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Next Generation 911: How do we pay for it?

Posted at 6:45 PM, Nov 02, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 23:33:10-04

Nearly 80 percent of 911 calls come from cell phones, but 911 dispatchers don’t always know the location of the caller.

The current 911 system in Nebraska is outdated — the technology used is from the 1990s — very concerning a world where everyone relies on their smartphone.

Nebraska is currently in the process of updating to Next Generation 911, a multimillion-dollar investment to improve public safety.

Next Generation 911 in Nebraska: 3 News Now continuing coverage

“That is a primary reason for going to Next Generation 911, is improved caller location and accuracy,” said David Sankey, Nebraska 911 director.

Next Gen, a complete overhaul of the current legacy 911 system, will take the old copper-wire system and upgrade it to an internet-based system. The Nebraska Public Service Commission is putting together a Next Gen draft, laying out how Nebraska will transition to the new system.  

The master plan predicts Next Gen will cost $6-8 million, and will include updating all the Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPS — 911 centers — upgrading their equipment and improving their mapping systems.

“You need the ability to call 911 wherever you are at,” Sankey said.

Sankey said they want to avoid using general fund dollars for the Next Gen upgrade, instead they want to use money from the 911 surcharge on cell phone bills. Currently, Douglas County pays 45 cents on bills; the plan suggests possibly increasing that charge to $1.25, and making it uniform statewide.

“When you need help, when you are in a crisis situation, and when you need to dial 911, you don't care about 40-50 cents,” one Omaha woman said.

“If it is going to help police get there quicker to help people, yes, I would pay extra money,” Lavonda Shelly said.

“It is a lot to pay," Bill Kelly said. "But on the other hand it is a much more workable system, and yes, I think it is worth doing."

The upgrades could also offer opportunities to find efficiencies.

“911 equipment is very expensive,” said Shelly Holzerland, Dodge County 911 director of communications, who has been working on the Next Gen master plan. But in order to implement it, she said, the state would have to regionalize 911 centers.

“It does not mean that anyone is taking over anyone else's dispatch," she said. "The control will still remain local.” 

Still, regionalization would save money. The system would have PSAPS in specific regions, with each answering location sharing data centers and backup systems. Those regions would also be connected on the state’s ESINet.

Dodge County is in the process of figuring out “who can we partner with, who can we share with so we can reduce the cost for everyone,” Holzerland said.

Sankey, too, sees the benefits of cooperation.

“So, they would all share the same equipment, share the same resources, and bring the cost down and make it more efficient to operate,” Sankey said.

The transition to Next Generation 911 will not happen with one flip of a switch. It will take several years to update each PSAP and get everyone connected.

“It is time to transition to the new technology that is available,” Sankey said.

The PSC is expected to give their seal of approval to the Next Generation 911 Master Plan by the end of November. The new session will be key to getting the major upgrade up and running.