Urgent Matters

Get ready, because next-generation 911 is coming

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Looking for information about next-gen 911? Join us on Dec. 5 at the IWCE Virtual Trade Show to hear a panel of experts discuss the possibilities and challenges associated with NG-911.

Earlier this week, I stopped by the Illinois Institute of Technology’s campus in Wheaton, Ill., where the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) was staging a next-generation 911 test event. This particular event focused on the ability to properly log and record all of the myriad elements of a NG-911 call, including voice, video, text and sensor data. It was mentioned that the next test event—to be conducted sometime in 2014—will put the entire NG-911 architecture through its paces. Clearly, NG-911 is heading to the finish line, at least in terms of its engineering.

When NG-911 finally becomes reality, public-safety answering points (PSAPs) of the future will be able to do things that today’s PSAPs only can dream of doing. They will be able to accept text and video from citizenry; they will be able to share data with 911 centers; they will be able to reroute calls to other centers when their own centers have been rendered inoperable by natural or manmade disasters; and they will be able to set up mobile dispatch centers when circumstances warrant.

But, while the future promise of NG-911 is incredibly exciting, there are numerous barriers to entry.

To help you navigate these uncharted waters, we will be presenting a webinar entitled, “Migration Plans: Next-Generation 911” on Dec. 5. I’m excited to be the moderator for this panel discussion, during which industry experts will examine the primary obstacles to deployment: funding, backhaul, analytics—even cultural issues.

Each of these areas presents unique challenges. Culturally, change never has come easy to the public-safety sector. Though I wasn’t around at the time, I’ve been told by several 911 sector veterans that many telecommunicators were troubled greatly when computer-aided dispatch came on the scene. Learning the nuances of CAD may seem like a day at the beach compared with the complexities of handling a NG-911 call. So, PSAP officials are going to have their hands full, first convincing telecommunicators that this is something that makes sense and then preparing them to handle it.

Backhaul and analytics will be critical elements of “handling it.” It’s exciting to think of the additional NG-911 information at the disposal of telecommunicators in the future that will help them do an even better job in the future—and that’s saying something, because they generally do a terrific job today. But all of that data has the potential to clog the pipe, so PSAP officials are going to need to figure out the backhaul piece. Similarly, that tsunami of data in raw form would overwhelm telecommunicators, so analytics will be needed to make sense of it all.

But the biggest challenge is funding. It’s a mess in the 911 sector, and unless the model is revamped, PSAPs will have to get creative if they want to deploy NG-911 technology. That’s why I’m excited that Kenneth Smith, 911 coordinator for Williamson County, Ill., has agreed to participate in a webinar that we will be hosting as part of the IWCE & Urgent Communications Virtual Trade Show on Dec. 5.

Williamson is one of 18 counties in Southern Illinois that have pooled their resources to try to make NG-911 a reality. Roger Hixson, NENA’s technical services director, and a driving force in the development of NG-911 technology, has described the regional approach taken by Smith and his cohorts as “probably the way of the future.” I’m eager to hear of their progress.

Smith will be joined on the panel by two early adopters of NG-911 technology, David Tucker, executive director of the Vermont Enhanced 911 Board, and Barbara Vos, E-911 program manager for Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

If you’re thinking about NG-911—and I’d be willing to bet that you are, because it’s coming—then I urge you to attend this webinar, which is just one of six that will be presented during this day-long, free event. (Click here to register.)

There’s no question in my mind that you will be able to figure out the NG-911 puzzle on your own—but I’m equally certain that it will be easier and faster to let those who have gone before show you the way. 

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Insights from Donny Jackson concerning the most important news, trends and issues.

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Donny Jackson

Donny Jackson is editor of Urgent Communications magazine. Before joining UC in 2002, he covered telecommunications for four years as a freelance writer and as news editor for Telephony magazine....
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