Talking Points for APCO’s Legislative Priorities

By Jeff Cohen

APCO members often contact us to ask for talking points to prepare for meetings with their U.S. Senators and Representatives. Having accurate talking points to speak from – or leave with the congressional staffers you meet with – can ensure that you use your meeting time efficiently and are prepared to answer key questions about the issues. Following up on the blog describing APCO’s advocacy priorities for 2022, here are talking points for our top legislative issues: 1) securing federal funding for Next Generation 9-1-1; 2) correcting the federal classification of public safety telecommunicators; and 3) funding health and wellness programs for 9-1-1 professionals.  

Please feel free to contact our team ([email protected]) if you have questions. If you are able to secure a meeting with any members of Congress or their staffers, we are happy to assist with additional prep (such as more detailed talking points) and meeting follow-ups as well.

  1. Secure major federal funding to implement Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) nationwide.
    • Modernizing our nation’s 9 1 1 systems with strong cyber protections and advanced broadband capabilities should be a national security priority. The need to upgrade the nation’s 50+ year old 9-1-1 systems grows more urgent by the day. Unfortunately, these mission critical systems are increasingly vulnerable to cyber attack, and outdated technologies inhibit emergency response.
    • We need to deploy NG9-1-1 throughout the country in a comprehensive, secure, innovative, cost-effective, and interoperable manner. ECCs should be able to receive and process voice, text, and multimedia content and share it with other ECCs or with first responders in the field. Some states have made partial progress, but a significant federal funding program is needed to achieve this vision of comprehensive and interoperable NG9-1-1 service.
    • Public safety groups have developed legislative language and are calling for a $15 billion federal grant program to deploy NG9-1-1 nationwide.
    • Funding NG9-1-1 has bipartisan support.
    • Lives will be saved by ensuring that our nation’s 9-1-1 systems are secure and that our communities have access to advanced communications tools during emergencies.

  2. Fix the federal classification of Public Safety Telecommunicators.
    • Public safety telecommunicators should be categorized as Protective Service Occupations. The federal government maintains a catalogue of occupations, the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), for statistical purposes. The SOC categorizes Public Safety Telecommunicators as an administrative/clerical occupation, but this is outdated. There is a much more appropriate “protective” category.
    • Under the SOC’s classification rules, occupations are supposed to be grouped based on the work performed. 9-1-1 professionals save and protect lives every day. Therefore, instead of being classified as clerical personnel, they should be with the ”Protective Service Occupations” – a broad group that includes playground monitors, parking enforcement workers, and several other occupations.
    • The 9-1-1 SAVES Act (HR 2351/S 1175) is a bipartisan, zero-cost bill that would correct the classification. The 9-1-1 SAVES Act would direct the Office of Management and Budget (which controls the SOC) to correct the federal classification of Public Safety Telecommunicators from “Office and Administrative Support Occupations” to “Protective Service Occupations.”
    • Correcting the classification of public safety telecommunicators would make the SOC a more accurate and useful statistical resource.  
    • 9-1-1 professionals deserve recognition for their lifesaving roles. Correcting the SOC would have no direct impact on salaries or benefits.

  3. Fund health and wellness programs for 9-1-1 professionals.
    • 9-1-1 professionals suffer substantial impacts to their mental health as part of their work in emergency response. Imagine the stress of coaching a panicked caller through CPR, responding to cries for help during an assault, or dealing with other traumatic events.
    • Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are serious problems for this community. Research has shown that one in seven 9-1-1 professionals admitted to recent suicidal thinking. Supporting these professionals is the right thing to do, and it will help to address the staffing shortages in 9-1-1.
    • The PROTECT 9-1-1 Act (HR 4319) would provide much-needed assistance for 9‑1‑1 professionals. This legislation has four key elements:
      • establishing a grant program to fund wellness programs (such as peer support programs) in ECCs;
      • developing best practices to identify, prevent, and treat posttraumatic stress disorder in public safety telecommunicators;
      • developing resources to help mental health professionals better treat these personnel; and
      • developing a system for tracking public safety telecommunicator suicides.
    • This legislation already has bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. APCO is working with offices in the Senate to introduce a companion to the House bill.

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.

APCO International’s Public Safety Communications Priorities for the New Year

By Jeff Cohen

The following is a list of our advocacy priorities for the coming year. Despite much progress and several wins that APCO members should be proud of since we announced our 2021 legislative and regulatory priorities, there is still significant work to be done for public safety communications. Click each topic to learn about recent developments and where things stand.

Legislative Priorities

1. Secure major federal funding to implement Next Generation 9-1-1 nationwide.

The nation’s 9-1-1 networks are in dire need of modernization. 9-1-1 is largely based on 50+ year-old technology and thus limited to voice calls and some basic texting capabilities. Implementing modern technology would save lives. We need to deploy Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) throughout the country in a comprehensive, secure, innovative, competitive, cost-effective, and interoperable manner. This would enable 9-1-1 centers to receive and process voice, text, and multimedia content and share it with other 9-1-1 centers or with first responders in the field. While some states and jurisdictions are making partial progress toward NG9-1-1, no part of the country can be described as having achieved this vision of NG9-1-1 with end-to-end broadband communications for emergency communications centers (ECCs).

