Public safety should accept VoIP, speakers say
ORLANDO–Instead of trying to resist voice over IP, public-safety answering point officials should prepare for an IP-based world and try to leverage technological innovations to their benefit, speakers at the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials Winter Summit said yesterday.
“The old adage was, ‘Voice over IP is coming,’” said Sam Keys, public safety communications analyst for the Virginia Information Technology Agency. “Well, voice over IP is here … and we have to take this technology and make it apply to our everyday operations.”
Such a strategy involves more than simply retrofitting legacy PSAPs with equipment to accept VoIP 911 calls. The popularity of less-expensive VoIP services is resulting in a marked decrease in 911 funding from wireline phone lines, and PSAPs should be working with elected officials to ensure that they can maintain revenues necessary to maintain their emergency-calling infrastructure, said Bill Cade, APCO’s director of 911 and communications center operations.
“The loss of [annual 911] wireline revenue in some states is reaching 6 figures,” Cade said. “It’s important to get on the road to change this paradigm, because you’re going to continue to lose wireline surcharge revenue.”
Some of the same technological advances in the commercial arena that have cause PSAPs difficulty can improve their operations. Martin Moody, technical services manager for APCO’s 911 office, characterized many i2 models as “workarounds for a network that’s seen its better days,” and Keys predicted many PSAPs will need to make “forklift upgrades” to handle emergency voice, data and video communications in an efficient manner.
Moody said this PSAP evolution means equipment in call centers “is becoming more like a computer and less like a telephone,” resulting in IT departments playing an increasingly important role to support emergency communications.
Paying for the technological upgrades can be a daunting task for smaller PSAPs with limited resources, which is why more public-safety entities should consider consolidating their emergency call-taking and dispatch resources, said Michael Fischel, senior consultant with L. Robert Kimball & Associates. After investing in consolidation can lead to better, more cost-effective public-safety service that includes much greater levels of interoperability than separate PSAPs can achieve.
While advocating pursuit of innovative technologies, APCO’s Cade said future PSAP network designs should always include gateways that let legacy equipment continue to work effectively in PSAPs that cannot afford to upgrade their systems.
“I don’t want to get so far down the road that we forget some people that can’t make the trip,” Cade said.