The first 911 call was made 51 years ago in Alabama. That call marked a significant technological advancement that enabled citizens to activate an emergency response much quicker and more efficiently than ever before. Since then, public safety officials have continued to leverage communications technology advancements to make emergency response even more efficient and effective. These include the advent of Enhanced 911 (E911) service, digital land mobile radio (LMR) networks, and the introduction of computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems and mapping applications. The counterbalance is that these advancements occurred in distinct silos that developed within the emergency communications ecosystem.
Being an early adopter in the public safety/emergency response community is a wonderful thing. It is exhilarating to be on the leading edge of technology innovation, especially when one is steeped in the belief that such innovation will save many more lives—which happens to be the public safety communications community’s business.
However, as with most things in life, there is a flip side to this coin, which is that it not always easy to be an early adopter. To pull it off one needs not only considerable vision and drive, but also an equal measure of fortitude.
Recently I moderated a panel discussion regarding a pilot project conducted earlier this year that explored how social media data could be leveraged to enhance emergency response. (If you missed this free webinar, it is archived here. I urge you to take the time to view it—a lot of great information was presented on a very interesting project.)
Computer and cybersecurity nerds across the internet are marveling at last week’s report of a record-breaking distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack aimed at a software development website called GitHub that caused intermittent access outages.
For those unfamiliar with DDoS attacks, they are intended to block public access to an online service by flooding it with junk data or repeated requests from multiple, and often compromising sources, thereby rendering legitimate access impossible. DDoS attacks are increasing in quantity, breadth, and sophistication. Some attacks have gone as far as demanding a ransom to terminate the attack.
Cyber attacks are on the rise, and public safety MUST protect against them
As we talk with our public safety communications clients about implementing a statewide emergency services IP network (ESInet) and / or Next Generation Core Services (NGCS), we cannot stress enough that protecting these Internet Protocol (IP)-based, broadband-enabled networks is paramount. Government DDoS attacks have already caused many detrimental and unforeseeable effects on emergency response. Recently, the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) released their 2018 SLTT Government Outlook which, not surprisingly, highlighted its position that the “sophistication of malware, cyber threat actors, and tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) will continue to increase.”
Sensational headlines criticizing the 911 industry’s inability to accurately and quickly locate emergency callers abound, like this recent one in the Wall Street Journal: “Why Uber Can Find You but 911 Can’t.” This is one of the industry’s most intractable issues—as TV host John Oliver said in 2016, “There doesn’t appear to be a simple, satisfying answer,” to why smartphone apps provide much better location information than that received by 911 centers.
Those within the industry understand the problem: 80 percent or more of all 911 calls are made using a wireless device, and such calls are routed based on Phase I data, which is the location of the cellular tower. More accurate “Phase II” data can become available (usually) in 25-35 seconds of the call being received by the 911 center, but that depends on multiple factors, including signal strength/distortion, geography and topology, especially when calls are made inside structures.
But, smartphones are supposed to be “smart” and the device knows where the caller is physically located, because of embedded GPS sensors and Wi-Fi positioning systems. Unfortunately, as we know all too well, today’s 911 systems do not have access to that device-generated location information.
The Consumer Technology Association’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) wrapped up earlier this month in Las Vegas, and 911 and public safety communications should be paying attention now more than ever before.