LONG BEACH, Calif.--The buzzword--or more accurately buzz-acronym--that has dominated talk at this week’s National Emergency Number Association conference is VoIP, as public-safety answering point managers try to figure out how they’re going to process 911 calls from VoIP subscribers and manage their own transitions to IP-based infrastructures.

Currently, there are about 1 million VoIP subscribers nationwide, and that number is expected to grow to 17.5 million by 2009, according to The Yankee Group. There’s nothing the PSAP community can do to stop the groundswell, according to speaker Pete Eggiman, director of 911 services for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Metropolitan 911 Board.

“You’re not going to convince someone paying $40 per month for [wireline] service, plus long-distance, that they’re foolish to switch to a voice-over-the-Net provider charging $15 per month including long-distance,” he said.

Eggiman also said there is a “whole generation with a whole different mindset that is communicating in a different way,” e.g., via text messaging. “Young people text each other even when they’re sitting across the table from each other.”

He said PSAPs have no choice but to adapt to the new mindset. “In an emergency, if they’re not thinking but reacting, this is how they’re going to communicate with you,” Eggiman told NENA attendees. “Even if a wireline phone is hanging on the wall, they’re going to grab their cell phones and start texting, and they’re going to expect you to be able to handle it.”

Eggiman said PSAP personnel one day soon would be forced to contend with new types of communications that at first will seem quite foreign to them.

“Most of the giveaway phones come with a camera application, so you can bet someone is going to send you a photo,” he said.

Telecommunications service providers and many public-safety agencies are in the process of migrating to IP-based infrastructures--with many more to come as legacy systems reach the end of their life-spans--and this in time will drive PSAPs to migrate their own infrastructures to IP.

“You’re not going to be able to stay in your existing world much longer--you’re going to have to make the shift,” Eggiman said. “You’re not going to put this genie back in the bottle.”

A separate panel discussion yesterday brought attendees up to date on the proposed migration path to IP. The I2 standard, which integrates fixed and nomadic VoIP service providers into the current 911 system--but which requires no infrastructure changes at the PSAP--is expected to be completed in the next 40 days, said Roger Hixson, NENA’s technical issues director. Hixson predicted the standard would be ready for public review in the next 20 days.

The I2 standard replicates the FCC’s wireless E911 Phase 2 standard, according to the panel, and requires VoIP calls to be routed to the correct PSAP via a selective router and requires the provisioning of location information for the caller using the Automatic Location Information (ALI) database. The I3 standard, which proposes to define the next-generation PSAP, would require PSAPs to replace their current E911 systems. Hixson said that standard should be ready for public review by the end of the year. “A lot’s been done, but there’s still plenty to do,” he said.

While acknowledging that VoIP has “shaken our industry like a 9.0 magnitude earthquake,” outgoing NENA President Bill McMurray said in his keynote address Monday that PSAP managers should look upon the IP migration not with dread, but with anticipation of the myriad new capabilities the IP infrastructure makes possible, capabilities that will make first responders more effective and help keep them and the public safer.

“This is an opportunity to redesign the 911 system from one end to the other,” he said. “It will give us an opportunity to serve the deaf, collect vehicle collision from the field in real time and facilitate streaming video from a variety sources to police and fire personnel in the field.”

Eggiman agreed: “Alarm companies will be able to send streaming video of a robbery at a [convenience store] as soon as the panic button is kicked.”