APCO’s Advocacy Priorities for 2024

By APCO’s Government Relations Office.

Today, February 16, is the 56th anniversary of the first 9-1-1 call. Much has changed in the past 56 years, particularly with regard to training, technology, and the nature of the work performed by 9-1-1 professionals. What has remained constant is the dedication, professionalism, and perseverance of the 9-1-1 community and APCO’s commitment to ensuring 9-1-1 professionals have the tools and resources they need. APCO’s legislative and regulatory priorities reflect this devotion to its members and are aimed at advancing the industry and empowering 9-1-1 to save more lives.

We’re guided by three principles: 

  1. Ensure that 9-1-1 professionals have support for their well-being and recognition for their lifesaving work.
  2. 9-1-1 professionals deserve the best tools and information available to carry out their missions without being saddled with costs and responsibilities that better rest with the industry.
  3. Protect public safety spectrum users from harmful interference.

This year, we can report a win on routing for wireless 9-1-1 calls, which was one of the regulatory goals described in our 2023 blog. In January 2024, at APCO’s urging, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules requiring wireless carriers to implement location-based routing nationwide, meaning that 9-1-1 calls will be much more likely to reach the right emergency communications center (ECC) without needing to be transferred.

That’s worth celebrating, but of course there’s much more work to do. Here, we’ll describe a variety of legislative and regulatory issues. For those of you who expect to do your own advocacy in D.C., here are one-pagers with talking points on our top legislative priorities:

Click each topic below to learn about recent developments and where things stand. 


1. Reclassification of Public Safety Telecommunicators

Public safety telecommunicators protect and save lives every day, yet they rarely receive the recognition they deserve due to the behind the scenes nature of their work. The federal government currently classifies public safety telecommunicators as an administrative/clerical occupation. This is inaccurate and a disservice to their lifesaving work. Instead, public safety telecommunicators should be categorized among other occupations in the “protective service” category.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) maintains a vast catalog of occupations called the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), which is supposed to classify occupations according to the nature of the work performed. The “Protective Service” category includes law enforcement personnel, firefighters, playground monitors, parking enforcement workers, and several other occupations. 9-1-1 professionals coach callers through CPR, assist in the delivery of babies, and perform a variety of other lifesaving tasks. It’s inarguably protective work, and they belong in this category.

OMB can correct the classification at any time. This would come at no cost and promote good governance by ensuring the SOC is accurate and aligns with other federal data collection efforts. APCO has explained this in formal comments to OMB, and even provided rebuttals to OMB’s arguments against correcting the classifications, but so far OMB has been intent on maintaining the status quo.

Congress can direct OMB to fix the SOC through legislation. The 9-1-1 SAVES Act would do just that. APCO worked closely with congressional staff in the House and Senate to craft and introduce the 9-1-1 SAVES Act in 2019 and 2021. During the 2019 and 2021 sessions of Congress, the bills received strong bipartisan support and the language from the 9-1-1 SAVES Act was included in a larger piece of legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Unfortunately, each time, the House and Senate ultimately moved forward with a version of the NDAA that did not include the reclassification provision.

You can read more about APCO’s past efforts on reclassification here.

What needs to be done?

In 2023, the 9-1-1 SAVES Act (H.R. 6319) was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives Norma Torres (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). The bill has more than 100 bipartisan co-sponsors at the time of this writing. Following introduction in the House, APCO launched a grassroots advocacy campaign encouraging APCO members to Take Action and contact their representatives to support the 9-1-1 SAVES Act.

In December 2023, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and John Thune (R-SD) introduced reclassification language as part of a larger public safety communications bill, the Enhancing First Response Act (S. 3556). APCO worked closely with the Senators’ offices to develop this legislative package that, in addition to directing OMB to fix the federal classification of 9-1-1 professionals, would improve the outage information shared with ECCs and direct the FCC to evaluate the impacts of Kari’s Law (a 2017 bill that required multi-line telephone systems to support calling 9-1-1 without the need to dial a prefix such as “9” first to get an outside line).

Introduction of the 9-1-1 SAVES Act and the Enhancing First Response Act create alternative strategic paths to achieving reclassification. While not having any direct impact on salaries, benefits, or state-level job classifications, fixing the federal classification is a common-sense, zero-cost change that would recognize the lifesaving work performed by public safety telecommunicators.

APCO will continue to work closely with House and Senate offices to grow support for the bills and vigorously pursue passage. Simultaneously, APCO will continue to push OMB to correct the classification on its own.

2. Wellness for Public Safety Telecommunicators

9-1-1 professionals endure substantial stress in the course of their role in emergency response. This can lead to significant impacts on physical and mental health. Research has shown that 9‑1‑1 professionals face elevated rates of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Based on one study, one in seven 9-1-1 professionals has recently experienced suicidal thoughts.