The Public Safety Next Generation 9-1-1 Coalition (which includes APCO), is a group of national public safety associations representing 9-1-1, fire, law enforcement, and EMS. The Coalition estimates that $15 billion is needed to fully achieve NG9-1-1 nationwide, and our associations developed language for an NG9-1-1 grant program that has been included in several legislative proposals. Other associations, including NASNA, NENA, and iCERT have expressed support for these proposals.

In 2021, the House passed the Build Back Better Act – which included the majority of the Coalition’s proposal. The main difference is that the funding level was far short of the proposed $15 billion. The Coalition has cautioned that under-funding the grant program will jeopardize the legislation’s goals and could result in “haves” and “have-nots” across the country. At the time of this writing, the House version of the Build Back Better Act is unlikely to pass, and both the House and the Senate are working on revising the legislation.

As Congress considers changes to the Build Back Better Act and other legislative packages, APCO will continue working with the Coalition to advocate for inclusion of the NG9-1-1 provisions (which have bipartisan support).

2. Fix the federal classification of Public Safety Telecommunicators.

The federal government’s catalog of occupations, the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), categorizes 9-1-1 public safety telecommunicators (PSTs) as an administrative/clerical occupation, but there is a much more appropriate “protective” category. The SOC is supposed to group occupations by the nature of the work performed. 9-1-1 professionals save and protect lives every day. Therefore, instead of being considered clerical personnel, they should be with the ”Protective Service Occupations” – a broad group that includes playground monitors, parking enforcement workers, and several other occupations that arguably perform work that is less “protective” than PSTs.

The easiest path to make this fix is for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which controls the SOC, to simply correct the SOC by reclassifying PSTs into the protective service category. This would come at no cost, promote good government by ensuring that the SOC is accurate, and align the SOC with other federal data efforts, including congressionally-mandated suicide tracking programs that group PSTs with other public safety professionals. APCO has been working to fix the classification since 2014, but so far OMB has opted to maintain the status quo.

As an alternative to OMB voluntarily changing the classification, legislation could direct OMB to fix the SOC. The 9-1-1 SAVES Act (HR 2351/S 1175) would do just that. While not having any direct impact on salaries, benefits, or state-level job classifications, this is a common-sense change that would signal the Administration’s recognition of the life-saving work performed by PSTs.

In 2021, APCO worked with members of Congress to get the 9-1-1 SAVES Act reintroduced in both the House and the Senate with bipartisan support. Near the end of 2021, the reclassification language was included in the U.S. House of Representatives version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2022, but unfortunately the House and Senate moved forward with a slimmed down version of the NDAA that did not include the reclassification provision.

APCO will continue to vigorously pursue passage of the 9-1-1 SAVES Act. Adding to the already-strong bipartisan support is important for creating pressure on congressional leadership to pass the bill. If you haven’t already done so, you can send a letter to your representatives in Congress asking them to support the 9-1-1 SAVES Act here.

3. Fund health and wellness programs for 9-1-1 professionals.

Health and wellness is a huge challenge in 9-1-1, both physically and mentally. Research has shown that the stress of working in emergency communications dramatically increases the risk of suicidal thinking. In fact, one 2019 study found that one in seven 9-1-1 professionals had experienced suicidal thinking in the 12 months prior to the study. That’s comparable to rates for fire/rescue and more than four times the rate in the general population.

Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, people experiencing mental health issues or suicidal thinking might not be seeking the help they need. There is growing attention in public safety to the need to eliminate the stigma around mental health and wellness, but dealing with this serious challenge to our community will require significant efforts, including raising awareness, creating guidance for mental health professionals, and supporting resources like peer support programs.

In 2021, APCO worked closely with Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s office to develop legislation that would provide support for 9-1-1 professionals. The bipartisan PROTECT 9-1-1 Act (HR 4319) includes several measures to advance health and wellness for 9-1-1 professionals, including: establishing a system for tracking PST suicides; developing best practices to identify, prevent, and treat posttraumatic stress disorder in PSTs; developing resources to help mental health professionals better treat these personnel; and establishing grants for health and wellness programs in ECCs.

The introduction of the PROTECT 9-1-1 Act is an important acknowledgement of the stressful, lifesaving nature of the work performed by PSTs and a helpful step toward addressing the critical need for support. APCO is working to build support for the PROTECT 9-1-1 Act in the House and to get a companion bill introduced in the Senate, both of which are essential for getting the bill passed into law.


FCC Regulatory Priorities

1. Improve 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’s rules impose several requirements on wireless carriers to provide location information for 9-1-1 calls made indoors. One of these requirements is to provide information about the vertical position of a caller through either dispatchable location or a “z-axis” location estimate expressed as a “Height Above Ellipsoid (HAE).” HAE is a height measurement that’s different from height above ground or sea level.

APCO has consistently expressed a strong preference for dispatchable location information. Setting aside the issue of whether the estimate is accurate, for HAE to be used by ECCs, specialized software and 3D maps have to be developed – a technically challenging, time-consuming, and costly undertaking that places more responsibility on ECCs with an uncertain payoff.

Unfortunately, the carriers favored an approach focused on z-axis information and largely abandoned efforts toward dispatchable location. This could be because modern smartphones provide z-axis estimates, and if they’re accurate enough, the carriers could piggyback on those capabilities to comply with the FCC’s rules. However, when the first deadline for providing accurate z-axis information came in April 2021, the carriers were unable to comply because the z-axis information wasn’t accurate enough. In response, the FCC fined the carriers and adopted several measures for increased oversight. Wireless carriers were also required to start providing any available z-axis information for 9-1-1 calls, even if the information failed to comply with the FCC’s accuracy requirements and regardless of whether ECCs are able to use the information.

