Profound changes are coming to the public safety sector, particularly to 911 centers. Next Generation 911 systems and the nationwide public safety broadband network—which is being implemented by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet)—will generate a tremendous amount of new, actionable data in real-time that dramatically will enhance situational awareness, in turn improving emergency response by leaps and bounds. In time, even more usable information generated by the billions of data-collection sensors already in place—whose numbers will reach into the trillions in the not-too-distant future—will be leveraged by 911 centers, which will become the center of the information universe, at least as it pertains to public safety.
From coast to coast, public safety agencies are implementing Emergency Services Internet Protocol (IP) Networks (ESInets) to provide Next Generation 911 (NG911) services. Such broadband-enabled networks promise to greatly enhance emergency response, as they will enable bandwidth-intensive files, such as streaming video, to be received by NG911-capable public safety answering points (PSAPs) and then shared with first responders in the field, bringing situational awareness to new, lofty levels.
At the same time, ESInets will enable PSAPs to share data with each other seamlessly and in real time, and will enable them to serve as backups to each other in the event that one or more PSAPs in a region are rendered inoperable, inaccessible or uninhabitable due to a disaster.
More than 180 PSAP cyber attacks in the last two years
That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that municipal communications systems, especially 911 systems, are viewed in the black-hat hacker community as a very large notch in the belt, so they increasingly are being targeted. More than 180 cyber attacks on PSAP infrastructure have been recorded in the last two years alone. A huge factor is that IP networks are far more vulnerable to cyber attack than the closed networks provided by telecommunications carriers that carried 911 calls to PSAPs for most of the last half century. (Learn more about this and how 911 network management is changing in our upcoming webinar on 4/26.)
During the Early Adopter Summit—a gathering of 911 industry professionals on the leading edge of disruptive innovation, both technological and operational, convened last November by Christy Williams, 911 director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG)—Michael Morris, NCTCOG’s director of transportation, told a story about a colleague who recently had encountered a considerable amount of road debris.
The colleague had called 911 to report the debris and learned that this was the only call that had been received about the matter. However, the colleague also was told that Waze, the crowd-sourced mapping and navigation application, indicated that five of its users had reported the debris, with the first instance occurring 38 minutes prior to the colleague calling 911.
Integrate Waze with the 911 system?
Morris then spoke about the possibility of someday integrating applications such as Waze with the 911 system. “I’m not saying that it would be easy to integrate Waze with a 911 system,” he said. “But there are algorithms that can be written so that, maybe once you get the second or third verification … it (becomes) a 911 item. It gets back to the notion of prevention, versus just responding.”
Three weeks ago, my colleague, John Chiaramonte, made an impassioned plea to the four major wireless carriers. He asked them to serve the critical needs of the 911 sector and all those who dial those digits in their time of greatest need by turning on Advanced Mobile Location (AML)—now. Today, on the 50th Anniversary of 911, I am delighted to write about an alternate solution to getting life-saving enhanced location technology into the hands of the telecommunicator.
Yesterday afternoon, RapidSOS released the results from its NG911 Clearinghouse Android Emergency Location Services (ELS) Pilot Project held last month in three jurisdictions across the United States: Collier County, Florida, North Central Texas, and Loudon County, Tennessee. Each represents a variety of topography and population, as well as integration with an assortment of existing public safety answering point (PSAP) software.
Change is an interesting concept, a philosophical tug of war if you will. It can be viewed as positive or negative, exciting or demoralizing, vital or unnecessary, and easy or difficult, depending on one’s perspective. The one thing that universally can be said about change is that it is inevitable. As the ancient philosopher Heraclitus once opined, “The only thing that is constant is change.”
Change also is disruptive, which is why many people and organizations try to avoid it. The status quo is comfortable. It is known, and the unknown tends to make people uncomfortable at best, fearful at worst. For many people and organizations, accepting change is akin to declaring defeat, to admitting that the current approach isn’t working.
Profound changes are coming to the public safety sector
Yet, profound changes are coming to the public safety sector, like runaway trains, one after the other. Text-to-911 service is being implemented in many jurisdictions, which will provide equal access to the 911 system to the deaf, deaf-blind, hearing-impaired, and speech-impaired communities, in addition to those who would place themselves in greater danger if they make a 911 voice call, such as during a home invasion or domestic-abuse incident. Text-to-911 is a life-changing development if ever there was one.