911, we're facing a new world.
The digital age has arrived, and our nation's 911 system continues to rely on analog technology that's based on fixed endpoints. That's a problem. Many of us now carry smartphones, laptops, and tablet computers with us everywhere, making our preferred mode of reporting an emergency—by cell, text, photo or video—incompatible with the current system. For example, when callers dial 911 from their smartphone, that telephone number no longer equates to a fixed location.
With the passage of the federal Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 in February, we're now seeing the beginning of a paradigm shift. This bill, which created the national public safety broadband network, includes a provision for $115 million in funding to support next-generation 911 (NG 911) technologies. This means that in place of "old world" E911, we can eventually expect to have a communications structure that's data centric, integrates multimedia such as text and video, and is based on open standards.
Cassidian Communications, a Raytheon partner, stands at the forefront of this next-gen development. Its equipment is already being used in Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet) solutions in Montana and Texas.
The benefits of an interoperable NG 911 environment are enormous. Here are four:
- Improved delivery and management of content from IP endpoints such as IP video, alarms and real-time data
- Advanced routing capabilities and more flexible location of call-taking positions
- A higher degree of interoperability between emergency call centers (Public Safety Answering Point/PSAP to PSAP) as well as from PSAPs to first responders
- Potential lower communications costs over the long term when bringing calls into the PSAP and transferring calls out of it
Now that Congress has acknowledged the need for a complete revamp of 911 services, it's imperative that we understand what that $115 million in grant money is earmarked for and the criteria for how it will be spent.
To be clear, this will not be a quick distribution of funds into eager public safety hands. The $115 million will come from spectrum auction revenue and funding will only become available after the spectrum is auctioned. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are authorized to oversee grant distribution through the end of fiscal year 2022.
Eligible applicants will be able to receive matching grants of up to 60% of a project's cost. Funding can be used for several purposes, such as implementing an IP-enabled emergency network; operating NG 911 services and applications; establishing IP backbone networks and the software infrastructure needed to interconnect emergency response organizations; and training public safety personnel, including call takers, first responders and others who are part of the emergency response chain in 911 services.
NG 911 offers a critical final piece of the puzzle to build a truly interoperable national public safety network. With this type of system, situational awareness extends across platforms as soon as someone dials 911 from any IP-capable device. NG 911 will not only enhance call handling, but benefit public safety as a whole.
Editor's note: You can read the full text of the Next Generation 911 Advancement Act, subtitle E of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act here, starting on page 82.
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