In April 2022, the carriers face a second chance for complying with the vertical location benchmark they missed in 2021. And a separate FCC rule, effective January 6, 2022, required the carriers to begin providing dispatchable location for 9-1-1 calls when feasible – a standard that has yet to be clearly defined. These benchmarks are important developments that present an opportunity to press the carriers for meaningful improvements. ECCs will play an essential role in evaluating real-world 9-1-1 location and reporting concerns that carriers are failing to meet their obligations.

APCO will continue to push the FCC to adopt stricter rules and to hold the carriers accountable for improving location information. Among other things, we’d like to see a clear requirement that a certain percentage of indoor calls are delivered with a dispatchable location and an expectation that carriers will leverage a variety of technologies, such as “5G Home” offerings, to deliver the best possible location information for 9-1-1 calls.

2. Protect public safety users of the 6 GHz band from harmful interference.

Public safety agencies throughout the country make extensive use of the 6 GHz spectrum band for emergency dispatching, first responder radio communications, and connectivity with other jurisdictions. In 2020, despite significant technical debate and public safety concerns, the FCC changed the 6 GHz rules to expand unlicensed (ex – Wi-Fi) use of the band, effectively permitting hundreds of millions of potentially interfering new devices to share this band. These devices are not licensed, and thus not easily trackable, and are expected to be just as ubiquitous as the Wi-Fi routers presently found throughout homes and businesses.

APCO didn’t fundamentally oppose spectrum sharing as a concept, but reasonably asked the FCC to 1) ensure that real-world tests are conducted to inform the rules and measures for preventing/mitigating interference, and 2) require mechanisms to rapidly detect, identify, and eliminate any interference. Unfortunately, the FCC declined to implement our requests and, after exhausting all other remedies at the FCC, APCO sued the FCC in federal court. APCO took this extraordinary measure due to concerns that interference from these new devices will cause irreversible harm. Several other parties – representing utilities, telecom, and broadcast industries – sued the FCC as well, but APCO was the sole party representing public safety.

Throughout 2021, APCO and the other parties suing the FCC engaged in arguments at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Unfortunately, given the legal rule to grant federal agencies like the FCC significant deference, the court ultimately sided with the FCC. This does not mean that the court determined that there wouldn’t be interference or the FCC should have taken better steps to protect public safety communications. 

In parallel to the court case, the FCC continued to move forward with its new 6 GHz framework. Some “low power” Wi-Fi devices were approved and have entered the stream of commerce 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 systems (AFC). Even before the court case was decided, APCO joined with other parties to urge the FCC to pause and revisit the rules governing the 6 GHz band through a pending petition for rulemaking and request for stay. One of the important factors the FCC must address is that real-world testing has demonstrated that the FCC’s assumptions were wrong and that interference is much more likely to occur than we originally feared. APCO will remain in contact with public safety users of the spectrum and continue urging the FCC to act before there’s harm to public safety.

3. Revise the rules for the 4.9 GHz band to enhance public safety use.

The 4.9 GHz band has long been dedicated to public safety and is uniquely suited to serve public safety’s needs for local broadband communications – Wi-Fi hot spots, fixed point-to-point connections, robot control, or bandwidth-intensive applications like high-resolution streaming video. But while the need is there, public safety hasn’t been able to make the most of this band because equipment costs are high, there are inadequate protections against interference, and the marketplace for devices is uncompetitive and sparse.

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. Under previous leadership, the FCC adopted rules that effectively handed the band over to the states for commercial leasing and removed any guarantees of interference-free and priority use of the spectrum by public safety. In a win for public safety last year (after substantial pushback from APCO and others), the FCC’s new leadership reversed the earlier rule change and granted APCO’s petition to reconsider the rules and chart a new course for the band.

The FCC sought input on how to expand public safety use of the band while exploring options to spur innovation, improve coordination, and drive down costs. We’re in the midst of reviewing this input and will engage with the FCC and other public safety stakeholders to find a path forward to optimize this spectrum for public safety users. Ultimately, we need rules that improve public safety use of the 4.9 GHz band. This might entail some type of spectrum sharing framework so long as we ensure that any non-public safety use does not interfere with public safety’s use of the band, which may require the development of new tools to ensure public safety users have priority and preemption over other users. 

4. Improve the information provided to ECCs during network outages.

When network outages impact the ability of service providers to deliver 9-1-1 calls, ECCs need timely information about the scope, nature, and anticipated duration of the outage in order to take action to protect their communities, such as advising the public to use a 10-digit number if 9-1-1 is unavailable. There are some basic regulatory requirements for notifications, but it’s all too common that ECCs receive unhelpful information or don’t get notified at all. Furthermore, when ECCs detect outages on their own they need to know how to immediately contact the relevant service provider. 37,000 outages were reported in 2020, but we have no idea how many more went unreported because they didn’t meet the FCC’s high reporting thresholds.

