ECU Researchers Study Laws on 911, Technology
By Erica Plouffe Lazure
For nearly a decade, a team of researchers at East Carolina University’s College of Business has been studying how telecommunications technology in North Carolina affects 911 emergency calls.
So when the new state law designed to upgrade and streamline E-911 services took effect Jan. 1, they were paying close attention. The law aims to have every county in the state meet minimum coverage standards for cell phone and other technological services through a special 911 Board. A 70-cent fee for all cell, landline and Internet phone users will be used to create a special E-911 fund that would help communities with sparse coverage upgrade to meet minimum coverage standards.
Elaine Seeman, a management information systems professor at ECU, who wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on the effect telecommunications technology has on 911 effectiveness, said coverage is inconsistent from one county to the next, not only in North Carolina, but across the United States.
“Citizens generally believe that dialing 911 will bring them help as needed,” Seeman said. “Different counties throughout the state, however, operate 911 response centers using assorted technologies, resulting in diverse operating procedures with varying results.”
Technologies such as GPS, satellite, cell towers, wireless email, Voice-Over Internet Phone, and text messaging have changed how people communicate with each other, as well as their expectations of emergency response services. But not all counties – which are responsible for implementing their own response to 911 calls – have been able to keep up with or afford the emerging technologies.
Seeman, working with College of Business finance colleague James Holloway and management information systems colleague Maggie O’Hara, as well as former ECU MBA student Arno Forst, studies E-911 in the United States as well as the models used throughout the European Union. Their work dealing with comparative law and regulation has been published in leading academic journals, including “Electronic Government: An International Journal” (2007), and the forthcoming “Indiana International and Comparative Law Review” (2008).
“In the spirit of competition, the FCC allowed there to be different standards in the United States, figuring the market for services would follow,” Seeman said. The European Union, in comparison, established a single standard for cellular service.
“A lot of states have problems with 911 coverage. North Carolina is a leader with this legislation; it’s a big issue,” she said.
The new North Carolina law will enable a statewide 911 Board to distribute the money to communities with the specific goal of upgrading technology to ensure consistent response to 911 calls. The money currently collected is distributed to communities as general funds, not monies designated specifically for 911 enhancements.
Seeman plans to continue to work with Holloway and O’Hara to look at how the new law in North Carolina will affect and hopefully improve telecommunications coverage for emergency responders.
They are working to develop a multidisciplinary Division of Information Management and Telecommunications Research (DIMTR) to be housed within the Bureau of Business Research in the College of Business at ECU. The focus of the proposed division is threefold: research, education and service in the areas of management information technology, wireless, wireline, VoIP telecommunications, emergency services, and business and administrative operations. It would include researchers from management information systems, business, law, public policy and non-business fields.
“The bottom line is, if people have an emergency and they need to be located, no matter how they try to communicate, we need to meet their expectations,” Seeman said. “If you call 911 from a cell phone, will they find you? If you text message them, will they find you?”