Migrating the 911 system to an IP-enabled service is achievable and needed, but the ability to address institutional issues likely will determine how quickly public safety answering points (PSAPs) can make the transition to the new architecture, according to a report released recently by the National E-911 Implementation Coordination Office (ICO).

Entitled “A National Plan for Migrating to IP-Enabled 911 Systems,” the 93-page report to Congress is designed to be a “roadmap for implementing policy decisions,” not a detailed deployment-level strategy for migrating to next-generation systems, according to the ICO. The report concludes that migration to an IP-based system nationwide is achievable within 10 years with the existence of technical standards, consistent funding and nationwide coordination.

The need for new structure to the 911 system has been driven by the evolution of personal communications from circuit-switch, wireline telephony to packet-based technologies that often are mobile or nomadic in nature.

“There is no question that 911 networks and call centers must change; it is just a matter of how and when,” the ICO report states.

Moving to an IP-based architecture would greatly increase access to emergency services, increase first-response agencies’ capabilities and enhance interoperability, according to the report. In addition, no “insurmountable” technological barriers exist, and there are no “significant, long-term cost increases associated with migrating to IP-enabled emergency networks,” the report states.

NG-911 offers significantly higher value and similar costs compared with today’s 911 technologies, regardless of the level of coordination and cost sharing included as part of its deployment,” the report states. “Even after adjusting costs to account for the risks inherent in the upgrade to an NG-911 system, deployment scenarios for NG-911 have total lifecycle costs that are within the range of the current 911 environment’s lifecycle costs ($66 billion to $94 billion). This makes choosing between NG-911 and today’s 911 largely a function of the value provided by each.”

Officials for the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) said they were glad to see the ICO report released.
“I think [the report] is pretty good,” NENA CEO Brian Fontes said. “It’s well written and compartmentalized in a manner that’s understandable.”

In addition, the release of the report could spur actions on Capitol Hill focused on the 911 sector, something members of the public-safety community want to see after the previous law authorizing federal 911 funding expired last week.

“We know for a fact that, on the Senate side, they were waiting for this report to have a number of hearings,” Fontes said. “This may now provide the impetus to hold those hearings.”