For years, APCO has been asking the FCC to make improvements to the timeliness, format, and content of outage notifications so that they provide actionable information for ECCs. Additionally, we’ve asked the FCC to hold the wireless carriers to their prior commitment to develop and maintain a secure, two-way contact database that would make it easier for carriers and ECCs to contact each other about known or suspected outages.

In April 2021, consistent with APCO’s advocacy, the FCC proposed new rules on outage reporting and inquired about changes to the reporting thresholds that trigger an outage notification to an ECC. As APCO also suggested, the FCC sought comment from the carriers on their ability to provide graphical information about outages, such as maps of the affected areas, and establish a contact database. In response to these proposals, APCO asked the FCC to require the service providers to provide more information about the outages they experience, including how many go unreported and the average amount of time for restoration. This information would be useful in determining whether and how the FCC’s outage reporting thresholds should be altered to keep ECCs informed without an overload of unhelpful notifications.

The FCC seems convinced that action is needed. (Indeed, the FCC issued record-breaking fines on service providers last year for failing to comply with the existing outage reporting requirements.) We will continue evaluating the options for improving outage information and work with the FCC to develop rules for timely, actionable outage notifications.

Improving outage reporting has also been the subject of legislative activity. Before the FCC proposed updating its rules, as described above, APCO helped develop legislation that would direct the FCC to conduct such a rulemaking. Even with the FCC’s recent action, the Emergency Reporting Act (HR 1250/S 390) would be helpful for ensuring the FCC makes many of the changes we’ve requested. The bill passed in the House last year and has bipartisan support in the Senate. Passage of the law would make it easier to achieve a favorable outcome in the FCC proceedings.


These advocacy priorities are not the only issues for us in 2022. APCO will work with the FCC and Capitol Hill on several additional issues important to public safety, including, for example, improvements to Wireless Emergency Alerts, protecting ECCs from unwanted robocalls, legislative proposals for alternative dispatch programs, and enhancing cybersecurity for ECCs.

Our goal is to do what is best for public safety, and we rely heavily on input from our members. We encourage you to contact [email protected] to share your thoughts and experiences on these topics or any issues important to your ECC.

 

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.

SOC Revision

Background

The Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) is one of several classification systems established by the federal government to ensure coordination of federal statistical activities. In its current version, 9-1-1 professionals are identified as “Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers” and classified as “Office and Administrative Support Occupations.”

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) coordinates the SOC. In 2014, OMB initiated a revision for the 2018 SOC. The SOC Policy Committee (SOCPC) was established, consisting of representatives from nine federal agencies, to review public comments and make recommendations to OMB.

The occupations in the SOC are classified at four levels: major group, minor group, broad occupation, and detailed occupation. What APCO would describe as “Public Safety Telecommunicators” are currently categorized as “Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers”:

43-0000 Office and Administrative Support Occupations

43-5000 Material Recording, Scheduling, Dispatching, and Distributing Workers

43-5030 Dispatchers

43-5031 Police, Fire, and Ambulance Dispatchers

For more information about the SOC, including a timeline of the revision process, click here.

(The SOC does not have a direct legal relationship to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Reclassification in the SOC would not, by itself, open the door for different treatment under FLSA.)

View the latest status update for reclassification efforts.

APCO’s Suggested Revisions

APCO filed formal comments as part of the SOC revision process, suggesting two changes:

1.   Use the title, “Public Safety Telecommunicators” (instead of “dispatchers”.)

  • “Public Safety Telecommunicators” better encompasses both 9-1-1 call taking and emergency dispatch, and aligns with the Congressional Resolution that established National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week.

2.   Classify them as a “protective” occupation, in the same category as police officers, firefighters, lifeguards, crossing guards, and TSA screeners (instead of with clerks and secretaries) because Public Safety Telecommunicators:

  • Coach 9-1-1 callers through first aid.
  • Coordinate police, fire, and EMS to keep them and the public safe.
  • Operate specialized systems for tracking field responders, locating 9-1-1 callers, and communicating in emergencies.
  • Deal with the stress of life or death situations. If a Public Safety Telecommunicator makes a mistake, it can cost lives. Members of the public might not get the help they need, and first responders might walk into a trap or might not receive the help they need.

The revised detailed occupation name and categorization of the SOC would look like this:

33-0000 Protective Service Occupations (existing major group)

33-9000 Other Protective Service Workers (existing minor group)

33-9090 Miscellaneous Protective Service Workers (existing broad occupation)

33-9094 Public Safety Telecommunicators (new detailed occupation)

In APCO’s comments in response to OMB’s Public Notice, we argued that classification within the Office and Administrative Support major group is inappropriate given the stress, training, and life-saving nature of the tasks performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators. Unlike non-emergency dispatchers, Public Safety Telecommunicators receive calls from people whose lives are in danger. Whether answering a phone call to 9-1-1 or a call for assistance from a first responder over the radio, the Public Safety Telecommunicator is responsible for actions that can mean the difference between life and death.

