If the nation’s public-safety answering points (PSAPs) can overcome technical and financial hurdles to migrate to IP-based next-generation 911 (N911), how will it impact operations in a 911 center? That’s the question that the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) plans to answer with its Project 43 initiative that is slated to begin in April and deliver a report in August 2017.

APCO Executive Director Derek Poarch said Project 43 will combine information from six working groups that will develop best-practice guidelines in six key areas for PSAPs making the transition to next-generation 911: governance, cybersecurity, technical, operations, staffing and training.

“Project 43 is going to address the broadband implications in PSAPs,” Poarch said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “There’s a number of different groups of interest working on next-generation to the PSAP, and we applaud all of that work that’s ongoing. We just felt, here at APCO, that one of the pieces that wasn’t being fully explored was what the impact of next-generation and broadband technologies was going to be inside of the PSAP.

“Let’s face it, it does no good to the public-safety communications community—or the citizens that are served—to get next-generation technologies to t the PSAP, unless the PSAP is equipped with the proper infrastructure, [has appropriate] operational policies, is staffed at the correct levels, and has the ability to take that massive and different information that’s going to be coming in and get it pushed out to the first responders.”

Indeed, many 911 telecommunicators have expressed concern about NG911, which promises to enable citizens to communicate with the emergency-calling system via media other than voice, including text, data, photos and video.

If properly handled, the potential public-safety benefits of multimedia are obvious. For instance, a picture or video of a suspect is much more helpful than a verbal description of a suspect’s appearance, particularly if the description is relatively common.

But many 911 professionals are worried that they lack the staffing and procedures to process such media effectively and deliver it to public-safety officers in a manner that will help their response efforts. In addition, there are concerns that telecommunicators could be put in situations that could undermine their ability to do their job properly—for example, would viewing a graphic photo or video distract or disrupt a call-taker’s ability to focus on what a 911 caller was saying?