Speaking yesterday in a webinar hosted by the National 911 Office—a unit of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Emergency Medical Services—FirstNet board member Charles Dowd said that it is essential that the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN) is designed so that it can integrate with next-generation 911 systems.

“You can’t get the job done without 911,” Dowd said. “As we move from enhanced 911 to next-generation 911, it’s going to be an interesting confluence of technologies as we try to push that information out in a meaningful way to first responders.”

An assistant chief with the New York Police Department, Dowd offered an example of how this integration might work. He told of an incident that occurred on a city bus. An off-duty 911 dispatcher on her way to work noticed a man fumbling with a bag of some sort; as the man did so, a handgun became visible to the dispatcher. The off-duty dispatcher knew that she couldn’t call 911, because that might spook the man. Because she also couldn’t text 911, she did the next best thing—she texted another 911 dispatcher, who then made the emergency call. The incident had a happy ending, as officials were able to locate the bus and dispatch police officers, who arrested the man before he could do any damage.

In the future, such an incident will be handled differently, Dowd predicted.

“That’s the way we do it under today’s technology,” he said. “In the future, what I would envision in that scenario … is that she would be able to surreptitiously text to 911 and explain directly to a 911 call-taker what’s going on, [and] why she’s texting the information instead of calling.

“Then, not only should the 911 call-taker that’s receiving the information be able to act on it, but—if we integrate correctly with the public-safety broadband network—there should be an ability to pass that information directly to responding units in real time, so that they can actually see those texts and act on [that information] as well, rather than getting it once, twice or even three times removed.”

Dowd believes that integrating the NPSBN with NG-911 systems is feasible, because each leverages IP-based technology. He also envisions that officers in the field will be able to receive 911 audio as a result of the integration. But Dowd doesn’t see the NPSBN becoming the ESInet (Emergency Services IP Network) for NG-911 in the future.

“When I’m talking about 911 audio … I would like to see us build in the capability—and it doesn’t have to be automatic; the officers responding to the incident don’t have to get an automatic download of that 911 audio,” Dowd said. “But, if they deem it necessary, they could download that audio, so that they could listen to it to better understand the incident that they’re responding to. … Whether [the NPSBN] would carry all of the audio is a different issue. I don’t know at this point whether we’d be able to do that, but certainly we want to integrate with next-generation 911.”