ELKO – Nevada has already missed out on $41 million in 911 grants and will miss out on the upcoming $115 million offered by the federal government because the state doesn’t have a 911 coordinator.
And if the Legislature passes Senate Bill 176, Nevada may never be eligible for a dime of these or future federal 911 funds.
In September 2009, the 911 Enhanced Grant Program awarded about $41 million to 30 states and territories to help agencies upgrade their systems. The grants were authorized under a congressional act from 2004. The E911 Grant Program was funded from the proceeds of an analog spectrum auction conducted by the Federal Communications Commission.
Congress reauthorized this grant program in 2012, and it has more than $100 million available for 911 systems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Telecommunications and Information Administration are in the process of drafting the grant regulations. States will be able to apply for these funds in the fall of this year. Grants will be awarded in 2018.
However, once again Nevada won’t be eligible to apply for funding because it doesn’t have a statewide 911 coordinator.
Elko County has an antiquated 911 system, but it is in the process of trying to upgrade it. Businesses and individuals in the community already raised more than $200,000 to improve the system. Last fall, commissioners passed a 25-cent surcharge to pay for ongoing costs.
If the county had access to the federal 911 grants it would have a potential for reimbursement of money spent to upgrade the system. The federal funds can pay for administrative and training costs, and consultant fees, but the largest portion goes toward capital improvements for hardware and software upgrades.
Bill Hance, who is a member of the Elko Central Dispatch Administrative Authority and Elko County Enhanced 911 boards, said the dispatches will need capital improvements because they don’t have “the trunking functionality to take in the enhanced (911) right now.”
“Our center, literally, is the same thing that you will get on your telephone at home,” he said. “So if you block your outgoing calls, your caller ID, they (the dispatchers) don’t see it. When you dial 911, it call forwards to a 738-xxxx number and comes in.”
Trying to get Next Generation 911 into Elko County will depend on Frontier or the other telephone companies, Hance said. The telephone and wireless companies also must have the equipment to handle Next Gen, which uses internet protocols.
To qualify for federal funding, a state or territory is “required to apply on behalf of all eligible entities within its jurisdiction and submit a plan detailing timetables and proposed projects and activities for the implementation and operation of either Phase II E911 services or migration to an IP-based network infrastructure,” according to the Enhanced 911 Grant Program report. The second round of grants, which states can apply for this fall, will most likely have the same requirement.
Nevada still lacks a statewide 911 coordinator despite a June 2016 report that recommended hiring one. The report, produced by the Nevada Public Safety Communications Committee, stated a coordinator is needed.
It stated counties “are unable to support significant changes in the delivery of Enhanced and NG911.” The state is ineligible to receive federal funding and some systems are “manufactured discontinued.” Current 911 systems are at risk of being incompatible with new technology and there is no state support during an outage or process to track outages.
Nevada Department of Public Safety Director Jim Wright said he would be willing to have a statewide 911 coordinator, but he doesn’t have the means to put it in his budget.
The 911 committee was appointed by the governor and he didn’t feel it was the group’s place to sponsor a fee increase to pay for the coordinator.
“Knowing that we were heading into a legislative session, my recommendation to them was to go forth and try to get a legislator to bring a bill forward to deal with this,” Wright said.
He couldn’t put a coordinator in his budget because it had “already been closed out.”
“I said we would be more than happy to provide that position, but I needed funding for it,” Wright said.
Hance said a 911 coordinator doesn’t benefit the state government because the state doesn’t handle emergency calls.
“If you look at the 911 function in Nevada, it all goes to the PSAPs at the county level or the city level or like ours where it’s multi-jurisdictional,” he said. “California does it quite differently. The landline 911 goes to the jurisdiction. The cellphone 911 goes to the California Highway Patrol and then gets rerouted.”
Since more 911 calls come in through cellphones today, this system may have changed some, Hance said.
“The biggest problem that we had, is Elko County as a whole, we pushed it off for too many years,” he said. “We should have been pushing for improvements in 1995. We’ve never helped ourselves, but the state also held us back by not being able to do the surcharge in the rural counties, up until 2012.”
Before 2012, only counties with more than 100,000 in population could put a surcharge on phone bills. All the other counties had to create an ordinance and it would be a tax rather than a surcharge.
The Legislature is contemplating changing the 911 surcharge again this year. SB 176 would require all officers who routinely interact with the public to wear a body camera and the state would require recordings be retained a minimum of 15 days. To pay for the cameras, the state would allow counties to raise the 911 surcharge to $1.
If passed, this bill could keep Nevada ineligible for funds even if it has a statewide 911 coordinator. National Emergency Number Association CEO Brian Fontes wrote a letter to state Sen. David Parks to warn him of the possibility.
Arizona was awarded about $627,000 in federal grants to improve its 911 system, but when its state government passed legislation to transfer 911 surcharge funds to the Arizona General Fund, it became ineligible and had to pay back the funds it was given.
Fontes told the Free Press he is not against body cameras, but legislation that would allow counties to use 911 funds for non-911 purposes “raises all sorts of red flags.”
“Communities across the country, Nevada included, need to upgrade their equipment to at least E911, or Next Gen 911 would be the preferable upgrade,” he said. “So do you take money away at a time when the upgrades need to be made; seems to be extraordinarily unfortunate. It can harm the public and certainly straps 911 systems to antiquated technology.”
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Amy Klobuchar are working on draft legislation for the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2017. If it gets through Congress, even more money will be made available to states to improve their 911 systems.
Fontes congratulated Elko County officials and residents for making an effort to upgrade the 911 system.
“I appreciate it and particularly where they are actually willing to put money toward that effort,” he said. “They should be congratulated. Ultimately it’s going to better serve the public that resides within Elko County and the large population that drives through Elko County.”