Do not be alarmed—those are not storm clouds on the horizon.What you are seeing is the front line of cloud-based solutions entering the 911 technology marketplace. While cloud-based computing in its current form has been used effectively for more than a decade in non-public-safety markets, the 911 community has been glacier-like in adopting this technology. This largely is because 911 officials have been reticent to trust that cloud-hosted solutions can meet the rigorous demands of operating 24 x 7 x 365 with high reliability and availability—which is essential in a 911 center.
However, cloud solutions have proved that they can achieve this high standard with other mission-critical entities, such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Department of Defense missile systems. They also have proved to be quite advantageous from implementation, maintenance, scalability, disaster-recovery and cost perspectives.
Advantage #1: No Hardware to Implement, No Equipment to Maintain
When using a cloud-hosted solution, there is no hardware to implement at the customer premises, which means that there is no equipment to maintain. While software periodically needs to be updated, this task is handled by the service provider. This is advantageous because 911 centers often lack the time, resources and money needed to execute software updates. Consequently, such tasks stay on the back burner for quite a long time—it is not unusual for 911 centers to be using software that is several versions behind, robbing them of the ability to leverage advanced features and functionality—particularly those related to cybersecurity—that have been added by the vendor. In contrast, cloud-hosted solutions always are current.
Advantage #2: Scalability and Flexibility
Such solutions also are scalable to accommodate growth and provide 911 centers with operational flexibility that legacy systems cannot come close to matching. This is especially important in disaster-recovery scenarios. While they do not happen often, bug-out situations—i.e., when a 911 center has been rendered inoperable, inaccessible or uninhabitable due to a natural or manmade disaster—do occur. When call-handling, computer-aided dispatch (CAD), records management and other essential systems are hosted in the cloud, 911 center operations easily and seamlessly can be transferred to a temporary location, ensuring that this life-saving service continues unimpeded.
Advantage #3: Fiscal Advantages
Beyond these operational advantages, cloud-hosted solutions also offer noteworthy fiscal advantages, with the most noteworthy being that there are typically no upfront costs because no equipment needs to be deployed. This is significant because the cost to implement call-handling and CAD systems range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions, depending on the size of the 911 center. In contrast, the monthly recurring charges—which are proportional to the 911 center’s size—associated with cloud-hosted solutions are more predictable and, thus, more easily budgeted. They also are considered operating expenses (OPEX) as opposed to capital expenses (CAPEX), which is the category under which equipment procurements fall. This is incredibly significant because it typically is far easier to get OPEX projects approved by governing entities than it is to get CAPEX projects approved.
Cloud-hosted solutions are beginning to experience an increased adoption rate across the country, and service providers have begun to respond to the market demand for alternatives to the traditional backroom, hardware-intensive solutions.
Right now, about a half dozen MCP clients are leveraging cloud-hosted solutions. One is the State of Tennessee, which has integrated AT&T’s call handling as a service (CHaaS) offering, which is available to the state’s emergency communications districts (ECDs) through the NetTN contract. (NetTN is a statewide broadband network that serves the government, public safety and education communities). Cloud-based solutions for addressing CAD, logging/recording and business intelligence needs also may be found in the marketplace today.
So, what does this mean for the rest of the 911 community? Simply that the next time your center is due for a technology refresh, you will find many more cost-effective options if you look to the cloud.