House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Ponders Emergency Communications Measures Against Fires and Suicides
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2020 - At a February 27 hearing, representatives of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee took testimony on the need for reliable emergency telecom for first responders through measures like the RESILIENT Networks Act and the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
Santa Rosa County Fire Chief Tony Gossner garnered attention from the subcommittee for fighting California’s ravaging wildfires.
The emergency communications legislation aims to promote the building of more small cell towers.
“Without the towers,” Gossner recalled, “it really hampered our ability to notify the community and tell them to get out of the way.”
In contrast to other wildfires, the Kincade Fire of 2019 was ameliorated by rapid communications through redundant cell towers, Gossner said. He described how his department was able to move swiftly and prevent unnecessary death and destruction from occurring.
Subcommittee witnesses also addressed other emergency-related communications. Sue Atkerson, CEO of Behavioral Health Link, said suicide is one of the leading causes of death in America, with around 50,000 Americans taking their lives in 2018.
Atkerson encouraged the subcommittee to vote in favor of a bill that would change the national hotline number from “a difficult to remember, 10-digit hotline” to 988, a cognitively simple 3-digit area code similar to 911.
Committee member Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, asked Atkerson about how the new 988 suicide hotline number would help. He recounted the story of how a woman in his Bible study group in Sugarland had lost two sons to suicide.
After expressing her condolences to the congressman’s community, Atkerson that the proposed 988 number would be much easier to remember and would increase the amount of people who use the services.
Atkerson also noted that similar to the “golden hour” during which is ideal to treat a stroke patient, time is of the essence when dealing with someone going through a mental health crisis, and the minutes gained by not having to look up a 10 digit phone number could make the difference.
Committee member Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., asked the panelists about how resiliency and emergency preparedness will be impacted by the rollout of 5G.
Matthew Gerst, vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA responded that adding hundreds of thousands of small cells through the legislation will “absolutely” help public safety officials communicate. This is due to the low latency offered by 5G and redundancy inherent in the network.