There has been growing interest in recognizing the need for mental health support for public safety professionals. Some ECCs have begun using quiet rooms, peer support programs, and clinicians. However, federal support can help ECCs build and expand upon these programs and provide additional resources that will benefit the entire 9-1-1 community.

APCO worked closely with Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s (D-IL) office to develop legislation that would provide wellness support for 9-1-1 professionals. The bipartisan PROTECT 9-1-1 Act was first introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021 and reintroduced in 2023 (H.R. 2763). It would create:

  • Best practices to identify, prevent, and treat PTSD in public safety telecommunicators;
  • Guidance for mental health professionals to better treat 9-1-1 professionals; and
  • A grant program for health and wellness programs in ECCs.

What needs to be done?

The PROTECT 9-1-1 Act has been reintroduced in the House and APCO is working closely with Senate offices to introduce a companion bill in the Senate. APCO will continue seeking additional sponsors to grow support and get this legislation passed.

3. Federal Funding for Next Generation 9-1-1

The nation’s 9-1-1 networks are in dire need of modernization. In many ways, 9-1-1 continues to rely on 50+ year-old technology and thus is limited to voice calls and some texting capabilities. We need to achieve Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) throughout the country, in a comprehensive, secure, innovative, cost-effective, and interoperable manner. This would enable ECCs to receive and process voice, text, and multimedia content and share it with other ECCs or with first responders in the field. While some states and jurisdictions are making progress toward NG9-1-1, no area in the country has achieved this comprehensive vision of end-to-end, interoperable NG9-1-1 service.

In the past year, the Public Safety Next Generation 9-1-1 Coalition, a group of national public safety associations, including APCO and representing 9-1-1, law enforcement, fire, and EMS, has continued to advocate for a $15 billion federal grant program to deploy NG9-1-1 nationwide. Key components of the NG9-1-1 legislation include:

  • Modern definitions for terms like NG9-1-1 (ensuring end-to-end capabilities), interoperability (including across jurisdictional boundaries and regardless of technology used), and ECC (emphasizing that 9-1-1 centers are more than just “answering points”).
  • NG9-1-1 deployment plans for each state, developed based on local agency input.
  • Conditions on grant eligibility that require interoperability, ending fee diversion, and establishment of a sustainable funding mechanism for NG9-1-1.
  • Creation of a Public Safety Advisory Board.
  • Funding for an NG9-1-1 Cybersecurity Center.
  • Funding for training public safety telecommunicators.

The legislative language developed by the Coalition has received bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and the Senate and has been included in the Spectrum Auction Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3565), a bill that would direct the revenue from spectrum auctions managed by the FCC to fund NG9-1-1 implementation. In May 2023, this bill passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee with unanimous, bipartisan support.

What needs to be done?

APCO continues to work with its Coalition partners and champions in Congress to pass the NG9-1-1 bill through the Spectrum Auction Reauthorization Act or as part of any legislative vehicle. We are focusing our advocacy on key House and Senate offices to sustain and grow support for the bill language.

4. Network Outage Reporting

When network outages occur impacting the ability of service providers to deliver 9-1-1 calls, ECC personnel need to have immediate notice of the scope, nature, and anticipated duration of the outage in order to take action to protect their communities. There are federal regulations to address notifying ECCs about outages impacting 9-1-1, but, as described below, there are several gaps in these regulatory requirements which results in ECCs rarely receiving timely, actionable information about outages. 

What needs to be done?

APCO continues to pursue rule changes at the FCC to address the current regulatory gaps, but simultaneously has pursued a legislative approach to improve ECCs’ situational awareness during network outages.

APCO worked closely with members of Congress to develop legislation that would ensure the FCC conducts investigations into the current outage reporting rules and to further enhance the outage information available for ECCs. The Enhancing First Response Act (S. 3556) and the Emergency Reporting Act (H.R. 7043) would, among other things, direct the FCC to develop a report on how many 9-1-1 outages may go unreported, issue reports on 9-1-1 outages following major disasters, and conduct field hearings following major disasters.


1. Next Generation 9-1-1

In addition to the legislative activity noted above, in June 2023 the FCC proposed rules to facilitate the transition to NG9-1-1 by requiring service providers to deliver 9-1-1 traffic in IP‑based format.

What needs to be done?

APCO submitted comments focused on ensuring the proposed rules wouldn’t place unnecessary costs or responsibilities on ECCs that would more appropriately rest with the service providers. For example, APCO urged the FCC to require the service providers to achieve interoperability as an initial step towards NG9-1-1. APCO will remain engaged to advocate for rules that facilitate NG9-1-1 deployment.


2. Location Accuracy for Wireless Calls to 9-1-1

9-1-1 professionals require actionable location information for 9-1-1 calls, and obtaining an accurate location is especially challenging for calls made indoors. Ideally, ECCs would know the caller’s “dispatchable location,” meaning the street address, plus (if applicable) the floor level and apartment/suite number.