Public Safety Telecommunicators play a critical role in emergency response. The work they perform goes far beyond merely relaying information between the public and first responders. When responding to reports of missing, abducted, and sexually exploited children, the information obtained and actions taken by Public Safety Telecommunicators form the foundation for an effective response. When a hostage taker or suicidal person calls 9-1-1, the first contact is with the Public Safety Telecommunicator whose negotiation skills can prevent the situation from getting worse. During active shooter incidents, Public Safety Telecommunicators coach callers through first aid and give advice to prevent further harm, all while collecting vital information to provide situational awareness for responding officers. And when police officers, firefighters, and EMTs are being shot at, their calls for help go to Public Safety Telecommunicators. They are often communicating with people in great distress, harm, fear, or injury, while employing their experience and training to recognize a critical piece of information. In fact, there have been incidents in which Public Safety Telecommunicators, recognizing the sound of a racked shotgun, have prevented serious harm or death of law enforcement officers who would have otherwise walked into a trap.

This work comes with an extreme emotional and physical impact that is compounded by long hours and the around-the-clock nature of the job. Indeed, research has suggested that Public Safety Telecommunicators are exposed to trauma that may lead to the development of posttraumatic stress disorder. Recognizing the risks associated with exposure to traumatic events, some agencies provide Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) teams to lessen the psychological impact and accelerate recovery for Public Safety Telecommunicators and first responders, alike.

Congressional NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus Co-Chairs’ Letter to OMB

On June 23, the Congressional NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus Co-Chairs – Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), and Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) – sent a bipartisan letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) urging OMB to revise the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) to accurately represent the complex and life-saving nature of the work performed by 9-1-1 professionals. This was a welcome development that will aid APCO’s ongoing efforts to 1) use the title “Public Safety Telecommunicators” (instead of “dispatchers”) and 2) classify them as a “protective” occupation, in the same category as police officers and firefighters (instead of in the administrative/clerical category).

OMB’s Interim Decision

On July 22, OMB published a 2nd Federal Register Notice requesting comments on a review committee’s recommendations for SOC revision. Unfortunately, this Notice did not include APCO’s recommendations. The reason given on the SOC website for rejecting the Co-Chairs’ and APCO’s recommendations is that

“The work performed is that of a dispatcher, not a first responder. Most dispatchers are precluded from administering actual care, talking someone through procedures, or providing advice. Moving the occupation to the Protective Services major group is not appropriate and separating them from the other dispatchers would be confusing. Also, dispatchers are often located in a separate area from first responders and have a different supervisory chain.”

APCO strongly disagreed with this reasoning and immediately took action to leverage the full strength of its membership and every available resource to ensure Public Safety Telecommunicators receive the recognition they deserve, including:

  • Holding a webinar soon after OMB’s interim decision, and later a session at APCO’s annual conference on the reclassification process and how members can get involved;
  • Creating an online resource, which includes sample comments and a portal to facilitate submitting formal comments and contacting members of Congress;
  • Meeting with the federal office managing the SOC revision to better understand their reasoning, convey the importance of this issue and provide additional information to educate OMB;
  • Asking APCO members and their colleagues to submit comments to OMB explaining how they protect the public and first responders and to contact their elected officials to seek support;
  • Seeking support from leaders on Capitol Hill;
  • Conducting targeted outreach to APCO chapter leaders, agency managers and directors, Registered Public-Safety Leaders (RPLs), APCO Institute graduates, and other national-level organizations to provide information and get them involved; and
  • Requesting additional information from OMB on the basis for their interim decision.

The reclassification effort also got a boost from Congresswoman Norma Torres, a member of the NextGen 9-1-1 Caucus and former Public Safety Telecommunicator, who sent a letter to OMB describing the protective work performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators and urging reclassification.

After conducting additional research and incorporating the detailed information about the protective nature of the work performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators provided by the membership, APCO submitted comments in response to OMB’s second solicitation of public comments on the SOC.

APCO’s Latest Comments

APCO filed formal comments on September 20 that provided extensive explanation and examples describing the “protective” nature of the work performed by 9-1-1 professionals, building on information submitted by APCO members. APCO also challenged OMB’s pattern of applying ad hoc and arbitrary criteria to Public Safety Telecommunicators, noting that many of the factors used to justify maintaining the status quo are irrelevant to the SOC’s classification principles, and would in fact disqualify many existing and proposed occupations from the Protective Service category.

Here are a few excerpts from APCO’s latest comments:

“Public Safety Telecommunicators provide lifesaving advice, information gathering and analysis that protects the public and first responders. The work they perform goes beyond merely receiving requests and dispatching resources. It’s life or death, and the current representation in the SOC does a disservice to them, as well as to the statistical purposes for which the SOC is designed.”

“[The federal committee] was wrong when it concluded that ‘Most dispatchers are precluded from administering actual care, ‘talking’ someone through procedures, or providing advice.’”

“[The federal committee’s reasoning] is inconsistent with the SOC classification principles and current makeup of the Protective Service Occupations [category] … and [they] should only be considering the nature of the work performed by Public Safety Telecommunicators and whether their lifesaving work is a protective service.”

“Reclassifying Public Safety Telecommunicators as Protective Service Occupations would correct an inappropriate representation in the SOC, recognize these professionals for the lifesaving work they perform and better align the SOC with related classification systems.”

Additional Data Sent to OMB

In December 2016, there were two significant contributions of additional support for reclassifying Public Safety Telecommunicators.

First, Rear Admiral (ret.) David Simpson, Chief of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, submitted a letter of support to the SOC Policy Committee.  Among other things, Admiral Simpson explained that from the FCC’s perspective, the SOC Policy Committee’s initial decision to maintain the status quo “reflect(s) an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of the work performed.”  Citing a recent expert advisory group report, Admiral Simpson pointed out that the “public safety telecommunicator’s position has transformed from a clerical staff handling telephone calls and incidents with manual methods, to technically savvy protective service professionals managing multiple integrated technology systems to track and manage public safety field resources and responses.”

