Though we have concerns about the sufficiency and reliability of the funding, provided for in the bill, the League of Municipalities supports A-1821. This bill will require 9-1-1 service facilities to be equipped with systems, approved by the Office of Emergency Telecommunications Services (OETS), for the processing of requests for emergency services sent via text message, within three years following enactment of the bill.

Text message technology may be the only safe way for some victims to communicate their danger to emergency dispatch. For a child hiding under a bed or in a closet, for a victim of human trafficking, or for a hearing-disabled individual witnessing a crime, fire or accident, text messaging can be a life-saver.

The bill temporarily increases the 9-1-1 System and Emergency Response Fee by 10 percent, and requires that it only be used to fund the 9-1-1 service facilities with the enhanced Next Generation 9-1-1 systems. Currently, the 9-1-1 System and Emergency Response Fee, which is used to fund the 9-1-1 system, is a $0.90 monthly fee imposed on mobile service customers and telephone company customers in this State.  The bill increases the monthly fee to $0.99.

When the need arises, the people of New Jersey have a right to expect efficient emergency response, which is only possible when citizens, dispatchers and responders have access to effective communications options. Based on a recommendation of the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration, in 1968 9-1-1 became the national emergency number for the United States. Further technological progress led to the development of Enhanced 9-1-1 (E911) services, which allowed emergency response to identify the source location of a call for assistance.

In response to the rapid pace of change in communications technology and to the public’s embrace of the new technology, in 2000 the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) identified a need for Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), which would allow the public to transmit text, images, video and data to a PSAP, and which could accommodate additional types of emergency communications and data transfer. In order to finance the installation of new NG9-1-1 infrastructure over time and the training of PSAP operators, while properly maintaining current services in the interim, the Governor and the Legislature, in 2004 agreed to create the “911 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund” (the Trust Fund), to be funded by a 90 cent, per month, fee on every land line and cell phone service.

During the next few years, the Trust Fund provided over $118 million, with over $42 million of that dedicated to NG9-1-1 upgrades, and with more millions of dollars distributed, as grants, to municipal and county PSAPs, which handle the vast majority of 911 calls. But, beginning in 2009 and continuing since, State budget makers have diverted monies from the Trust Fund to finance other priorities, shortchanging callers who rely on, and local units which operate, the system.

When it comes to emergency response, saving time is saving lives, and that can best be accomplished by a rededication of Trust Fund dollars to the purpose for which they were intended.

In addition to our support for this bill, we will call on State budget makers, as they consider the Governor’s proposed budget for the State’s next Fiscal Year, to end the diversion of the resources collected for the 911 System and Emergency Response Trust Fund and to rededicate our State to providing our citizens with the State of the Art emergency communications system that they were promised and that they have been paying for since 2004.

Contact:   Jon Moran, Senior Legislative Analyst, jmoran@njslom.org, 609-695-3481 x121.