Access to 9-1-1, whether by landline or wireless phone, is not universal. John Chiaramonte suggested there are a number of technological solutions that exist today, and others that are in development, that could improve EMS response to rural MCIs. Examples include but are not limited to satellite phones with GPS and portable locator beacons using satellite technology. Today, around 90 percent of the U.S. population carries a cell phone. For areas that do have wireless service, phase II wireless and mobile phones with GPS chips can provide the geographic location of the caller better than systems basing location information on the cell tower that picked up the call. To ensure technological compatibility, it was noted that phase II enhanced 9-1-1 needs to be universal across the more than 6,000 PSAPs and 9-1-1 centers across the United States.
Several participants pointed out that the ability to share communications infrastructure between private and public entities needs to be considered, as well as the use of devices that can locate and operate across cellular, Wi-Fi, and satellite networks, depending on what is available at the time of need. Technological advancements, like Next Generation 9-1-1, have the potential to bring multiple resources together across large areas, provide backup and overflow capabilities for PSAPs, and support 9-1-1 access for deaf, hearing impaired, and special needs individuals. Next Generation 9-1-1 will also have the ability to share images and video. Yet participants observed the need for rural communities to strike a balance between investing in such Next Generation 9-1-1 technology, and improving the use of traditional land mobile radio systems. One participant suggested that this can be accomplished by focusing on interoperability, national standards coordination, and by effectively integrating broadband to be able to bring technological advances to the field.
Beyond technology and hardware, Spears-Dean held that the human component of communications requires both collaboration and cooperation among public and private stakeholders. As the link to police, fire, EMS, and emergency management, the 9-1-1 system is the first “first responder” on the scene. The local 9-1-1 authority or PSAP representatives should therefore be included in planning and exercises. In addition, public expectation can similarly be managed through education and participation in demonstrations and exercises. Workshop chair Robert Bass reiterated that EMS and 9-1-1 should be considered an essential government service, and funded and supported accordingly.