Second, APCO has remained in touch with the federal officials involved throughout the revision process.  During an in-person meeting to discuss the comments submitted in September 2016, OMB requested additional information regarding 1) how the roles of 9-1-1 professionals have evolved; 2) whether “Public Safety Telecommunicator” is representative and commonly-used as a title; and 3) how common it is for Public Safety Telecommunicators to operate in the field.

  1. How the Roles of 9-1-1 Professionals Have Evolved
    APCO submitted a brief description of how the work performed by 9-1-1 officials has transformed from a clerical role to the lifesaving and increasingly complex tasks required of Public Safety Telecommunicators. This helps explain the misconception of “dispatchers” as Office and Administrative Support Occupations and why the Protective Service Occupations category is more appropriate.
  2. “Public Safety Telecommunicator” is Representative and Commonly-Used as a Title
    APCO compared job title data in 2006 and 2016, as well as survey data based on more than 3,000 responses from public safety communications professionals, to demonstrate that “Public Safety Telecommunicator” is an appropriate term for the SOC. Here are a few observations from our research:

    • Variants of “Dispatcher” (Emergency Dispatcher, Dispatcher/Communications Officer, etc.) are used in 35% of the titles (which is a decrease from 46% in 2006).
    • Variants of “Telecommunicator” (Public Safety Telecommunicator, Public Safety Communications Officer, etc.) account for 57% of the total (up from 53% since 2006).
    • We also asked a relevant question in a brief survey to our members – “Do you agree that the term “Public Safety Telecommunicators” can be used to represent 9-1-1 call takers and police, fire, and emergency medical dispatchers?”
      • 97% of respondents said “Yes.”
  3. How Common It Is for Public Safety Telecommunicators to Operate in the Field
    As the SOC Policy Committee’s interim decision indicated, the physical location of the work performed is a consideration for how occupations are classified. Thus, APCO’s survey asked:

    • “Do Public Safety Telecommunicators at your agency ever operate in the field to assist with communications on scene (ex – for pre-planned events, major incidents, SWAT call-outs, etc.)?”
      • 78% said “Yes”
    • Of those who responded “No” to that question, more than half indicated that their agency is “considering policies or a training program to have Public Safety Telecommunicators operate in the field.”

On October 18, 2017, the American Heart Association sent a letter of support to OMB, pointing out how PSTs are a critical link in the cardiac arrest chain of survival.

Final Decision for 2018 SOC

On November 28, 2017, OMB published a final decision in the Federal Register, changing the detailed occupation name to “Public Safety Telecommunicators” but REJECTING the suggestion to reclassify them as Protective Service Occupations. Read a summary of the explanation provided with rebuttals from APCO.

APCO Member Message on Increasing Recognition of 9-1-1 Professionals by Aligning Job Descriptions With the Protective Nature of the Work

As part of APCO’s ongoing effort to increase recognition and respect for 9-1-1 professionals, we are offering suggestions for job descriptions that will align with the protective, lifesaving nature of the work. These suggestions may look familiar, as they mirror the recommendations APCO made for revising the federal government’s catalogue of occupations and the published findings of APCO’s Project 43 report on Broadband Implications for the PSAP. We are seeing major changes for public safety communications. To improve recruitment, retention, and recognition for 9-1-1 professionals, job descriptions may require updating to highlight the challenging, life-or-death nature of the work performed, and potentially to eliminate or avoid over-emphasizing any clerical tasks that were more relevant to the early days of 9-1-1. Read the full message.

Congressional Efforts

In March 2019, Congresswoman Norma Torres (D-CA) and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services Act of 2019 (the 9-1-1 SAVES Act), a bill that would appropriately reclassify Public Safety Telecommunicators with other “Protective” occupations. An identical bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

In July 2019, the provisions of the 9-1-1 SAVES Act were included among numerous amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which had passed the House of Representatives. While a welcome development, the process forward for the NDAA was complex and required reconciliation of the differing House and Senate versions of the bill. In December, a report was released indicating that the final version of the NDAA would not include the reclassification provisions.

In April 2021, the 9‑1‑1 SAVES Act was reintroduced in the House of Representatives and Senate. In September 2021, the 9-1-1 SAVES Act language was once again included in the NDAA for fiscal year 2022, which passed the House of Representatives, and a similar amendment was offered in the Senate. Unfortunately, the House and Senate ultimately moved forward with a slimmed-down version of the NDAA that did not include the reclassification provision.

FCC Chairwoman Letter to OMB

On April 13, 2022, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel sent a formal letter to the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) suggesting an update to the federal classification of 9-1-1 professionals. In the letter Chairwoman Rosenworcel discussed the lifesaving nature of the work performed by public safety telecommunicators and the need to recognize these professionals as an essential part of the public safety system. Chairwoman Rosenworcel urged OMB to update the classification of public safety telecommunicators to the Protective Service category “at the next available opportunity” and offered assistance to collaborate with OMB on the reclassification effort. This letter is helpful because OMB has the ability to correct the classification on its own without passage of the 9-1-1 SAVES Act or other congressional directives to do so.


