Anniversaries and milestones go hand in hand. Consider the arc of a typical human life. A person is born. That momentous event is followed by others: the first day of school, graduations, marriage, children, and then grandchildren and, if they’re fortunate, retirement, with a few personal and professional achievements realized along the journey. The longer the life, the more the milestones pile up.
When it comes to emergency response, having reliable public safety radio coverage is imperative to keeping first responders safe and able to communicate when responding to incidents inside of buildings. As natural disasters intensify and terrorists become bolder, building codes and standards become stricter. While thicker walls and reinforced windows are great for the safety of a building’s inhabitants, they also make it more difficult for radio signals to penetrate.
Topics: Industry Standards
Great things happen when an industry comes together as one.
Case in point: After Morgan O’Brien unveiled his idea for a nationwide interoperable broadband communications network for first responders in 2006, special interest groups soon developed within public safety concerning how the network should come about. There was so much disagreement and infighting that some feared Congress would get tired of it all, dismiss the idea, and reallocate the radio frequency spectrum needed to make the network a reality, resulting in a critical opportunity being lost forever.
Fortunately, public safety came to its senses and began to speak with a unified voice, largely due to the efforts of a group that called itself the Public Safety Alliance, and the rest is history. Congress enacted the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2012, which created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), and authorized $7 billion in funding for the buildout of the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN).
Another example of collaboration – the Telecommunicator-Training Guidelines
Another impressive example of industrywide collaboration culminated last summer when the Recommended Minimum Training Guidelines for Telecommunicators were released.
Representatives from a diverse set of organizations—trade associations, public safety agencies, and 9-1-1 training vendors—looked past their own agendas and interests, and worked for more than three years to deliver the guidelines. Consensus-driven, these guidelines are intended to foster a baseline level of competency that will result in a more-consistent level of service being delivered to citizens and first responders, no matter where they are.
Major progress has already been made
Already the guidelines are being put to good use.
- In the state of Idaho, a law was passed last week that mandates hiring standards and 40 hours of certification training, approved by the Idaho Peace Officer Standards & Training Academy, upon being hired as an emergency communications officer/emergency services telecommunicator. It also requires 40 hours of continuing education every two years after that to maintain the certification.
- In Minnesota, new training requirements adopted by the Metropolitan Emergency Services Board (MESB)—which covers the nine counties that surround the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul—took effect on January 1, 2017, are based on these guidelines.
- In Kansas, a revised set of standards were developed by the Kansas 9-1-1 Coordinating Council, spell out the topics that should be included in the first 40 and 80 hours of telecommunicator training, take effect next year.
Each of these efforts is approaching telecommunicator training and certification just a little differently—which was the intention behind the national-level guidelines from the beginning. While they are intended to ensure a baseline level of competency for all 9-1-1 centers nationwide, the group emphasized that 9-1-1 centers can build upon and enhance the guidelines based on local needs and circumstances. What each of the efforts described above have in common is that they used the national guidelines as a benchmark.
Topics: Industry Standards
On the evening of March 8th, PSAPs in multiple states were notified that wireless AT&T customers were unable to access 9-1-1 with a voice call, or were having difficulty reaching a 9-1-1 calltaker.
It appears that the outage was extensive, perhaps nationwide, and lasted for several hours before being resolved. PSAPs in Tennessee, Texas, California, Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania are just a few states that publicly confirmed 9-1-1 service degradation. The full impact is still unknown at this point.
As the vendors involved work to investigate the root cause of the system failure, many within the public safety sector are beginning to reflect on the situation and how the industry can be better prepared for when—not if—a similar problem occurs in the future.
Meanwhile, at the federal level, the FCC has announced an investigation that will likely to take some time to complete.
A seemingly uncoordinated effort
Many of our 9-1-1 clients reported that notifications to state 9-1-1 leaders and PSAPs were sporadic and narrowly targeted. Agencies shared bits of information via email with their colleagues as the situation unfolded. Network operation centers from service providers such as West Safety Services and Comtech forwarded notifications to some of their PSAP customers; however, many were never notified by a service provider during the incident or after the situation was resolved. The notification process and subsequent communication appeared to be an uncoordinated effort that leaves significant room for improvement.
Although requirements codified in Federal regulations (§47 CFR 4.9 - Outage reporting requirements - threshold) mandate notification to the FCC within 120 minutes for system outages, contacting affected 9-1-1 authorities is required “as soon as possible” which unfortunately is not well defined.
It's critical that the 9-1-1 community mitigate the effects and impacts associated with unplanned outages. Agencies need to prepare themselves to respond effectively to emergency situations like this outage.
time for a policy and procedure refresh
In light of the outage, Mission Critical Partners urges each 9-1-1 authority to review their local/regional policies and procedures to determine if revisions (or testing) are necessary. The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) describes contingency planning in its “PSAP Disaster & Contingency Plans Recommendations.”
A few steps we suggest include:
Looking at my smart phone, there seems to be an app for just about everything. There are apps that let you watch sporting events, movies and television shows on your device, while others provide turn-by-turn directions to your destination and tell you where the closest pharmacy is to your location. There are apps that let you receive a fake phone call when you want to extract yourself from an awkward situation, apps that enable you to locate your car when you’ve forgotten where you parked it, and apps that tell you when it’s the best time to run to the theater’s concession stand , so as not to miss the “good” part of a movie.
The rise of 9-1-1 smartphone apps
There even are apps that interconnect with 9-1-1 systems. Most are variations of the same theme:
- the user launches an app to contact 9-1-1 with the “touch of a button”
- information about the caller, including the location and pre-loaded medical history information, is transmitted with the call.
- users can even go as far as indicating the type of emergency—police, fire, medical or car crash—again at the touch of a button on some of the apps.
A few apps are focused on active shooter incidents. They enable authorized school and corporate security personnel to indicate that an active shooter incident is in progress, again with the touch of a button. The app indicates the location of the alert on a map, and while 9-1-1 is being contacted, they also alerts all federal, state and local law enforcement personnel in close proximity who have downloaded a companion responder app. According to the app developer, tens of thousands of law enforcement personnel have downloaded their app to date.
Let’s walk before we run
The idea behind these apps is to make it faster and easier for citizens to contact 9-1-1 and to speed emergency response. It’s a great idea and the public safety community is always focused on improving outcomes for people in their time of need.
What’s not so good is that the app developers have been allowed to do their thing with little to no oversight. Compile some code, upload it to an app store, and problem solved. Or is it?