By: Andy Regitsky
At its upcoming meeting on July 20, 2023, the FCC is expected to promulgate new responsibilities for providers to improve the reliability and resiliency of the 988 suicide and crisis hotline (988 Lifeline). These will include new reporting and notice requirements for service outages potentially affecting 988 special facilities. They are similar to the existing requirements for outages that potentially affect 911 special facilities.
The 988 Lifeline facilitates suicide and crisis counseling through a national network of more than 200 crisis centers. Since its inception, the Lifeline has helped thousands of people overcome crisis situations every day.
When someone dials 988, the call is routed by the calling party’s originating service provider (OSP) – such as a cable, satellite, wireless, wireline, or interconnected VoIP provider – to 1-800-273-8255, which is the toll-free access number for the 988 Lifeline and Veterans Crisis Line. Once a call is received at the 988 Lifeline, the caller encounters an interactive voice response system, where the caller selects routing options. A caller may press “1” for Veterans Affairs, press “2” for services in Spanish, or stay on the line for services in English. The call is then routed to the Veterans Crisis Line or the closest accredited local crisis center according to the caller’s area code, and if the closest center is unable to respond due to call volume, is experiencing a disruption in service, or the center has temporarily removed itself from the network, the system automatically routes callers to a backup center. In addition to taking calls and text messages, 30 crisis centers answer online chats on a 24/7 basis.(Draft Order, at para. 7).
The 988 Lifeline became active in July 2022. However, on December 1, 2022, the Lifeline suffered a nationwide outage lasting several hours. The agency wants to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
The new rules will be introduced in a Report and Order in Docket 23-5. In it, the FCC takes the following actions:
- Requires cable, satellite, wireless, wireline, interconnected VoIP providers (originating service providers), and a new category of “covered 988 service providers” to report outages that potentially affect the 988 Lifeline to the Commission’s Network Outage Reporting System (NORS). Covered 988 service companies are those providers that provide the 988 Lifeline with capabilities such as the ability to receive, process, or forward calls
- States that an outage potentially affects a 988 special facility when it results in the loss of the ability of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline to receive, process, or forward calls and the outage potentially affects at least 900,000 user-minutes and lasts at least 30 minutes duration.
- Requires originating service providers and covered 988 service providers to notify the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the 988 Lifeline administrator (currently Vibrant Emotional Health) when an outage that potentially affects a 988 special facility occurs. If an outage lasts longer than 2 hours, the providers would be required to follow-up with additional material information until the outage is repaired and service is fully restored.
- States that the rules it is adopting are designed to ensure that the Commission, SAMHSA, the VA, and the 988 Lifeline administrator receive timely and actionable information about 988 service outages to hasten restoration of 988 Lifeline services and ensure the public is aware of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.
The Commission adopts deadlines for originating service providers to comply with the new rules as the later of:
(1) 30 days after it issues a Public Notice announcing that OMB has completed review of any new information collection requirements associated with the adopted Report and Order; or (2) 90 days after the publication of the summary of this Report and Order in the Federal Register. It finds that this timeline is sufficient for compliance, since the revisions constitute only minor changes to existing notice and reporting requirements for 911 network outages, and it will take a modest amount of time for originating service providers to adjust their processes to satisfy the proposed rules.
However, some covered 988 service providers may not have existing NORS filing or outage notification obligations and would need additional time to develop the capabilities and processes necessary to comply with the new rules. Thus, 988 covered service providers will be granted six additional months to come into compliance.
Therefore, the agency adopts deadlines for covered 988 service providers to comply with the new rules as the later of (1) 30 days after it issues a Public Notice announcing that OMB has completed review of any new information collection requirements associated with the adopted Report and Order; or (2) nine months after the publication of the summary of this Report and Order in the Federal Register.