2020 Legislative Priorities

By Jeff Cohen

We just started a new year, but there are only a few months left to achieve a number of public safety legislative objectives before Congress enters into election mode.

Click on the topics listed below to read background info and talking points for raising these matters, especially if you have plans to visit with your representatives in Washington, DC, or perhaps during a local meeting or ECC visit. APCO will continue to push for progress on these important public safety matters, but elected officials need to hear from their constituents, too. You can always reach us by email for updates or to discuss any of these issues: [email protected].

 

Reclassification as 'Protective Service Occupations'

APCO has long been championing a needed change to the federal government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system, which is managed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The SOC is used by federal agencies to categorize occupations across the U.S. for statistical purposes, and its classification of 9-1-1 professionals is completely wrong. OMB must correct the SOC to reclassify public safety telecommunicators (PSTs) from the “Office and Administrative Support” category to the “Protective Service” category.

In my experience, this is one of the most logical and straightforward asks we could ever make. The SOC is supposed to classify occupations by the work performed. PSTs protect and save lives every day. The SOC’s Protective Service category is very broad – including law enforcement officers, lifeguards, casino gambling monitors, playground monitors, and parking enforcement officers (aka – “meter maids”). Reclassifying PSTs into the Protective Service category is entirely appropriate and would lead to more accurate data for federal agencies that utilize the SOC. Yet OMB staff have refused to fix the classification. For some reason, they’re unfazed by how wrong it is to consider the work performed by PSTs as similar to the clerical work of secretaries and taxicab dispatchers.

We have been successful in having legislation, the 9-1-1 SAVES Act, introduced in Congress that would require OMB to fix its mistake. We have strong bipartisan support, but we should continue to add more cosponsors. If you haven’t already done so, or not yet asked everyone you know, Contact your U.S. Rep/Senator.

It is also important to press key Members who control the 9-1-1 SAVES Act’s progress through the required committees:

Outside of Congress, there remains the option of getting the attention of OMB or the President himself. OMB has complete discretion to correct its own error any time it wants. Contact OMB.

We will continue to try to make inroads with all of these key actors in finally getting 9-1-1 professionals the recognition and respect they deserve by reclassifying PSTs into the SOC”s “Protective Service” category.

Talking Points

  • The federal government’s classification of 9-1-1 professionals as clerical workers is wrong and fails to recognize the lifesaving work performed by our nation’s 9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers (collectively known as Public Safety Telecommunicators).
  • Congress can fix this by passing the 9-1-1 SAVES Act, which would direct the Office of Management and Budget to update the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), a vast catalog of occupations relied upon by federal agencies for statistical purposes.
  • The current version of the SOC categorizes Public Safety Telecommunicators as administrative/clerical in nature, in the same group for secretaries, office clerks, and taxicab dispatchers, which is inaccurate and a disservice to the lifesaving work and dedication of 9-1-1 professionals.
  • Public Safety Telecommunicators should be categorized as Protective Service Occupations, which includes a broad range of occupations: lifeguards, gambling surveillance officers, fish and game wardens, parking enforcement workers, firefighters, and playground monitors, among others.
  • Occupations are supposed to be classified according to the nature of the work performed. Every day, Public Safety Telecommunicators provide lifesaving emergency medical instruction, deal with suicidal persons, assess scene safety for arriving responders, and play a critical role for active shooter incidents and a variety of other emergencies.
  • The 9-1-1 SAVES Act would correct the federal classification by appropriately grouping Public Safety Telecommunicators with other “protective” occupations. As a result, federal statistical activities would be more accurate.
  • Reclassifying these professionals as Protective Service Occupations has broad support from the 9-1-1 community and others familiar with the lifesaving work of Public Safety Telecommunicators, and bipartisan support in the House (H.R. 1629: 113 cosponsors) and Senate (S. 1015: 25 cosponsors).
  • This is a simple, zero-cost solution that would have no direct impact on salaries or benefits.
  • Reclassification is common sense, and about getting Public Safety Telecommunicators the recognition they deserve for the work they do every day to protect and save the lives of the public and first responders.

If you get any tough questions or even opposition, please let us know. So far there has not been a question or concern that we don’t have a strong rebuttal to.

Next Generation 9-1-1

While many areas are making progress, APCO has been concerned that the lack of desperately needed funding, combined with the lack of interoperability and multimedia capabilities in early “next gen” deployments, has made progress towards NG9-1-1 slow and uncertain.

Last year, APCO collaborated with other public safety groups to formulate legislation that would establish a significant one-time federal grant program to achieve Next Generation 9-1-1 nationwide.

The Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2019 is bipartisan in the House. An identical version has been introduced in the Senate. It’s an excellent bill that would:

  • Preserve state and local control of 9-1-1 and responsibility for ongoing funding;
  • Establish a $12 billion federal grant program (the cost came from a federal study);
  • Provide a modern, comprehensive definition of NG9-1-1 that would lead to a complete, end-to-end capability for 9-1-1 emergency communications centers (ECCs) to receive, process, analyze, and share all forms of communications including multimedia;
  • Require interoperability, to ensure that ECCs can share all incident data with other ECCs and responders in the field, regardless of vendor, equipment, jurisdictional boundaries, etc.; and
  • Require states to develop a sustainable funding mechanism so that ECCs continue to have the resources needed for operations, maintenance, and upgrades once the federal grant program expires.

