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Beyond text and video: How Next Generation 911 will transform PSAP operations.

Updated: Feb 26



As the world becomes more digital, it's essential that emergency services keep pace with the changes. The Next Generation 911 system (NG911) is the next step in this evolution, providing a much-needed upgrade to the analog 911 infrastructure that has been in place for decades. The switch to an internet protocol (IP) based system brings with it a host of new capabilities that will revolutionize emergency response. In this blog post, we will explore the building blocks of NG911, the impact it will have on telecommunicators' day-to-day work, and examples of how it will change PSAPs operations.




Building Blocks of NG911: ESInet, NGCS, NG911 Call-Taking Equipment, and GIS


Upgrading to NG911 requires more than just replacing the analog infrastructure that has been used for decades. In addition to the hardware and software upgrades, data, policies, and procedures must also be upgraded. The building blocks of NG911 include the Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet), which is responsible for delivering emergency calls to the appropriate Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) and connecting the centers to each other. The Next Generation Core Services (NGCS) consist of the software and databases needed to route a 911 call appropriately on the ESInet. NG911 call-taking equipment, also known as customer premise equipment or call-processing equipment, provides the necessary tools for telecommunicators to receive, process, and dispatch NG911 calls. Finally, the Geographic Information System (GIS) uses location data to route 911 calls and help responders find callers.


New Data Sources: Beyond Smartphones and SMS Text-to-911


NG911 is expected to handle a lot more data than the legacy 911 system. The new system will incorporate new technologies that will generate more information, such as computers, smart sensors, alarm systems, vehicle telematics, smart speakers, medical devices, and many others. With NG911, the sources of information will be more diverse than ever before, and the new system will be able to handle all of it seamlessly. It is essential to note that NG911 is different from E911 or Enhanced 911. Also, SMS text-to-911 is only a small part of what NG911 will be capable of doing. With 78% of calls coming from smartphones, PSAPs must adapt to new communication tools as more people move away from landlines. NG911 will be more resilient and allow seamless integration with other public safety, healthcare, and government services and neighboring jurisdictions. The data will be highly accurate and real-time.


Impacts of NG911 on Telecommunicators: New Challenges and Support Needs


The transition to Next Generation 911 (NG911) will bring unprecedented changes for telecommunicators. With the ability to receive images and videos of emergency situations, they will be exposed to new sources of information, but also potential emotional stress. While NG911 brings advancements that make telecommunicators more effective, their mental health and stress levels may be impacted. It is crucial that PSAPs and ECCs provide the necessary support to ensure the well-being of their staff. Additionally, the information gained from NG911 should be meaningful and useful, empowering dispatchers to have a sense of call mastery and lowering their anxiety. While the transition won't happen overnight and the legacy 911 system will coexist with new technologies, the role of the 911 professional remains irreplaceable in the journey toward the future of 911.


Examples of how NG911 will change PSAP’s operations.

  • Dispatchable location: The location-based routing system sends the dispatchable location directly to the telecommunicator.

  • Precise location data enables emergency calls to be smoothly transferred to the appropriate PSAP, which is usually the nearest one to the caller, but not necessarily.

  • 3-D building visualization: The latest technology now enables call-takers to visualize buildings in 3D, with the ability to identify not just the latitude and longitude but also the Z axis, which is a vertical map showing the precise floor of a high-rise. This technology is highly anticipated by professionals like Mark Chase, business analyst for police and fire communications in Palo Alto, California, and CALNENA treasurer. Additionally, upcoming technology will allow cell phones to identify a person's location based on Wi-Fi hotspots within a building, allowing for precise location identification even in large venues like hotels.

  • Disaster resiliency: With NG911 systems, there is greater redundancy and resilience to withstand technical issues or disasters. In such events, calls can be forwarded to any functional PSAP, be it local, regional, or national until the ECC is operational again. For instance, Vermont's six PSAP statewide NG911 system reroutes calls to another PSAP automatically if the closest center is not available, and it has built-in resilience and redundancy to avoid a single point of failure.

  • User-friendly workflow: Next-gen 911 systems aim to improve the user experience for call-takers by streamlining the workflow and reducing the number of interfaces they need to interact with. Interoperability among various next-gen tools is crucial for achieving this goal. Although it may not be possible for everyone right away, having just one or two screens could be a reality in the future. Public safety telecommunicators stand to benefit from this upgrade, as it will provide them with more information in a user-friendly format than ever before, according to Crystal Lawrence of APCO.


In conclusion, as the implementation of NG911 moves forward, it's important to remember that the success of the transition will depend not only on the technology and policies but also on the well-being and preparedness of the people behind the scenes. Telecommunicators and PSAP/ECC managers must work together to provide the necessary support and resources for their staff to adapt to the new technologies and potential stressors. By prioritizing the needs and safety of the people involved, we can ensure a smooth and successful transition to the future of 911.


Sources:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Office of Emergency Medical Services. NG911 Next Generation 911 for telecommunicators. National 911 Program, 2023

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