Telecommunicator Classification, NG 9-1-1 Funding Remain Top Priorities for NENA
Friday, June 19, 2020 | Comments

The federal classification for telecommunicators and securing funding for next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1), as well as the next revision of its i3 NG 9-1-1 standard, all remain key priorities for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), said NENA President Brian Fontes.

Fontes’ comments came during a keynote interview during Mission Critical Partners’ virtual Conference for Advancing Public Safety (CAPS) June 17.

9-1-1 telecommunicators are classified as clerical positions in the federal government’s Standard Occupation Classification (SOC) System. NENA and other public-safety organizations have been fighting for several years to have telecommunicators classified similar to other public-safety workers.

There is legislation with bipartisan support in both houses of Congress that would reclassify telecommunicators, but neither of those bills has passed out of conference. “In the interim, states, localities and counties have stepped up to the plate and started to enact laws or regulations or other types of legal standing to enable 9-1-1 professionals to be classified as public-safety personnel,” Fontes said.

However, federal action is necessary because not all local governments will address the issue, and the classification should be uniform across the country, Fontes said.

The current session of Congress is nearing its end, and a new session will start next year, meaning there is limited time for passage of the introduced legislation. One of the biggest hurdles for the legislation has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has consumed a large portion of Congress’ time as it works to minimize the spread of the virus and stimulate the economy.

“Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a lot of initiatives in both houses, and I’m certainly not questioning that, but legislation is needed,” Fontes said. “We need to make sure that something that is basically unopposed in both chambers and both parties makes it across the line by the time this session ends.”

Fontes also noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has been interesting in how it has highlighted the importance of 9-1-1 telecommunicators in the public-safety response chain. For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has classified telecommunicators as essential to the response effort during the crisis.

“It’s interesting that you would have one department in the federal government in the executive branch recognizing the essential nature of 9-1-1 professionals, whereas you have the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, another executive branch agency, that insists we are still clerical based on an assumption made years ago,” he said.

Additionally, Fontes said that because 9-1-1 telecommunicators are the first link in the response chain, it is important that they receive the same access to COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) as other first responders. While many telecommunicators have access to those things, there have been instances across the nation where they weren’t available.

Another key priority for NENA is ensuring there is adequate funding for a nationwide deployment of NG 9-1-1.

Similar to the telecommunicator effort, legislation providing NG 9-1-1 funding was introduced in both houses, but those bills have also been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the telecommunicator bill, which has little financial impact, funding for NG 9-1-1 will likely cost somewhere between $9 billion and $12 billion. Finding that money may be difficult as Congress has had to spend trillions of dollars on its COVID-19 response, Fontes said.

However, it is critical that the country finds a way to fund NG 9-1-1 so that the entire nation has access to a comparable level of 9-1-1 service, Fontes said.

He noted that there have been disagreements about certain issues between different organizations in the public-safety community, but said that it is important that public safety comes together to ensure it receives the funding needed for NG 9-1-1.

“My interest in this legislation is simply ensuring that money is available to move next-generation 9-1-1 forward because those next-generation 9-1-1 systems will result in better service to the American public and that is who we serve,” Fontes said. “… We live in a data-driven environment; it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure that out. To weaken, to harm or to set back into the last century that 9-1-1 link in the chain of public safety because of lack of funding to ensure next-generation 9-1-1 is deployed nationwide is extremely unfortunate.”

Fontes noted the legislation that created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to lead the creation of a nationwide public-safety broadband network took several sessions of Congress to pass and was only passed at the closing hours of a particular session.

“Is the glass half full or half empty?” Fontes said. “I’m an optimist. I think this is an opportunity for Congress to stand up and ensure our country has the most capable 9-1-1 service to serve the American public.”

NENA’s final priority is the third revision of its Functional and Interface Standards for NG91-1 (i3) standard. The organization requested comments and concerns on that revision, addressed those comments and will soon release another version for public feedback. Once NENA receives that feedback and addresses it, the new revision will go to the NENA board for review, Fontes said.

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Comments
On 6/24/20, Timothy H Whitcomb said:
I do not believe the effort to reclassify 9-1-1 operators, call-takers, dispatchers, whatever you choose to call them has received the level of support, pressure and effort it deserves. In my 30 years in this profession, I have seen many first responders who have come in ready to jump to the front line and leave broken or even take their own lives due to the reality of this job... They deserve better. They deserve recognition and proper placement amongst public-safety professionals. This issue has been going on as long as I have been doing this job and likely longer. It is time... Move this to the top priority once and for all... it has been lip service for far too long.


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