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2013 PSAP Survey: Stratus Talks About the Results
Author: Randall D. Larson, Editor
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Late last year Stratus created a 19-question survey that featured questions on call volume, staffing, next-generation 9-1-1 plans, use of virtualization technologies, system outages and more. With the Survey completed and results analyzed, 9-1-1 magazine interviewed Dave LeClair, Senior Direct of Strategy & Product Management for Stratus Technologies, to detail the results they found – and what they mean to PSAP technology and operations for 2014.
To read the statistics from the 2013 Survey, click here to download a pdf file from Stratus.
Q: What were your objectives in developing the 2013 PSAP Survey? How did you select the topics to be covered - and how has this Survey differed from your 2012 Survey?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: The overall objective of the survey was to see where PSAPs fall on the technology curve and provide the ability for PSAPs to see how they compare to their peers. We were interested in seeing where PSAPs were in terms of implementing specific technologies such as virtualization, cloud and NG911. Obviously, as a company that provides availability solutions, we were also interested in the frequency and duration of computer-related outages in the PSAPs. Having run the survey in 2012, it also gave us the opportunity to compare results year over year for some questions. We also tweaked some of the questions and selection choices based on our learnings. The 2012 survey results were one of our most popular downloads of the year. As a result, our invite list for the latest survey was larger, which most likely resulted in three-times the number of respondents.
Q: To what extent do you believe the 919 respondents to the survey represent a comparative example of North America's 9-1-1 centers as a whole?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: Based on the responses to the population-served and geographic-area questions on page five of the survey results, we think the survey represents a great cross-section of North American response centers. While “County” appears to be over-represented in the pie chart, it is a fairly reasonable representation of 9-1-1 center distribution. We are considering splitting “County” into additional choices for the next survey to get more granular results and make it easier for PSAPs to rate themselves against their true peers.
Q: What have you learned, generally, from the first, statistical part of the Survey - about PSAP staffing, call volume, function? What does that tell us about the nature of 9-1-1 Centers at this point in time?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: We use these questions to find micro-trends in the survey data and allow easier peer-to-peer comparisons. Sometimes, you need to cross-tabulate the data in order to find a trend. For example, one question asks if 9-1-1 call intake and dispatch are separate functions or combined. Overall, 72 percent of respondents said they combined the function. But if you look at the smallest PSAPs, 96 percent said they combined intake and dispatch. Conversely, only 35 percent of the largest PSAPs had combined functions. Slicing and dicing allows readers to compare themselves more appropriately.
Q: What are the most significant results you have learned from the Survey - and what was most surprising?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: For us (and hopefully for the PSAPs), the most significant result is that 70 percent of PSAPs have suffered a system outage in the last year. More alarming is that 58 percent had an outage lasting more than 15 minutes, and 28 percent had an outage last more than one hour. Based on those numbers, a PSAP that receives more than 100,000 emergency calls per year would have 12 calls affected. The “9-1-1 Calls Affected by Downtime” chart on page 26 of the survey shows how downtime could affect PSAPs of various sizes.
The other surprising results were around disaster preparedness. The fact that 20 percent of PSAPs do not have a physical backup PSAP location in case of natural disaster or catastrophic outage made sense possibly due to the cost of maintaining backup locations. However, the fact that one out of every five PSAPs does not have a contingency plan in place was alarming. We’re planning a follow-up question for the next survey. We’d like to know why they don’t have a plan in place. Budget? Lack of expertise?
Q: "Virtualization" has become a significant concept in Stratus' view of NG911, and appears frequently in the Survey - Briefly, what is virtualization as it affects NG911 and PSAP operations, and what has your Survey informed you about current use and future utilization in PSAPs?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: We featured virtualization in the first survey because it was a hot topic for PSAPs. A number of public safety conferences and shows at the time had dedicated sessions on virtualization, and public safety media outlets were writing about it frequently. We thought PSAPs would be interested in seeing how their virtualization plans compared to others.
