A few days prior to the opening of the recent Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) conference in Houston, Positron Front Line and its parent company, Tiburon, announced a partnership with Intrado with the goal of creating a solution for public-safety answering points that will aggregate multimedia data from a plethora of content providers and deliver the data to the desktops of dispatchers and first responders. Such is the promise of next-generation 911, an IP-based platform that will support high-bandwidth applications and the seamless sharing of information between agencies.

“We want to ensure that they have the most-relevant information at their fingertips,” said Albert Israel, Tiburon's vice president of products.

The data would include video footage, still photos, text messages from 911 callers, building plans, warehouse manifests and gunshot-location information — all of which would be very useful to dispatchers and first responders. The data would be delivered over a platform that leverages Intrado’s NG-911 infrastructure and Positron’s computer-aided dispatch solution, which is compliant with the Emergency Services Messaging Interface (ESMI) and the Request for Assistance Interface (RFAI) standards.

All of that sounds great. Who wouldn’t want dispatchers and first responders to have the “most-relevant” info possible? And certainly, Intrado and Positron both are top-flight companies with a long history of serving the public-safety sector, so it’s reasonable to think that this platform is going to do everything they say it’s going to do. But where is the money going to be found for PSAPs to make the migration to next-gen 911? Many are struggling just to keep current legacy operations going in a fiscal environment that continues to be stagnant.

Fortunately, this is something that both Intrado and Positron have considered.

“We’re going to be delivering this not only in a traditional solution but also will be delivering it in a hosted environment,” said Ian Archbell, Positron’s general manager. “Most of the smaller agencies will want this. We’re in an environment today where capital expenditure budgets are being cut and agencies are being forced to lay off people — even officers on the beat are being laid off right now.”

Last month, the city of Oakland, Calif., one of the nation’s most crime-ridden cities, laid off 80 police officers, which reduced the force by about 10%.

“When one of the toughest cities in the U.S. is being forced to lay off officers, how will they be able to afford to buy next-generation technology?” Archbell said. “We’re making it more affordable by providing it in a secure hosted environment.”

According to Archbell, the service will be hosted by Intrado and managed by Positron. He added that an unidentified Texas county will be the first to utilize the hosted service later this month. Users will need to enter into a contract for the hosted service and will pay a monthly fee that will be “less than $2,000 per position,” Archbell said.

The hosted service will provide a full-featured CAD system, according to Israel. “We have customers that are Tier 2 — even Tier 1 — that are using our system, and we’re making that level of sophistication available even to Tier 3 customers.”

Users will receive the basic platform and then add options on an a la carte basis, which will let them customize their experience based on their unique budgets. Another advantage of the hosted-service approach is that it continuously will be refreshed, meaning that participating agencies always will have the latest and greatest.

“It’s a way to get Tier 1 capabilities at a Tier 3 price,” Archbell said.

Not only is it a way to get Tier 3 cities into a game that they otherwise might be unable to play from a cost perspective, it lets agencies that don’t have IT capabilities take advantage of the NG-911 future. “They don’t have to have any IT support, a sophisticated help desk, the machine room, the air conditioning — they don’t have to have any of that stuff,” Archbell said.

The hosted service being offered by Intrado and Positron is analogous to leasing a car. Most people, I think, would prefer to purchase their cars outright. But some, because of their financial situations, can’t do that, and leasing is their only option. Others choose to lease because that option allows them to get a better car, or one that has more bells and whistles. When one’s options are limited, leasing isn’t a bad way to go. The same can be said for hosted services. Hopefully, other vendors will take note of what Intrado and Positron are doing. Public safety, particularly the 911 sector, is going to experience tough economic conditions for some time to come.

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Updated 8/18/2010