Talking Points

  • The communications technologies available to the general public significantly outpace what is available to 9-1-1. As a result, consumer expectations concerning the capabilities of the nation’s 9-1-1 systems are far from reality.
  • Congress should pass the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2019 (H.R. 2760; S. 1479), which provides funding and accomplishes several other important goals for NG9-1-1.
  • Federal funding is needed to quickly and efficiently modernize ECCs across the country for the benefit of public safety and national security, and to have the U.S. serve as a model for the rest of the world. At the same time, the Act would preserve state and local control over 9-1-1 operations, as well as responsibility for ongoing costs.
  • The Act’s comprehensive definition of NG9-1-1 will lead to a complete solution and uniform experience throughout the country.
  • A requirement for interoperability is essential to effective and efficient emergency response and will help drive innovative, competitive, and cost-effective solutions.
  • 9-1-1 is among the nation’s most critical infrastructure. Congress should consider standalone funding sources (such as spectrum auction revenue) and include NG9-1-1 funding in any major infrastructure package.
T-Band (470-512 MHz)

Spectrum known as the “T-Band” is used in a number of metropolitan areas to support critical public safety communications and provide regional interoperability among first responders. Current federal law mandates that the FCC begin a process to relocate public safety users and auction the T-Band for commercial use by February 2021. This provision of law was enacted as part of the 2012 legislation that created FirstNet. While at the time it may have been expected that public safety would have other options for mission critical radio communications, that has not turned out to be the case.

There are identical bills in the House and Senate that would change the law so public safety can keep using the T-Band. Public safety should not have to make any “trades” or other concessions because, according to a federal study, moving current users off the T-Band would actually cost much more than the potential value of the spectrum for commercial use.

Talking Points

  • 9-1-1, law enforcement, fire, and EMS agencies depend on spectrum known as the T-Band in a number of major metropolitan areas to meet their mission-critical communications needs.
  • Congress should pass the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act (S. 2748; H.R. 451) to repeal an existing law that would require public safety to vacate this spectrum. Public safety agencies operating in the T-Band would be left with few if any viable alternatives.
  • A federal study showed that the cost of relocating current T-Band users would be much greater than the potential revenue from auctioning the spectrum. Thus, letting public safety keep the T-Band would have no impact on the federal budget.
  • Spectrum is not a luxury for public safety, but rather a necessary tool to carry out their mission to save and protect lives. Public safety should not have to make any concessions.
9-1-1 Fee Diversion

States that assess 9-1-1 fees on phone bills should spend this revenue on 9-1-1. Unfortunately, some states persistently raid these funds for other purposes. This practice not only harms 9-1-1 professionals, many of whom already struggle with insufficient funding and staffing, but is deceptive and unfair to those who pay these fees. Pursuant to federal law, the FCC annually reports on the collection and use of 9-1-1 fees, which mostly has the purpose of “naming and shaming” states that engage in 9-1-1 fee diversion. This has resulted in at least some diverter states changing their ways.

There have been some efforts in Congress to help prevent 9-1-1 fee diversion. However, there does not yet seem to be an effective solution to the problem. The best approach so far has been to prevent diverter states from being eligible for federal 9-1-1 grants. Absent any real “pain” (such as loss of major grant funding) there is little chance that states will put an end to this very unfortunate practice.

Talking Points

  • States that divert 9-1-1 fees for other purposes do a disservice to 9-1-1 professionals and the citizens they serve.
  • A significant federal grant program, such as the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2019, that would disqualify states that divert 9-1-1 fees, could be very helpful for ending 9-1-1 fee diversion.
  • Ending fee diversion is important but is not a solution for meeting the funding needs of states and localities to make a full transition to Next Generation 9-1-1 because the funding needed for NG9-1-1 far exceeds the amount of fees being diverted.
  • Ultimately, the focus should be on ensuring 9-1-1 has the funding it needs, whatever the source of that funding.
6 GHz Microwave Band

Public safety heavily uses and relies upon the 6 GHz band for fixed point-to-point microwave links essential to public safety services. The Wi-Fi (unlicensed spectrum) industry has made a strong push at the FCC to require public safety and other incumbents to share their 6 GHz spectrum. The FCC has proposed to allow sharing, and would to some extent require a new frequency sharing technology to attempt to prevent interference to public safety users. The problem is whether the sharing technology would apply to all new sharing of the spectrum and whether the technology can be proven in advance to truly prevent interference and detect and eliminate any sources of interference that occur. APCO has weighed in to express significant concern with the FCC’s proposal.

While this proposal remains pending at the FCC, this issue has also gotten the interest of Congress. No legislation has been introduced yet, but it’s possible that Congress would take action before the FCC.

Talking Points

  • Public safety makes heavy use of the 6 GHz band to support critical 9-1-1 dispatch and first responder radio communications.
  • Outside of the prospect of using the federal 7 GHz band, public safety has no other spectrum options to satisfy these communications needs.
  • If the 6 GHz band is opened for sharing, the spectrum sharing technology must be proven to work before putting it to use with hundreds of millions of unlicensed devices that could cause interference to public safety communications.
  • There is no turning back once unlicensed devices are permitted to share this spectrum – if interference occurs that cannot be immediately addressed, there will be irreparable adverse consequences to emergency communications and response.

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.