For more than 40 years, our nation's 911 system has been deemed a success, one that has helped the U.S. lead the world in the deployment of emergency services to citizens.
Unfortunately, the 911 system is designed around telephone technology and emergency call centers, known as public safety answering points (PSAPs) that rely on outdated analog-based infrastructure that's not equipped to handle the text, data, images and video used in today's wireless mobile society. There have been modifications over the decades, but the overall system architecture has basically stayed the same since the first 911 call was placed in 1968. Many local 911 networks are unable to process calls using Internet Protocol (IP) access networks or transfer calls to another PSAP when their own system becomes overloaded.
This brings me to next-generation 911 (NG 911), which refers to the transition in public safety to broadband technology and multimedia-enabled operations that will remedy these issues and enhance 911 capabilities for PSAPs and first responders. NG 911 relies on the implementation of an Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet) that lets a person send video, voice and text "calls" to a PSAP during an emergency.
Technology exists for an ESInet solution to have the flexibility to host a single PSAP or a network of PSAPs utilizing reliable, secure, geo-diverse architecture instead of having separate controllers at each PSAP location. This feature provides operational cost savings and places the PSAP in control of alternate routing and backup capabilities.
One company in this area is Cassidian Communications, a Raytheon partner. Cassidian is at the forefront of NG 911 development with its equipment that's used as part of ESInet solutions in Montana as well as the Denco Area 911 District in Texas, which was the first deployment in the U.S. to use the interim, transitional Request for Assistance Interface (RFAI) protocol. Cassidian's open, standards-based architecture approach integrates command and control through the use of narrowband and broadband wireless communications.
Narrowband delivers two-way voice communications, while broadband offers high-speed data services so authorized parties can access video, data and other mission-critical information.
Updating to a NG 911 system provides several benefits to law enforcement. In addition to enhanced interoperability between public safety agencies, NG 911 can:
- Process 911 calls from a variety of sources, including smartphones, computers and other personal digital assistants (PDAs)
- Automatically receive GPS location and crash-related data such as speed, number of occupants and rollover status from third-party services such as General Motors' OnStar and Ford's SYNC 911 Assist
- Receive photos and data, including medical information, that can be forwarded to first responders
- Provide the capability to send geo-targeted traffic alerts and evacuation notices to drivers and other mobile users through reverse messaging
- Allow PSAPs to transfer calls when experiencing high call volume, as well as additional back-up capabilities.
An advanced emergency response system such as NG 911 offers increased operational effectiveness that benefits everyone by turning current challenges into solutions with technology that already exists.