency access to community policing services is desirableor necessary.

As a not-for-profit organization of 5,000 public safety and communicationsprofessionals, NENA remains committed to its singular mission of fosteringthe availability, implementation and technological advancement of a universalemergency telephone number system through education, training, planningand research. Again, we applaud your concern for “keeping 911 linesclear for true emergencies,” and look forward to working with theJustice Department and others to consider alternative means of handlingpolice non-emergency calls.


John Ellison

President, NENA,

and Executive Director,

Shelby County, Alabama 9-1-1

cc: Janet Reno, Attorney General of the United States & Reed Hundt,Chairman, Federal Communications Commission