Next generation 911 (NG911) networks represent a huge leap forward compared with legacy 911 systems. They locate emergency callers more efficiently and accurately because they leverage geospatial routing. Because they are broadband-enabled, they can transport incredibly large files, e.g., video, that would choke legacy systems. And because they are Internet Protocol (IP)-based, they enable seamless shifting of a 911 center’s operations to another center in a bug-out situation.
Similarly, public safety broadband networks (PSBN) are a vast improvement over traditional, voice-centric land mobile radio systems. They too are broadband-enabled, so they also can carry copious amounts of data in addition to voice and are IP-based, which results in native interoperability without the need for cumbersome patches and interfaces.
While these networks are awesome by themselves, they won’t reach their full potential or fulfill the vision for the future of emergency response communications unless they work in concert. That vision calls for bidirectional voice and data communications between emergency communications center (ECC) telecommunicators and police, fire/rescue, and emergency medical personnel, both incident commanders and those working in the field. Consequently, a way needs to be found to seamlessly interconnect these networks without cumbersome and less-than-effective workarounds.
This has proved vexing so far because the three PSBN providers — FirstNet/AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile — have demonstrated little interest in doing so. Also, no industry standards or best practices exist to aid the effort, which is equally problematic.
Nevertheless, the 911 community remains undeterred.
A New Initiative from the National 911 Program
To wit, the National 911 Program has launched an initiative called the Next Generation 911/Public Safety Broadband (PSBN) project. The program is trying to bring together public safety stakeholders and the vendors that serve them to accomplish the following:
- Understand the benefits of NG911/PSBN interconnection
- Understand the current state of interconnection
- Understand what needs to be done to accomplish this goal
- Understand the obstacles to achieving this goal
- Understand how available resources can be leveraged to achieve this goal
A Working Group To Drive Procurement Efforts
A working group has been convened, consisting of public and private sector entities, to develop draft language for procurement documents — i.e., requests for proposals (RFPs) and contracts — that describes technical requirements for demonstrating and measuring interconnection functions and performance. This language is intended to help states and jurisdictions across the country better understand their needs regarding NG911/PSBN interconnection, and to communicate them effectively to PSBN providers, as well as the vendors that are building their emergency services IP networks (ESInets), which are the backbone of every NG911 network.
The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) recently stepped up to support the project by issuing a request for information (RFI) concerning this draft language. (Click here to access the RFI.)
I encourage everyone reading this blog to respond to the RFI by the January 16 deadline. All comments are valuable, and none will be considered too big or too small. Please note that you are not expected to respond to every item in the RFI, just those that apply to your organization.
An ancient Chinese proverb states that a journey of 10,000 miles begins with a single step. This is a very big first step toward realizing the full potential of NG911 and the PSBNs.
Jackie Mines is a senior communications consultant who supports the National 911 Program. She can be emailed at JackieMines@MissionCriticalPartners.com