WHEATON, Ill.—The week, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) is conducting its latest Industry Collaboration Event--dubbed ICE 8--which is focusing on ensuring that public-safety answering points (PSAPs) will be able to properly log and record all of the potential elements of a next-generation 911 (NG-911) call, including voice, text, video and sensor data. The test event is being conducted through Friday at the Illinois Institute of Technology campus in Wheaton, Ill.

The interfaces being tested this week, using real-world scenarios in a simulated PSAP, include the following:

·         Recording of voice, video and text media

·         Event logging by both network and PSAP functional elements

·         Queries and retrieval/playback of media and events

The event isn’t about demonstrating that everything is working just as intended; rather, it’s about finding out what’s broken, said Michael Smith, chief technologist for DSS Corp. and chairman of the ICE 8 planning committee.

“This is about exposing the warts, so that we can remove them,” Smith said.

Ron Bloom, a member of NENA’s executive board, echoed the sentiment.

“Everyone would like everything to be perfect right from the start, but that’s not how things work,” he said. “That’s why we test. Now is the time to find out problems, not later.”

Smith added that this week’s event also is about identifying ambiguities in the NG-911 standards.

“We’re all speaking English, but if you give five people a document, you’re likely to get five different interpretations,” Smith said. “Events like this one help us work through that. We want to make sure that everything works with no ambiguities. A big part of this process is to generate feedback that will result in better standards.”

Bloom concurred.

“You want to think that everything will go smoothly, but sometimes things are out of alignment with the standards,” he said. “We can use the test results to bring the standards up to date.”

According to Roger Hixson, NENA’s technical services director, the NG-911 architecture will provide far greater logging and recording capabilities compared with legacy Enhanced-911 (E-911) systems.

“With E-911, you have very limited logging capability for a short timeframe … it mostly was part of the selective routing switch architecture, and it was the normal routing that takes place in a Class 5 switch—it wasn’t specific to E-911 per se,” Hixson said.

“If you wanted to know what came into the switch, what came out of the switch, and what decision was made, you could ascertain that … but it only highlighted that particular piece of the action,” he continued. “We designed NG-911 so that you could log what happened at each individual component—and there are nine different components [within a PSAP’s system].”

The ability to log and record calls effectively is crucial in a PSAP, because things do go wrong now and then, according to Smith.

“For example, you can have a bad boundary in your ECRF (emergency call routing function) that results in a call falling into the wrong PSAP’s boundary, and it gets forwarded to the wrong PSAP,” he said. “Logging can help you figure out where the problem was.”

Hixson echoed this sentiment.

“The ESRP sent the call there, but we know that it should have gone here,” he said. “Did the ESRP somehow mess up, or is the wrong information in the ECRF? What did the ECRF supply to control that? If that’s the wrong information, then you know you have a GIS problem. None of that is available in E-911.”

Hixson eventually would like to see NG-911 systems generate reports on demand that indicate what transpired at each point of the process, so PSAP officials can determine where and why the breakdown occurred—all within 10 minutes of the emergency call’s occurrence.

“You need to fix that problem as quickly as possible,” he said. “Logging supports that troubleshooting process.”

Given that NG-911 systems will be able to handle many more inputs—for example, large files such as video—some may worry about storage issues, but storage capacity is a non-factor in today’s world, Hixson said.

“Storage is cheap and getting cheaper at an exponential rate,” he said. “I can go to Best Buy today and get a three-terabyte hard drive today for $79.95. Five years ago, that would have cost you $10,000.”

While storage might not be an issue, challenges related to NG-911 logging and recording nevertheless exist that need to be addressed. Chief among them is the recording of video, because image quality is a critical factor.

“This is particularly important if you’re transmitting video of sign language—video relay services are an important function of 911, because that’s the way some deaf and hearing-impaired people communicate,” Smith said. “You have to have a certain level of quality, a certain number of frames per second, in order for that to be legible on the other end.”

Though most loggers offer the ability to compress video—and some agencies still might be tempted to do so, despite the fact that storage capacity is inexpensive to acquire—Smith cautioned against doing so. Compression removes information from the file, and while it is possible to decompress a file, the reconstruction wouldn’t be total—so the integrity of the video possibly would be compromised, which would be particularly important in a legal proceeding, he said.

“The key is that you want to record what was delivered,” Smith said. “If you compress, you’ve modified what you’ve received. You’d typically compress in the past, because storage was expensive, but that’s pretty much gone away now. So, whatever was actually received or seen by the agent, that’s what you want to record.”

Companies scheduled to participate in the event include the following:

·         DSS Corp.

·         Stancil

·         Verint Systems

·         Higherground

·         Revcord

·         NICE Systems

·         Voice Print International

·         Eventide

·         Assure911

·         Exacom

·         Versadial

·         CVDS

·         Acme Packet

·         Aculab

·         Cassidian Communications

·         Digital Data Technologies

·         Frequentis

·         Geocomm

·         INdigital

·         Modular Communications Systems

·         Solacom

·         Synergen Emergency Services

·         Voiceriver

·         Intrado

·         Redsky