CTIA panel: Many hurdles must be cleared to make NG-911 a reality
ORLANDO — Next-generation 911 (NG-911) promises a robust, flexible platform that will allow public-safety answering points (PSAPs) to receive voice, video, text and data information from emergency callers, but several challenges remain before such systems can be deployed and implemented throughout the United States, according to panelists at a session during the CTIA Wireless annual conference.
Current 911 systems cover 98% of the U.S. population, but the architecture was designed more than 40 years ago, when wireline telephony voice was the only form of communication. This platform has been revamped to accept calls from cellular phones, but a migration to next-generation, IP-based systems is needed for PSAPs to be able to integrate the text, data and video information that emergency callers can generate from versatile devices like smart phones.
Such flexibility promises to be beneficial to all emergency callers, but it is particularly important to groups such as the hearing-impaired community, which are some of the most avid users of texting capability, according to Helena Mitchell, executive director of the Center for Advanced Communications Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
From a technical standpoint, all panelists agreed that standards are needed for NG-911 implementation to be effective. While the industry has taken steps to establish such standards, the process is far from complete, according to Brian Fontes, CEO of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).
“A lot of work has been done,” Fontes said. “A lot more needs to be done.”
While panelists were confident that the technical challenges of NG-911 can be met, there was less certainty surrounding some of the public-policy and funding issues surrounding the migration to a next-generation platform.
One problem with the current 911 system is that some regions have been able to advance their PSAPs’ technical capability on a regular basis, while others have not updated their 911 systems because of a lack of funding or other public-policy issues, such as governments raiding 911 funds for other purposes. NG-911 should be available throughout the country, said Jim Bugel, AT&T assistant vice president for public safety and homeland security.
“It needs to be ubiquitous,” Bugel said. “You can’t have one area of the country able to receive video and another cannot. … If you don’t do it well, it’s going to evolve into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.'”
That likely would require a different funding model than exists today. Instead of state and local jurisdictions primarily establishing the funding mechanisms for 911, a more centralized approach — for example, federal funding sources — probably will be needed, said Minnesota state legislator Sheldon Johnson.
“It’s going to require somewhat of a public-policy change,” Johnson said.
Myriad funding options exist, but all panelists acknowledged that it would be difficult to secure new funding sources at a time when elected officials are facing significant government funding crises and voters are voicing opposition to the notion of new taxes, particularly with Congress considering bills that would provide billions of dollars for another public-safety initiative — a nationwide, 700 MHz wireless broadband network for first responders.
But Fontes said that he believes there is support for making NG-911 a reality, as more lawmakers and policy officials “are recognizing the value” of an updated emergency-calling platform. In addition, creative models should be considered, such as combining emergency call centers with 311 call centers, which could help leverage the efficiencies and funding sources for both services.
What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.