Next-generation 911 will enable public-safety answering points (PSAPs) to offer text messaging and data services, but planning discussions about the future of 911 shouldn’t focus solely on the technology, according to David Jones, a consultant with Mission Critical Partners.

“The technology is going to be the easy part,” Jones said during a recent session at the recent National Emergency Number Association (NENA) recent conference in Nashville. “It is the softer parts—the governance, how are you going to work together, how are you going to share the costs—those kinds of things are going to be somewhat more difficult as you are working to craft your path forward.”

Jones, a former dispatcher and 911 director who has worked as a consultant for the last eight years, spoke on the operational implications of NG 911. Here is some of the guidance he had to offer his colleagues:

·         Do not try to undertake the transition alone. Identify the stakeholders—from law enforcement, fire and EMS entities to telecommunications companies, hospitals, school districts and the media—and include them in the process early. “Next-generation 911 is more than just that emergency access point. It’s also about the sharing of information through the emergency response continuum.”

·         Once the stakeholders are identified, take the time to discern their understanding of next-gen 911. Be prepared to educate shareholders on its importance and how it will impact them.  

·         Deal with the issue of governance—how it will be done and how will the relationships of the entities involved be defined—on the front end. This is often done through an interlocal government agreement or a memorandum of understanding. “These are never easy discussions. They can be awkward. They can be painful. But they are much less so, if you deal with it up front.”

·         Be on the lookout early in the process for regulatory and statutory roadblocks that will need to be resolved before next-gen 911 can be deployed locally.

·         Don’t expect the current funding model for 911 to sustain operations in the future. “What got us here is not going to get us there,” he said.

·         Working within a competitive marketplace to replace your legacy system may come with lower costs, but it also can PSAP administrators with more responsibility. This may involve working with multiple service providers and, if so, administrators should be prepared to hold vendors accountable for the services provided. Make service providers explain how their product is compliant with security standards and how it can enable interopability and information sharing.