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Is Your PSAP Ready for NG9-1-1?
Author: Edward P. Thomas Jr
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
In every 9-1-1 emergency, time is critical. Time makes the difference in saving heart muscle for a heart attack patient. It’s getting a family safely out of the burning house. It’s relaying instructions for delivering a baby at a rest stop along the highway.
Emergencies can occur anywhere at any time, so the more information dispatchers have and the faster they can direct that information to the appropriate emergency response units, the better the outcome. The fact is everyday communication has evolved well beyond the common telephone. Mobile phones dominate voice communications. Millennials, by and large, text more than they talk. The proliferation of smart phones has put high-resolution digital photography and video instantly at people’s fingertips.
It is time for the nation’s 9-1-1 system to catch up with today’s digital, wireless forms of communication—and that is the impetus behind Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1). NG9-1-1 is an initiative to update the 9-1-1 service infrastructure in the U.S. and Canada to support transmission of text, images, video, and data to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). The goal is also to enable PSAPS to relay that rich information on to emergency response personnel.
The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) first identified the need for NG9-1-1 in 2000, and since 2006 the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) have been advancing NG9-1-1 in their respective countries. On January 24, 2013, the CRTC announced the first implementation of NG9-1-1 employing text for the hearing and speech impaired. In the United States NG9-1-1 proof of concept (POC) studies have been conducted in Washington, Montana, New York, Minnesota, and Indiana setting the stage for national rollout over the next several years.
NG9-1-1 and the Impact on PSAPs
NG9-1-1 will bring to PSAPs a whole new level of emergency response capabilities. The ability to receive and share multimedia information will have a huge impact on public safety. By providing law enforcement, fire fighters, EMTs, and other emergency crews with more detailed and complete information about the situations they are about to encounter, they will be better prepared to perform their jobs successfully.
- Here are just a few examples of what NG9-1-1 will enable PSAPs to do:
- Receive 9-1-1 text messages along with accompanying photos and video, and route this information to first responders
- Transfer 9-1-1 calls to PSAPs in other locations, allowing for other call-handling features such as nationwide access to 9-1-1 for automotive telematics call centers, alarm monitoring operations, and others
- Accommodate advanced features such as automatic routing for language translation, distribution of overflow calls, receiving data from personal safety devices, and more
- Issue emergency alerts to wireless devices and highway alert systems in an area, via voice or text message
- Share emergency information more effectively with allied agencies, traffic management centers, and other public organizations
To make all this possible, PSAPs must have the appropriate technical infrastructure. First, the PSAP will require a high-availability IP infrastructure interface to send and receive multimedia content across the Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet)—the foundational enabling technology of NG9-1-1. This will likely require modifications to the existing PSAP network equipment and software to support voice over IP (VoIP) communications, as well as enable internal routing of text, image, and video data to the computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) system and simultaneously to the communications recording system. Since most existing communications recorders are only capable of recording audio, significant changes to these devices may also be required to bring them into NG9-1-1 compliance.
How to Handle the Threat of System Downtime
With so much riding on the PSAP’s ability to handle emergency calls 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, ensuring system uptime has always been a critical concern. The advent of NG9-1-1 ups the ante even further. The increased volume of incoming calls and messages, many with rich media attachments, will push the limits of most traditional infrastructures.
To help PSAPs meet the demands of NG9-1-1, the U.S. DOT has issued guidelines for an infrastructure that incorporates:
- A proven database architecture that delivers functionality, scalability, high availability, and low latency
- High availability and disaster recovery options that maximize system uptime and provide for no single point of failure
- Redundant processing capabilities through mirrored databases, which must be backed up to a remote site for complete disaster recovery
- Data redundancy within the primary site, as well as with an alternate site that is maintained with the same availability as the primary data center
There are a number of ways to address these requirements. For example, in St. Charles County, Missouri, the Department of Dispatch and Alarm relies on TriTech VisiCAD software running on Stratus ftServer systems. Not only has this combination provided nine years of operation with zero downtime, it also supports cross-jurisdictional dispatch, which puts St. Charles County in an ideal position for supporting NG9-1-1.
Marion County, Florida has gone even a step further. Using TriTech CAD running on an ftServer system, this innovative county enables seamless communication between law enforcement, EMS, and fire safety. By consolidating multiple systems onto a single platform, the county saved $327,000 in infrastructure costs. But more important was the savings in efficiency. Through cross training, a single call taker can now handle police, fire, and medical emergencies. By eliminating the need to pass calls from one person to another, the county saves 30 – 40 seconds per call—in many cases, that savings means the difference between life and death. Following on this success, the county has recently extended the TriTech/Stratus solution to the county seat, Ocala, consolidating their fire, police, and EMS services for another $396,000 in savings.
Time is Life
As St. Charles and Marion counties have demonstrated, PSAPs can leverage technology to dramatically improve efficiency today while laying the foundation for supporting NG9-1-1 tomorrow. The impact of NG9-1-1 on the nation’s public emergency communication services will be profound—and daunting for many PSAPs—but the change is essential in our ever-more mobile and wireless society.
Just think of the difference NG9-1-1 could make in a multi-vehicle accident on the highway. With texts, photos, and videos coming in from motorists at the scene, decisions on the right equipment and services required can be made more quickly. Any involved vehicle with an Advanced Automatic Collision Notification (AACN) system automatically sends important crash data to the PSAP, which dispatches the correct emergency services, even if the passengers are unable to respond. Everyone in the vicinity with an Internet-connected device is automatically notified to avoid the area, and highway message signs display the warning. In this scenario the number of messages flowing into and out of the PSAP could be exponentially greater than is typical today.
In public safety, there is never a good time for your servers to stall or go down. Confusion sets in. Seconds tick by while someone manually contacts the EMS. And on the scene a child desperately needs CPR. That is why having systems that can deliver continuous, round-the-clock availability—without fail—is so important. Because although to most industries time is money, for PSAPs and the first responders they support, time is life.
Edward P. Thomas Jr. Senior Marketing Programs Manager for Stratus. For more information, see www.stratus.com