Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Lincoln Journal Star. September 20, 2023.

Editorial: Investing in 911 services is reassuring

Three weeks ago, Nebraska’s 911 emergency services made headlines for two separate failures that cast doubt on the reliability of the crucial and vital infrastructure.

In the first case, 41 out of Nebraska’s 68 emergency communications centers were unable to receive 911 calls — and those needing emergency services were unable to reach those they needed through the number — after a contractor cut a cable in the Omaha area owned by Lumen on Aug. 31.

Days later, a water leak and subsequent fire at a Windstream building in Lincoln led to another failure of the 911 services, this time affecting 18 out of 20 centers connected to Windstream’s system, including in Lincoln and Lancaster County.

Two weeks later, the state’s emergency services infrastructure made headlines once again, this time for some positive news, when city of Lincoln officials unveiled a new communications platform that allows 911 and non-emergency callers to provide livestream video, text, photos and location data to police and fire dispatchers.

The new technology, called Prepared Live, is designed to give first responders the most accurate assessment of a scene before they arrive, while also addressing barriers for callers who are deaf, hard of hearing or don’t speak English, the Journal Star’s Andrew Wegley reported.

At a time when the public might have had reason to lose trust in the state’s 911 infrastructure, the rollout of this new technology — which has already been in use for two months in Lincoln — is reassuring.

Given the ubiquity of cellphones in today’s society — and a decline in landline use — it only makes sense to invest in this cutting-edge platform, which comes at a reasonable price tag (about $49,800 a year).

More importantly, the cloud-based technology is independent from Lincoln’s current 911 call-taking system, meaning it wouldn’t be affected by an outage like the city experienced three weeks ago.

While the public still deserves answers to how the state’s 911 infrastructure saw two wide-ranging outages with no backup in the span of three days, a proactive approach by city officials to look at a more reliable system is the right move.

Being able to dial 911 — or text, send photos or share one’s location — to get the help one needs can literally be a matter of life and death. Before the aforementioned outages, there was little reason to believe that that service would ever be compromised.

Hopefully, with the addition of Prepared Live, it never will be again.