Transition to next-gen 911 filled with challenges
TAMPA–Specifications outlining what next-generation 911 systems will look like are expected to be completed this year, but it could be another year before similar documents are available that describe the migratory path legacy public safety answering points (PSAPs) should take to reach next-generation status. So said panelists speaking yesterday at the National Emergency Number Association’s (NENA) annual conference.
The panel session focused on the steps PSAPs must take to become IP-based, next-generation 911 centers. While NENA officials have expressed the desire to have some next-generation 911 PSAPs operational by the third quarter of 2009, they noted yesterday that current progress is behind that schedule.
Brian Rosen, senior director at NeuStar and chairman of NENA’s long-term definition working group, said specifications defining the next-gen network should be finalized this summer. However, a transition plan likely won’t be finished until the latter part of 2009, and NENA and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) just established a joint task force to create specifications for the interface to next-generation computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, Rosen said.
While these final specifications are more than a year away, Rosen emphasized the need for the PSAP community to move quickly and take steps toward the next-generation 911 architecture when possible.
“If it takes another decade, I think we’re doing the country a disservice,” he said.
Rosen said he believes the first step PSAPs will take to transition from legacy systems to next-generation 911 will be to build a network with IP interfaces and insert a gateway to transform the selective-router information into IP.
Rosen’s projected next step—“the hard part,” he said—would be to move carriers off the selective-router system and have them send emergency calls to an IP gateway. While the selective router would exist to route calls to legacy PSAPs via a “reverse gateway,” the IP gateway would be the preferred path for the call.
In the final step, the selective router would be removed from the 911 system and a TDM gateway would be used for communications between primary PSAPs and secondary PSAPs that have not been upgraded to the next-generation standard.
Noting that this three-step process is his personal vision and not necessarily what the NENA specifications will be, Rosen acknowledged that some carriers might resist the move to an IP-based 911 system. Mike Pedigo, executive director of the Denco Area 911 District in Texas, echoed this sentiment, noting that carriers are worried that new vendors will put a dent in their 911 services revenue.
However, Rosen said history suggests that carrier pushback may not be as much of a problem as getting PSAPs to make the transition to IP, an effort that can be complicated by the timing of available funding to make the upgrades.
“I think it’s going to be just as difficult to get PSAPs to migrate as carriers—maybe harder,” Rosen said, noting slow pace with Phase II wireless upgrades. “[With wireless E911] we pushed the carriers to do it and didn’t push the PSAPs to do it. We can’t do that again.”
To help PSAPs move to next-generation 911, NENA is “very close” to establishing a certification program for equipment, said Ray Paddock of NENA program support. The certification process is being designed to give PSAPs confidence that next-generation products meet NENA’s specifications, he said.