In November, the PSC awarded nearly $40 million to private service providers and another $29 million to counties to build the technical capability to identify the location of calls originating from wireless phones. [See my related article, “Local geographic data funding receives boost.”] When fully operational, this system will significantly expand the state’s public safety net by allowing 911 dispatchers to locate calls from stranded boaters on lakes, snowmobilers and hikers on trails, and travelers on highways. This capability is crucial because today approximately 70% of all emergency calls are made from wireless phones.
Nearly $7 million of the funding awarded to counties was for the development and maintenance of geographic data, many of the same data themes developed as part of the Wisconsin Land Information Program (WLIP). I think the PSC funding decision reflects well on the value of the WLIP.
As the legislature was crafting the wireless 911 bill in 2003, geographic data was not mentioned. There was no recognition for the role of GIS in the process of locating wireless calls. At that time, the Land Information Board expressed concern over the failure to include a data component in the pending legislation.
Recognition needs to go to John Stolzenberg, Chief of Research Services, Legislative Council, for the skill he exhibited in crafting language in the legislation that recognized the WLIP’s requirements for county plans, adherence to standards, and the need to avoid duplication of effort between the wireless 911 and land information programs. The inclusion of the WLIP provisions met with no opposition as the legislation was approved by the legislature and signed by the Governor.
With the legislation thrust upon it, I believe the PSC made good and solid decisions in its funding award determinations. PSC staffers Dennis Klaila and others knew little of the WLIP, but were willing to take input from the land information community on data themes most important to 911 operations and response. The PSC did not know the value of digital orthophotography and other geographic components, but as an agency it listened and learned, and I believe in the end made good funding decisions. Decisions that are good for effective 911 operations, and good for the recognition and continued growth of the WLIP.
The PSC decisions demonstrate that land information created for one purpose can be used for other very diverse purposes. Of course, all of this is in keeping with the original goals and tenets of the WLIP when it was established more than fifteen years ago.