The Hot Topics at the 2023 NENA Standards & Best Practices Conference
Posted on February 13, 2023 by Michael Fain
The NG911 Standards and Best Practices Conference deep-dived into caller location, data security, swatting, and more
Several MCP subject-matter experts, including me, recently attended the National Emergency Number Association’s Next Generation 911 Standards and Best Practices Conference. This was an important experience because staying abreast of the current technological and operational standards and best practices — and contributing to them — results in better emergency-response outcomes for our clients and their stakeholders. If you missed this year's conference, this summary explores some of the significant topics we discussed, ranging from swatting to caller location, data security, and more.
New Ideas Around Mitigating Swatting
During the conference, much of the location spoofing-mitigation conversation focused on swatting, which is the practice of falsely reporting an emergency to elicit a law-enforcement SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team response. Swatting is nothing new, but the number of incidents seems to be increasing significantly. For example, a rash of swatting incidents occurred last fall, resulting in 14 schools being locked down due to bogus reports of an active shooter.
Swatters often spoof the location of their calls to make it appear that the emergency is happening elsewhere. However, a new spoofing-migration standard discussed would ensure that when an emergency communications center (ECC) receives a call, the provided location came from an authenticated source, enabling the telecommunicator to have greater confidence that it is legitimate and that response safely can be dispatched. This approach likely will build on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) STIR-SHAKEN caller-identification authentication framework, originally developed to combat illegal robocalls.
The idea is that swatters would still be able to change their location, but they won’t be able to authenticate or sign that location with accredited credentials. An unverified location will signal to the telecommunicator who fields the call that the location is suspect and they should dispatch appropriately. In contrast, a signed location will indicate that a service provider or other authenticated entity provided the location, thus establishing its legitimacy. The NENA working group responsible for considering how to mitigate swatting is looking for input — it has a lot of technical input but also needs operational guidance.
There are other worthy tactics — e.g., enhanced caller-interrogation techniques and training on listening to background noise when interacting with a suspected swatter to identify clues that the call or location is bogus — that can increase a telecommunicator's confidence, but baking spoofing mitigation into the NENA standards might turn out to be the most effective of all.
The Emergency Incident Data Object (EIDO) Standard
Several meetings also were held regarding the Emergency Incident Data Object (EIDO) standard, which NENA published in October 2021. The purpose of the standard is to establish a common language for identifying and sharing information regarding an incident that ECCs across the country can use.
Discussion centered on how data blocks are communicated from one computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system to another or from a CAD system to any other system connected to an emergency services Internet Protocol (IP) network, or ESInet, such as a records-management system (RMS). Specifically, conveyance mechanisms were explored as were the best approaches for securing the data blocks transported over the ESInet.
Defining Dispatchable Data
Another discussion topic involved locating emergency callers in a Next Generation 911 (NG911) environment, which will depend on geospatial routing that leverages data generated by geographic information systems (GIS). But the hottest debate focused on what level GIS data will need to attain to be used in the NG911 environment.
The burning question concerns the definition of dispatchable data. Is it enough to simply identify the address of a structure? Maybe.
But what if the emergency occurs in a 55-story building? In this case, it would be much more effective to know the exact floor or even the office at which the emergency incident is transpiring. Similarly, if the structure is a large, one-story building, it would be much better to break it into sections to enable a more accurate caller location.
Theoretically, the more granular the data, the better, but this will depend on having robust GIS resources to generate and refine the data — something that many counties and municipalities don’t have right now. While perfect, detailed, granular data is the ultimate goal, the short-term goal is to ensure that all calls are properly routed and that all callers can be located relatively easily.
There also needs to be mechanisms established to update and edit the data when either of these conditions is not met. In the meantime, the industry will continue working on what constitutes a fully dispatchable location, and GIS data will continue improving.
In the meantime, if your ECC is not operating in an NG911 environment today, one of the first steps is to start preparing your data for this use and understand that GIS data maintenance is a never-ending proposition. Please reach out — MCP has considerable GIS expertise your organization can leverage.
Michael Fain is an MCP senior technology specialist. Email him at MichaelFain@MissionCriticalPartners.com.