The public safety sector must maintain pace with the wider telecommunications industry. As emergency response technologies currently in use become obsolete, it is critical that the United States modernizes its 911 system to one that is IP-based.
• 21 states have indicated they have an operational ESInet in place. Approximately 1,300 PSAPs are connected (as of 2015).
• 16 states have awarded an NG911 contract (as of 2015).
• 17 of 30 survey respondents indicated they had plans to install Next Gen technologies over next 12 months (as of June 2016).
Prior to the invention of rotary- type telephones, a caller was required to first pick up the telephone and wait for an operator to answer. Based upon the need of the caller, the operator would make a manual connection via a switchboard. During an emergency, a caller would simply state their issue or would ask to be connected to the police.
The first experiments with emergency numbers are believed to have taken place in the United Kingdom around 1937 using the number 999. It wasn’t until 1957 that the National Association of Fire Chiefs recommended the United States pursue a centralized emergency number system. In 1968, after a meeting between AT&T and the FCC, the 911 number was agreed upon.
The 911 system has served the United States for over 40 years and has addressed the needs of the public. However, as the rest of the telecommunications industry has developed very quickly, the public safety sector has lagged somewhat behind. The vast majority of PSAPs today (90%) use a selective router, often a Nortel DMS switch, which routes calls to the PSAP. The connections used to pass the call are analogue and use Centralized Automated Message Accounting circuits. Many of these technologies are slowly being phased out, especially as Local Exchange Carriers (LICs) try to push the market toward IP-based systems.
For this reason, the Next Generation 911 program has been established. A common misconception is that NG911 only applies to one specific technology, the emergency call handling software. This is not the case. The goal of NG911 is to transition the traditional copper-wired emergency call system to an Internet Protocol (IP) based system to facilitate transfer of voice data, images, videos and even text messages.
In addition to the integration of various communication mediums, geospatial routing will be critical. It is the ‘killer app’. Currently, it can be challenging for emergency services to locate a caller using a wireless phone. The current method for identifying location can take up to 15–20 seconds and is inaccurate because often, only the tower from which the cellular signal is received can be used to identify the caller’s location. If a caller is inside a building, determining their location becomes tremendously challenging, especially in a building with several stories. GIS capability will be a major driver of the uptake of NG911.