The FCC has rules in place requiring the wireless carriers to provide dispatchable location when feasible, but ECCs aren’t receiving dispatchable location information and the wireless carriers aren’t being pushed to provide it. At best, an ECC may be receiving a latitude, longitude, and height estimate with height being expressed as “height above ellipsoid” or HAE. While some ECCs are exploring options to visualize 9-1-1 location information on 3D maps or translate HAE into an estimated floor level, the vast majority of ECCs do not see HAE as useful. APCO has challenged the notion promoted by some that the responsibility (and costs) for developing ways to make use of HAE should be shifted from wireless carriers to the public safety community.

What needs to be done?

APCO has advocated for more transparency about the steps wireless carriers have taken to provide dispatchable location information. There are technologies available that wireless carriers can use right now to provide dispatchable location, and APCO has pushed the FCC to require the wireless carriers to do more. APCO will continue to work with the FCC to pursue rule changes that will increase transparency and put the right incentives in place for wireless carriers and other stakeholders to improve 9-1-1 location accuracy.


3. Wireless Emergency Alerts

Public safety entities who are alert originators rely on Wireless Emergency Alerts to quickly disseminate important information about emergencies. In recent years, the FCC has made marginal enhancements to the WEA system, including requirements for WEA in multiple languages, longer message length, and enhanced geotargeting, which specifies the geographic area to receive the alert. However, improvements are still needed to make WEA a more useful tool for public safety agencies.

Since 2019, new devices and devices capable of being upgraded are supposed to be limiting alert delivery to the target area with no more than a 0.1 mile overshoot. (This change was supposed to eliminate the traditional problem of people receiving alerts that were only relevant for communities that were many miles away.) The FCC has conducted tests of WEA performance in coordination with local public safety agencies to measure the reliability, speed, and accuracy of WEA delivery. Results from these tests showed that most WEA messages are being delivered quickly and reliably, but there are issues with delivering the alerts with the accuracy required by the geotargeting rules. 

To improve WEA performance, the FCC has proposed requiring more information from the wireless carriers on the speed, accuracy, and reliability of WEA message delivery, establishing minimum levels of performance for WEA, and requiring wireless carriers to support multimedia content in WEA messages.

What needs to be done?

The FCC should hold the wireless carriers accountable to meeting the geotargeting requirement and act on its proposals for WEA performance, transparency, and support for multimedia content. Multimedia content can help convey information about emergencies more intuitively, and more transparency from the wireless carriers on WEA performance will instill confidence in the WEA system for alert originators and the public.


4. Network Outage Reporting

When network outages occur that impact the public’s ability to reach 9-1-1, 9-1-1 professionals can take important steps to mitigate the impact of the outage. For example, they might publish social media posts directing the public to alternative 10-digit numbers for the ECC or, in extreme cases, increase law enforcement patrols in the impacted areas. But to take these steps, ECCs must know that the outage is happening and obtain actionable information about its scope, duration, and potential impact. Unfortunately, the FCC’s current outage reporting rules often result in ECCs receiving limited or unhelpful information about outages, or not receiving a notification at all.

The FCC has rules in place for when a service provider has to notify an ECC that it may be impacted by an outage. These rules apply to originating service providers (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.) and covered 9-1-1 service providers (Intrado, Comtech, etc.). For several years, APCO has been working to change the outage reporting rules in three primary areas to provide more timely and actionable information for ECCs.

  • Revising the reporting thresholds: The FCC’s rules only require service providers to send ECCs notification of an outage that potentially impacts them if the outage meets very high thresholds. These thresholds are set too high to ensure that ECCs learn of outages that they would need to still know about. APCO has been asking for more information from the service providers about how many outages are going unreported simply because they don’t meet the high thresholds for reporting them and whether adjusting the thresholds would ensure ECCs are sufficiently notified of outages affecting the communities they serve.
  • Graphical information in outage notifications: When ECCs do receive a notification, it’s typically in a dense text-only format, which can be difficult and time-consuming to parse through during an emergency. APCO has been pushing the FCC to require more actionable information in notifications to ECCs, such as graphical information that provides a visual representation of the outage. For example, service providers could include maps depicting where the outage is occurring, much like electric utilities often provide for their customers.
  • Two-way contact database: When ECCs self-discover a potential outage, 9-1-1 professionals need to be able to quickly contact their service providers to let them know about the outage and find out more information. And naturally service providers should know who and how to contact ECCs impacted by an outage. APCO has been advocating that service providers should create a two-way contact database that both service providers and designated individuals at 9-1-1 centers can update with their contact information. This would enable both the service providers and the ECCs to quickly contact each other when an outage occurs, and having a single database would spare ECCs from dealing with numerous requests for contact information from companies maintaining their own lists.

