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As we wind our way through hurricane season this year, and this Saturday marks the beginning of National Preparedness Month, we need to think about citizen safety and education. If there’s one thing that gets under my skin, it’s the manipulation of people’s feelings under the guise and banner of “Public Safety.” I believe that many take advantage of the limited knowledge that constituents have around public safety networks, and capabilities.
Why does this happen? Simple, unrealistic television. While I know that I sound my age when I say something like that, it is true. Our environment today is a visual one. Since Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Hollywood has taught us that if we can dream it, it will come, although it may take a few years. Instead of HAL, we have Siri, Alexa, and a whole host of smaller players that we interact with on a daily basis. Quite often, it surprises me at the length and amount of energy we expel trying to do a simple task. Just this week, a colleague of mine was having trouble with her vehicle automation turning on the air conditioning. She diligently tried six or seven times, and I’m thinking, “you know, you can just press that button right there?” Despite whatever the problem was, she was persistent, and the air conditioning came on, and I could feel her sense of pride, proving that she had the ability of mastering technology.
Lisa is a smart person. She knew she could figure it out, and she wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Lisa is a smart person. She understands technology and knew that something was wrong and that she had to correct. Lisa is a smart person, and she was determined to show off her technical prowess to her colleague that she rarely gets to see in person. For myself, I already know Lisa’s a smart person, so I sat back and mentally critiqued her troubleshooting skills. Guess what? She passed.
That’s a long way to go to make a point that’s critical, and the purpose of this blog. While Lisa was smart and determination drove her to correct her temporary issue, when it comes to legislation and budgets and funding in the actual legislative process in a state, most people (myself included) never really paid attention to that day in high school. Also, we tend to sit back and let things happen. The risk that we run by doing that is that we end up with situations like the state of New Jersey diverting $2 billion over 14 years, which works out to be just over $391,000 EACH AND EVERY DAY. We also end up with situations as we have in California that just recently emerged. The California SETNA fund (State Emergency Telephone Number Account), is a fund based on collecting a small amount from each telephone number bill. That collection occurs on landline devices only and has been reduced by almost 40% over the last 10 years due to the migration of landlines to cellular phones, and voice over IP telephones.
To correct the issue, Gov. Jerry Brown has a plan to bring together State Bill 870 and Assembly Bill 1836, pending approval from two-thirds of the California legislature. This new bill establishes a flat rate on every access line that can utilize the 911 system, and provide for a monthly collection of between $0.20 to $0.80 per line. The fee would begin January 1 of 2019 and is expected to raise $138 million during its first year of operation. Not only would this money support the legacy network, but it would fund Next Generation 911 services for the state.
While this plan does have broad support, some naysayers are holding up this critical legislation in the legal process. They refer to a $9 billion surplus that the state currently has, and wants the money to come from there. While that seems like a plausible solution, the Gov.’s Office of Emergency Services issued a statement stating that “there is a significant danger in tying the future of the 911 system to a budget surplus that we have in 2018 and 2019. The legislation will last for another 25 years. What if we are flush this year and not next year?”
It’s a great argument. However, instead of arguing about “who gets the surplus?”, Why not figure out what’s wrong with the budget that gave you $9 billion in surplus, to start? Maybe a more palatable solution would be to pass a bill that would perpetually fund a 911 network and enhancements. These new laws need to modernize where and how we collect fees from all access lines. Finally, if you feel it is worthy, make a one-time cash donation from your “surplus,” and kick this project off to save lives, and therefore making a difference. While you’re doing that, you can get rid of your current accountant, who doesn’t have the ability budget well, in return for one that does.
While this may seem to be a California problem, it is not. Every citizen, every constituent, every voter needs to express their opinion. It’s how the system works, and it’s how things get changed but go awry. It is not by any means, a perfect world. However, we can do a better job of managing our life-safety services.
To tie this back around with the original paragraph of this blog, while you’re thinking about preparedness for September, make sure you have an emergency services network in place that can respond to your request for help. It seems that may be pretty high on the list of “being prepared.”