In short, virtualization is all about server consolidation. Without virtualization, you would have a physical, dedicated server for every application in your datacenter. That could add up to a lot of servers – and they all need physical space, electricity and staff to manage them. Virtualization allows you to consolidate multiple applications and run them across fewer servers – saving significant costs. (For a more detailed explanation, you can download Virtualization for Dummies at no cost. The link is on page 19 of the survey results.)
The survey results show us that public safety as an industry is lagging behind other industries in terms of virtualization adoption. But, we expect adoption to continue to increase over time. In the end, NG911 and PSAP applications will run in virtual environments.
There’s one caution regarding virtualization. If you have multiple applications running on fewer servers, the health of those servers becomes much more important. In a virtualized environment, if a server crashes it could knock out multiple safety-critical applications simultaneously. Virtualization is often billed as a high-availability solution. While it may offer higher levels of availability than a single server, PSAPs need a much higher level of protection.
Q: What has the survey taught you about the place of cloud computing and 9-1-1 PSAP operations and management? What do PSAP managers need to know about the viability and sustainability of using the cloud for mission-critical PSAP operations?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: As a hot IT trend, it made sense to include cloud-computing questions in this year’s survey. We weren’t surprised that 72 percent of PSAPs didn’t have cloud plans. Our assumption here is that many of the applications that PSAPs rely on are not yet available in the cloud. Additionally, the level of availability promised in today’s public cloud services is not nearly good enough for safety-critical applications. Over time, we believe cloud computing will become very important to PSAPs. Being able to host applications on someone else’s hardware will significantly lower costs and reduce a great deal of the IT management burden on today’s shrinking staffs. It’s a trend we’re watching.
Q: Downtime, of course, is a topic Stratus has been very involved in for many years. What did the Survey inform you current statistics in PSAP downtime and how will that focus Stratus on further solutions in this area?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: The bottom line is that most PSAPs still have work to do. One of the reasons for conducting the survey is to shine a light on availability and downtime in the industry. The level of technical sophistication varies greatly from PSAP to PSAP. In most cases, PSAPs are relying on outside consultants and RFPs to make IT purchasing and implementation decisions. It’s easy to gloss over the availability question -- the frequency and duration of downtime events in the survey prove it. This is a reminder to push your IT staff, your vendors and your consultants on availability. Make sure they are experts in availability. Then, make sure you’re getting better than 99.999 percent availability. Anything less than that is unacceptable in a PSAP.
Q: With the completion of this latest Survey, what are your next steps - to develop/enhance technology necessary to meet challenges brought up by this survey, and to ensure PSAP managers understand their part in preparing to adopt new technologies and solutions to these challenges?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: For us, the survey serves two purposes: 1. It provides important data and identifies trends that PSAPs can use for planning purposes. 2. It helps Stratus prioritize features and functions for future product releases as well as to determine which public safety solution vendors to partner with. The availability, virtualization, cloud and disaster preparedness questions have helped shape the next-generation of our software-based availability solution, everRun Enterprise. It’s an affordable high-availability platform that offers built-in virtualization and disaster recovery capabilities. PSAPs that run their applications on everRun Enterprise don’t have to worry about system outages.
Q: Is there anything else relative to this Survey that you have learned or feel will be valuable to share?
Dave LeClair/Stratus: We would like to thank everyone who took the time to complete the survey. We are always looking for new questions to add to the survey. If your readers have any suggestions, they can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave LeClair is the Sr. Director of Strategy at Stratus Technologies. He is responsible for the strategy, delivery and success of global products and service offerings including Stratus ftServer®, everRun® software and Stratus’s cloud offering. He has over 22 years of experience developing platforms, devices, software and services in the computing and communications industries with roles in strategy, product management, engineering and business development.
9-1-1 Magazine Editor Randall Larson retired in 2009 after 25 years as a communications supervisor and Field Communications Director for the San Jose Fire Department. Larson has been a Field Communications instructor for First Contact 9-1-1, the California Fire Chiefs Association – Communications Section, and other organizations, and was a Communications Specialist for FEMA’s California US&R Task Force 3. Since retirement, Larson continues to participate in the annual California Mobile Command Center Rallies, which he founded in 2009, and is a busy writer in several fields of interest.