CSAC Bulletin Article

Legislature Takes First Step to Upgrade State’s 911 System

June 20, 2019

California’s 2017 wildfire season was devastating. State of emergencies were declared by the Governor for the record-breaking fires in October and December for 13 counties in both Southern and Northern California. Then, while California was still recovering, it was struck with the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in our state’s history: the 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County killed 85 people, burned 153,336 acres and destroyed 18,804 structures.

In an emergency like these devastating fires, nothing is more critical than for residents to be able to quickly connect with public safety for assistance. Yet in California, residents are still counting on an antiquated 911 system prone to outages during disaster that is financially supported by an archaic funding formula.  

This week the Legislature took to first step to update the 911 system and passed Senate Bill 96 (Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review), which will provide the funding necessary to transition the existing 911 system to a Next Generation 911 infrastructure. The bill is now awaiting the Governor’s signature.

In 2017, more than 28 million calls were placed to 911; this equates to 77,000 calls per day. The overburdened current system has an average of 15 network outages a month equaling 255 hours a month that 911 is out of service. It’s clear that the current system is long overdue for a significant upgrade. Unfortunately, there has been a lack of funding to do these upgrades.

The new fee structure passed by the Legislature this week provides the funding necessary to make these upgrades by implementing an equitable cost share across all users who can access 911. This updated, flat-rate fee structure will allow California to sustain the existing 911 system while building-out Next Generation 911. This new system will utilize digital rather than analog, offering additional paths for calls to reach 911 operators if cables are damaged by a natural disaster.

Modernizing California’s outdated 911 funding formula is crucial to protecting our emergency call system while providing for the future Next Generation 911.

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