Pros, no cons
Those who manage public-safety answering points are very familiar with the recording, record-keeping and legal production requirements in their states. But with NG-911 looming just over the horizon, they may be wondering how it’s going to impact these operations. Simply put, the impact will be huge — but the benefits also will be huge. In this article, we’ll explore how recording works under NG-911, how it differs from what PSAP managers are used to, and some of the most significant benefits it will provide.
One of the first questions concerns whether existing loggers will be usable in a NG-911 environment. The short answer is no. The NG-911 logging service is a very different animal. Legacy voice recorders accept a very limited number of input types: telephone and radio audio, some video, ANI/ALI, and sometimes textual types such as TTY/TDD. In contrast, an NG-911 logging service must accept many more input types, including telematics, e.g., vehicle crash data, sensor and alarm data, radio over IP, live and recorded video feeds, text and multimedia messages, and voice inputs from both wireless and wireline devices — all of these are considered NG-911 “calls.”
But the list doesn’t end there. The logging service also must accept processing events from all NG-911 elements that touch a call, from the moment it hits the Emergency Services Inter-network (ESInet). The result of all this logging is that, for the first time, PSAPs will have a complete record of everything that happened to a call, from the moment it hit the network, to the moment the incident is finally closed, regardless of what type of call it was.
Another big difference is that an NG-911 logging service has standard interfaces that allow it to be accessed by other NG-911 systems. Let’s say you get a subpoena for all records related to an incident. Imagine being able to go to one system and pull up all of your incident records — along with everything from the logging service — in a single operation. Because the logging service has standard, published interfaces, other NG-911 systems can pull data from it simply by implementing the client side of those interfaces. These interfaces also are used by many other systems during real-time processing of calls, including calls transferred to another PSAP or agency.
The technical committees of the National Emergency Number Association and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials have been working jointly for several years to make such interoperability possible. The ability to access readily available data in a major emergency would be powerful, said Kathy McMahon APCO’s technical services manager.
“In a disaster, emergency managers will be able to get a complete picture of everything that’s happening, helping them to understand and manage the situation more effectively,” she said.
NG-911 calls come into the PSAP via the Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP. This is true whether it’s a voice call, video, text message or alarm. So, the logging service must support SIP. It also must have a standard LogEvent interface for recording events from every piece of equipment that touches the call. This complete record of call processing can be used for statistical analysis and troubleshooting after the fact, and to provide a complete picture while handling the incident.
The output side of the logging service also is standardized. A Web service is provided so that other PSAP and network systems can pull logged data in real-time and after the fact. A standard Real Time Streaming Protocol (RTSP) interface is provided for playing back multimedia data such as audio and video, and to support Instant Recall Recorder functionality. All logged data is tagged with unique incident and call identifiers that are consistent across all NG-911 systems. Other systems — such as CPE, CAD and RMS — will have these same identifiers on their data. These identifiers are the keys that tie all NG-911 data together, regardless of manufacturer.
Imagine this scenario: an alarm comes in from the local bank. The bank’s video system offers streaming video to the PSAP. A police unit is dispatched, and the video feeds are patched through to a mobile data computer system, which in turn offers them to the police unit. The officers access the feeds on their in-car computer, and see two suspects near the vault, one with a handgun and the other with a shotgun. All of this is made possible by standard interfaces that will allow manufacturers to offer such capabilities. Many vendors already are working to implement them.
The NG-911 logging service is a core service — every ESInet must have access to one, as well as every PSAP. IP enables the logging service to be placed anywhere in the network. Each PSAP can have its own logging service. Or multiple PSAPs can share a single, virtual logging service located in the ESInet. Indeed, logging-service vendors that implement virtual-logger capabilities — along with some rather strict security features — could market logging services that are provided on a subscription basis, perhaps by a state or regional authority.
“We think that’s one of the most powerful aspects of NG-911,” said Jeff Vezina, director of sales for logging-service provider DSS Corp. “Both PSAPs and the regional authorities we partner with could realize significant cost savings with this model.” Another advantage of the virtual-logger concept is its inherent redundancy, according to Vezina. “If they have two data centers, each with its own [virtual-logging] service, they can have half of the PSAPs on one and the rest on the other,” he said. “If one service becomes unavailable, those PSAPs can automatically fail-over to the other. It’s not only a very powerful option, it’s also a much less expensive way of providing disaster tolerance than for each PSAP to have redundant loggers.”
One thing PSAP managers should think about regarding NG-911 logging is how access to the data will be controlled. Regardless of whether the logging service is in the PSAP, access policies must exist not only for your own users, but also for other agencies to which you transfer calls. For example, a PSAP may want to access the portion of a call that occurred prior to the transfer, or include a reference to your local incident record in theirs. The owner of the data defines the policy that grants or denies access. The virtual-logger concept presents a new challenge in this regard. As APCO’s McMahon noted, “If multiple agencies are sharing a logging service, each agency will have to be assured control of their data, and be able to manage access to it.”
So, as you think about how you want to implement your logging service, make sure you also think about how you want to define your access policies. You’ll have to examine the logging-service solution carefully to ensure that you’ll have the policy control you require. Then look at the powerful interoperability capabilities provided by its standard interfaces — and just imagine the possibilities.
Michael Smith is the chief technologist for Southfield, Mich.-based DSS Corp. As co-leader of the joint APCO/NENA NG-911 PSAP Working Group, he provides expertise in defining requirements and interfaces for NG-911.