In the 911 sector, challenges abound, but so do solutions (with video)
In an address delivered recently at the National Emergency Number Association's conference in Long Beach, Calif., Tony Martwick, public-safety solutions strategist for Verizon Wireless, described the carrier's agenda for the future in a single sentence: Create a seamless IT environment that will support voice, data and mobility to deliver anything to anybody, wherever they are and regardless of what device they are using.
While the destination might be crystal clear, Martwick readily admitted that the pathway is less so. One example he cited concerns the concept of "IT consumerization."
"You've probably heard of BYOD: bring your own device to work," Martwick said. "This is very challenging for the government space." Foremost among the challenges is security, as workers tend to unleash all sorts of viruses and malware when they plug their devices into the network.
"How does an agency [secure its network], when there might be 20 or 30 different devices connecting to it?" Martwick said.
There will be other challenges. Backhaul will be chief among them, as broadband networks will generate exponentially greater amounts of data. On that note, analytics also will need to be addressed, as no organization, no matter how big, will have the manpower to sift through it all — they're going to need help, and lots of it.
It is anyone's guess as to how these challenges will be addressed, but Martwick and other panelists who spoke that day agreed that cloud-based solutions will be part of the answer, even though there will be issues with that, as well.
"Demand from government agencies for cloud solutions is growing tremendously," Martwick said. "The biggest question [for these agencies] is, 'How do I do this? How do I take the legacy applications that I've used for the last 10 to 15 years and move them to the cloud?'"
There also could be chain-of-custody issues associated with cloud computing, said Jeff Wittek, chief strategic officer for Cassidian Communications.
"Some states have very onerous chain-of-evidence laws that would dissuade cloud computing and hosted models," Wittek said. "That has to be considered before you make the leap."
Nevertheless, a cloud-based approach could help agencies address perhaps the biggest problem that they face today, which is funding, said Ashish Patel, who has been Intrado's director of sales engineering for the past eight years.
"When you look at leveraging technology by moving to a centralized, more directly distributed environment, you can achieve economies of scale that will help you address some components of that funding aspect," Patel said.
Wittek agreed: "Cloud computing offers a great deal of promise from a shared-infrastructure perspective and can be incredibly cost effective."
Much of the discussion regarding funding centered on the need for a more consistent model for the 911 sector. Sharon Counterman–a consultant with L.R. Kimball who previously was deputy director of Greater Harris County 911, which serves the Houston area–expressed the consensus opinion.
"The funding mechanisms for the future have to change compared with what we see today," Counterman said, noting that legislatures are open to new ideas, provided that they are well thought out.
The state of Alabama stands as a prime example of what Counterman meant. Roger Nelson, director of the Walker County (Ala.) E911 District, spoke during the panel discussion about recently passed legislation that dramatically altered the funding model in his state.
"We were in the same trap as everyone else," Walker said. "We had decreasing revenue from the wireline side… and our funding reached a cap."
It was clear to Nelson — who also chairs the state's wireless board — that something radical needed to be done. To find answers, 911 officials huddled with technology vendors and service providers — wireless operators, incumbent telephony carriers and competitive telephony carriers — over a two-year period. What they came up with was a statewide flat rate assessed on all devices capable of accessing 911, regardless of type — wireline, wireless and VoIP phones, as well as computers and tablets. Consensus was the key.
"This is the first time that I can remember that everyone came to the same table," Nelson said. "And the state legislators had told us — if you all can work it out, we'll get it passed."
Ed.: For more detail from Nelson regarding Alabama's new 911 funding law, watch the video below.
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