What needs to be done?

In November 2022, the FCC adopted a Report and Order that, among other things, directed the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau to collect additional information regarding how many outages impacting 9-1-1 go unreported under the current thresholds, seek comment on possible alternative thresholds, and investigate the utility and feasibility of including graphical information in outage notifications. APCO will continue working to ensure ECCs have sufficient situational awareness regarding 9-1-1 outages by supporting the Bureau’s investigation as well as pursuing passage of the Enhancing First Response Act and the Emergency Reporting Act detailed above.   

With regard to the two-way contact database, unfortunately, service providers have pushed back on the idea that they should be responsible for developing and maintaining such a database, and some in the public safety community have suggested that public safety stakeholders bear responsibility for a contact database instead. APCO continues to push for service providers to be responsible for establishing and maintaining a common database.


5. Protecting Public Safety Use of the 4.9 GHz Band

Historically, the 4.9 GHz band has been dedicated to public safety for broadband communications. For many years, APCO, among other public safety groups, has been asking the FCC to make reasonable rule changes to enable public safety to make increased use of this band.

In 2020, the FCC adopted rules that would have effectively given this band to states to lease for commercial use. APCO and others were successful in convincing the FCC to reverse course, and in September 2021, the FCC proposed an alternative approach that would refocus on public safety use of the band.

In January 2023, the FCC adopted new rules that incorporated several of APCO’s recommendations for making the band more flexible for public safety users and initiated a framework in which a band manager will be responsible for coordinating use of the band, including non-public safety use on a secondary basis.

What needs to be done?

The FCC continues to work out the particulars for the new band manager approach, and APCO has provided detailed feedback regarding how to prioritize public safety use of the band as well as a reasonable approach for sharing with non-public safety users.


6. Protecting Public Safety Use of the 6 GHz Band

The 6 GHz band is heavily used for long haul microwave links essential to public safety communications. In 2020, the FCC opened the band to widespread use by unlicensed devices such as Wi-Fi routers despite significant concern over the threat of interference to public safety communications. These devices are expected to be ubiquitous, eventually being the go-to for all kinds of Wi-Fi devices throughout homes and businesses nationwide.

APCO didn’t fundamentally oppose sharing the spectrum, but the FCC’s rules presented several problems:

  • The FCC failed to conduct real world testing to validate the assumptions the rules were based on and therefore did not adequately evaluate the risk to public safety operations.
  • The FCC did not clearly define what would constitute “harmful interference” to incumbent users.
  • The FCC deferred critical issues like how to detect and eliminate interference to a multi-stakeholder group, which failed to reach consensus.
  • There is no easy way to fix things if the band becomes untenable for public safety use.
  • The FCC ignored unique public safety issues like how to protect microwave links that are set up on an emergency basis during disasters.

In 2021, APCO and others petitioned the FCC to stop authorizing new unlicensed devices and to re-evaluate how to share the spectrum while protecting public safety communications. These requests remain pending with the FCC.

The FCC has continued to move forward with its new 6 GHz framework. Many “low power” Wi-Fi devices are operating in the band already, and the FCC is working through a process to permit “standard power” devices that will operate under the control of soon-to-be-established Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) systems. In October 2023, the FCC further expanded access to the 6 GHz band by allowing a new type of “Very Low Power” unlicensed devices, which present an additional interference risk to public safety systems, and proposed additional rule changes to increase how these devices can use the band.  

What needs to be done?

APCO is working with other stakeholders to urge the FCC to address our concerns, including the pending petitions that, among other things, would consider the need for cost-recovery mechanisms to assist public safety agencies dealing with interference. APCO is closely monitoring developments in the band and seeking examples from public safety users that are experiencing interference. To support public safety agencies using 6 GHz microwave, in October 2023, APCO released an updated Technical Bulletin to provide information about the nature of the threat and recommendations for agencies to prepare for the increasingly uncertain spectrum environment. We will continue to urge the FCC and industry to take the necessary steps to protect public safety operations from harmful interference.


About the TabletopX Blog

A “Tabletop Exercise,” often shortened as “TTX,” is a discussion-based exercise frequently used by emergency planners. Led by a facilitator using a planned scenario, TTX participants describe the actions they would take, and the processes and procedures they would follow. The facilitator notes the players’ contributions and ensures that exercise objectives are met. Following the exercise, the facilitator typically develops an after-action report and conducts a debrief discussion during which players and observers have an opportunity to share their thoughts, observations, and recommendations from the exercise without assigning fault or blame.

Many of the attributes of a TTX are the same we seek to promote in the discussion generated from our blog posts. The goal is to capitalize on the shared experiences and expertise of all the participants to identify best practices, as well as areas for improvement, and thus achieve as successful a response to an emergency as possible.

TabletopX blog posts are written by APCO’s Government Relations team and special guests.