911 emergency services ripped by HBO’s John Oliver

Old technology, under-funded future investments plague 911 services, Oliver said

It’s definitely a service that’s taken for granted but HBO’s John Oliver this week pointed out that there’s a lot to be concerned about over the nation’s 911 emergency service.

On Oliver’s Last Week Tonight HBO show, Oliver said 911 emergency call centers are antiquated, disjointed and in desperate need of funding and new technology. He said everyone should Google “understaffed 911 dispatch and [your town name]” to get an idea of problems near you and nationwide.


The watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office in 2013 wrote about 911 technologies: “The continuing evolution of communications technologies and wireless phones has implications for 911 services. Since 911 call centers predominantly use older, analog-based infrastructure and equipment, the current E911 system is not designed to accommodate emergency communications from the range of new technologies in common use today, including text and picture messaging and Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony (e.g., Skype). In response to changing technologies, the Department of Transportation (DOT) launched the Next Generation 911 (NG911) Initiative, which has focused on the research required to develop an NG911 system. With NG911 services, the public could reach 911 call centers through various modes, including voice and data, and transmit multimedia information such as video. Deploying and operating wireless E911 (and NG911 going forward) is the responsibility of government entities at the state, county, or local level, although the federal government has taken steps to facilitate the nationwide deployment.”

The GAO also at that time was concerned about states diverting 911 funds to other projects leaving the emergency service and any planned upgrades unfunded – a problem Oliver pointed out in his segment.

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