Representatives of key public-safety organizations yesterday sent a letter to Congressional leadership seeking “a significant federal grant program” to help pay to deploy IP-based, next-generation 911 (NG911) technology nationwide be included in the upcoming omnibus funding package being considered by federal lawmakers.

Delivered via e-mail to the leaders of both houses of Congress—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—the letter stresses the importance of modernizing “decades-old” 911 emergency-calling technology to NG911.

“NG911 would leverage modern broadband for the benefit of the public and law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel, creating opportunities for cost savings and advanced features such as the ability to send photos and videos to 911,” the letter states.

“Without significant federal funding, we are concerned that 911 networks across the country including in rural and urban areas will not be upgraded quickly and efficiently.”

Congress is considering a reported $1.3 trillion spending package in an effort to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week. The letter calls for the leadership “to include a line-item in the current omnibus funding package for a significant federal grant program to modernize the nation’s 911 systems.”

Signed by leaders of four key 911-oriented organizations—the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT), the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA)—the letter cites FirstNet as an example of Congress funding an effort to upgrade public-safety communications.

“In 2012, Congress funded the implementation of an advanced, interoperable, wireless broadband network for first responders, known as FirstNet,” according to the letter. “The progress of FirstNet highlights the need for Congress to make a similar investment to modernize the complete emergency communications sector of our nation’s critical infrastructure by achieving Next Generation 911. Until 911 networks are upgraded nationwide, the public will not be able to send photos and videos to 911 centers, and FirstNet will not achieve its full promise. NG911 is also necessary to improve the interoperability, resiliency, and operations of the 911 system.

“It is time for Congress to act again, to ensure America’s public-safety professionals have the tools they need. 911 centers must have the financial, operational, and technical resources to enable responders in the field to receive data such as photos and videos from the public that have been properly triaged and analyzed by 911 professionals.”

Historically, Congress generally has avoided providing money to support 911, which has been funded at the state and local levels. But changes in funding models—driven largely by consumers’ decisions to abandon wireline telephony as a primary means of communication—and policy decisions in many states to raid 911 funds to address budget shortfalls have made it difficult for some areas of the country to maintain existing 911 service, much less pay for NG911 upgrades.