The ability to test applications in a non-emergency environment, and having first responders involved in that process, is an essential part of making new life-saving technologies a reality, says Walt Magnussen, director of the Texas A&M University Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC).

“The apps keep going and going and going,” Magnussen said during a session at the recent National Emergency Number Association conference in Nashville. “Every time we find out about something that will help us out, we end up going to the app store and uploading it. We’re hoping (the same scenario) will evolve in the public safety space as well.

“There’s a lot of data out there.”

Next-generation 911 is expected to enable a new array of this data -- like video, text, telemetry, crash data -- to flow through a public-safety answering point (PSAP) to the first responder in the field. ITEC is playing an integral role in the testing of the new applications that can make these new opportunities possible for first responders.     

“Quite frankly, all of us sitting here talking about how wonderful and exciting this technology is and how it’s going to revolutionize everything we’re doing and how great it’s going to be is fine, but it doesn’t get half of the job done that we need to do,” Magnussen said during a NENA session.

“Actually putting this stuff in the hand of the first responder is in essence what seals the story. It’s what proves the point. And really it’s what starts to build the groundswell, the grassroots support that we need. Because a lot of this stuff is funded by our legislators, and legislators get excited by whatever excites the voters,” he said.

“Us sitting around in these conferences talking about how great the technology is isn’t going to build the grassroots support. A couple of firemen looking at this and saying yes I can see how this can save lives – that does it,” he said.

Some of the applications that are either being tested or are proposed for testing include situational awareness with GeoSuite (General Dynamics), surveillance video (NICE), P25 PTT integration (Motorola), multicast video (Juniper), autonomous unmanned vehicles (AirRobot), multi-jurisdictional information sharing (MutualLink) and linear video (Philo).

ITEC has been involved in the development of both the next-generation 911 and the public-safety broadband networks, most recently as a host for an application testing sandbox so developers can show whether their application’s capabilities meet the federal standard for the public-safety network.

The center is currently trying to expand its reach by working with other universities to carry out testing, and it is also conducting remote testing – as in Saskatchewan, Canada, this November – to determine the interoperability of various networks.