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Senate Panel Moves on 911 Upgrades

Responding to requests from emergency responder groups, the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday approved two bills to expedite funding for 911 systems and to pre-position communications equipment for disasters.

The 911 Modernization Act (S. 93) would make $43.5 million immediately available for the upgrading of 911 systems throughout the country. The Interoperable Emergency Communications Act (S. 385) authorizes $100 million to strategically warehouse communications equipment in states or regional facilities that can be activated in the event of a major emergency or natural disaster.

The funding has already been approved in previous legislation that allocates the money from the auction of analog spectrum being vacated by television broadcasters. The two bills would allow for immediate funding before the auction currently scheduled for later this year.

Both bills now go to the full Senate for a vote. The House has yet to introduce companion legislation.

"Public safety call centers and first responders need this critical funding to keep up with technology in the rapidly evolving telecommunications marketplace," Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who co-sponsored the 911 Modernization Act, said in a statement. "This is an important step toward ensuring that all callers to 911 will be answered and located, regardless of whether they make a 911 call from a land line, cell phone or Internet-based service."

The Interoperable Emergency Communications Act reinforces the Sept. 30, 2007, deadline set by Congress for distribution of $1 billion of interoperable communications grants. The $100 million authorized Tuesday would be replaced after the auction of the television spectrum.

"The strategic technology reserve provisions in this bill will assist emergency response agencies in pre-positioning communications equipment around the country?so that these reserves can quickly be activated in the event of a major emergency or natural disaster," bill sponsor Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alas.) said in a statement.

The National Emergency Number Association and the Association for Public-Safety Communications Officials-International were two of the primary forces behind the legislation. According to the groups, half of the nation's counties do have enhanced 911 capabilities to identify the number of the caller or the geographic location of the caller.

"This bill will accelerate the pace of 911 upgrades which are desperately needed throughout the country, especially in rural America," Stevens said.