Texas trial shows that next-gen 911 texting platform ‘flat out works’
MINNEAPOLIS — Five public-safety answering points (PSAPs) in Harris County, Texas, were able to receive 911 text messages from any SMS-enabled device from four wireless carriers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — during an April trial that used Cassidian Communications’ Vesta next-generation 911 (NG-911) call-processing platform, the company announced today during the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) convention.
The five PSAPs are part of the Greater Harris County 911 Emergency Network (GHC 911), which consists of 50 PSAPs that serve 49 cities, including Houston. The network handles more than 10,000 calls per day, roughly three-quarters of which are from wireless phones. In addition, GHC 911 provides dispatching services to more than 150 police, fire and EMS agencies in the area.
Almost two years ago, a system deployed in Black Hawk County, Iowa, became the first in the United States to successfully handle a 911 text. But that event involved only one PSAP — the Black Hawk Consolidated Public Safety Communications Center — and only one wireless carrier. In that context, the fact that the GHC 911 trial involved multiple PSAPs and wireless carriers is particularly noteworthy, said Tami Timperio, Cassidian’s vice president of marketing.
Also noteworthy is that the trial took into account the county’s vast and widely diverse geography, which includes Houston — the nation’s fourth largest city — and a great expanse of rural terrain, according to Timperio.
“Technicians were sent out to very rural areas, as well as outside their jurisdiction, to ensure that the technology worked,” Timperio said. “Stan [Heffernan, GHC 911’s chief operating officer] said — in his own vernacular, since he comes from Texas — that it ‘just flat out worked.’ They’re very excited about it.”
Timperio said several significant operational and implementation procedures remain to be executed before the capability is rolled out system-wide — “I want to stress that this is just a trial,” she said — but added that the service is expected to be available to the deaf and hearing-impaired community by the end of this year, as a replacement for TTY service. Rollout to the general population is expected to follow in the second half of 2012, but no later than the first half of 2013, Timperio said.
In other news, Cassidian is demonstrating during the NENA convention several “forward-looking” concepts, according to Timperio.
“These are things like call-handling through CAD, which is not done today, notifications integrated with mapping … and an integrated application approach for the future of call-taking based on i3,” NENA’s recently approved standards that provide key technical guidelines for implementing IP-based next-generation 911 systems, she said.
Timperio said that, in the past year, a sea of change in the thinking in the 911 sector has occurred regarding next-generation architectures.
“We heard from our strategic advisory council in May, and it was interesting,” she said. “A year ago, they were still on the fence, wondering whether they really needed IP. This year, we are hearing very loud and clear that IP is the way forward, and they need it now.”
Finally, Cassidian recently completed a comprehensive test of a Vesta DMS system being deployed in the New York City Police Department’s new emergency communications center to replace a legacy ISDN system.
“It lasted 30 days of six times their peak call volume per hour,” Timperio said. “It was volumes never seen, ever.”
According to Timperio, the center is scheduled to go live in the fall. When it does, it will feature 1,400 call-taking and dispatcher positions and will consolidate all of the city’s 911 functions in one center. Previously, each of the five boroughs had its own 911 center. “It dwarfs anything in the U.S., perhaps worldwide,” Timperio said.
To put this into context, Los Angeles has about 150 positions and Chicago a couple of hundred, she added.
“I visited the [New York] center in May, and it’s a sight,” Timperio said. “It’s a football field in length and a sea of positions.”
A second center will be built for redundancy purposes and is slated to open in the 2013–2014 timeframe. Meanwhile, the NYPD will maintain one backup center, while the city’s fire department, which cut over to the Vesta DMS platform in fall 2009, will maintain two such centers.