Among the many sobering lessons of the last few months of devastating wildfire is how much the 9-1-1 system is a lifeline for the public in times of crisis. We have also come to see how much that network – for police and fire — depends on modern wireless technology.

The speed and ferocity of disasters – whether wildfires, flooding or mass shooting events – demand that a 9-1-1 system capable of handling the stress. But our very reliance on modern technology is steadily strangling our critical 9-1-1 system. For safety’s sake, this has to change.

The dedicated funding model for 9-1-1 service was developed in the 1970s. Back then, landlines were king and the funding source reflected that reality: a fee on landlines funded and maintained the old-generation 9-1-1 system. The mobile technology that we now depend upon was barely a glimmer in the future.

At the very time where we need to improve our 9-1-1 system for the wireless age, the funding structure still leans unfairly on the dwindling number of landline customers – many of them seniors and businesses.

The effect of this dependence is clear: Statewide 9-1-1 revenue has dropped by more than one-third over the last 10 years. At the same time, the current system is bending under the weight of more and more mobile 9-1-1 calls.

With the cost of the system going up, and the revenues going down, we are, in the words of incoming California Fire Chiefs Assn. President Jeff Meston, “on a path toward 9-1-1 system failure for lack of proper funding.”

If we are to avoid such a failure, we need a next-generation 9-1-1 system. We can’t have it with a “last-generation” funding system. But making this critical and overdue change rests with the Legislature, and it needs to happen right now.

Lawmakers are set to vote this week on SB 870 and AB 1836 – legislation that would update the fee structure to include cell phone users. The legislation requires that revenues from this fairer and more secure funding system go to building Next Generation 9-1-1. This new system allows text and video 9-1-1 calls, expanded capacity and multiple redundancy and re-routing, so that calls can continue to be handled even if a call center is itself a target of disaster.

In the “new normal” of wildfire disaster in California, the risk isn’t confined to the “wilderness” – it is creating mass evacuations and residential impacts that command our attention. Without an updated system – and a more equitable and stable funding structure – critical seconds – or minutes – are lost. Evacuations will be delayed, and people might not be able to get timely assistance.

Without a change, the seniors and businesses that are currently shouldering a disproportionate share of the funding load could wind up not getting the lifesaving help and support they’re largely footing the bill to provide.

Government’s most important function is public safety. A robust and effective 9-1-1 system is the public’s lifeline in keeping that commitment. An effective and modern 9-1-1 response requires a more stable and equitable funding system. Fail to act means failing our citizens at a time when they are most in need.

For the sake of public safety, and saving lives, state lawmakers should pass SB 870 and AB 1836.