The Next Generation of 911

EMRI’ve started noticing news articles talking about the next generation of 911 (NG911), so it seems the public is starting to be aware that there is a big change coming in the way that 911 works. We are in the process nationwide of migrating from the traditional 911 to a fully IP-based system that will include a lot of new features. When fully implemented, NG911 will allow interactive text messaging and for smart call routing using caller location that will consider factors such as the workload at the closest 911 center, current network conditions, and the type of call. The NG911 system will enable a data stream between callers and the 911 center so that there can be an exchange of pictures, videos (including support for American Sign Language), and other kinds of data that will enhance the ability of a 911 center to do their job such as building plans or medical information.

NG911 will be implemented in phases and many places are already experimenting with some of the new features like text messaging. But other parts of the final IP-based 911 are still under development.

NG911 is going to replace today’s circuit-switched 911 networks that carries only voice and a very limited amount of data. Today each carrier that handles voice calls must provide dedicated voice circuits between them and the various 911 centers that fall within their service area. For landlines the 911 center that any given customer contacts is predetermined based upon their telephone number.

But the number-based 911 has been having problems with some kinds of calls. There are numerous examples of where 911 was unable to locate mobile callers since they tried to use triangulation to find the location of a caller to 911. And for a number of years it’s been possible to move a VoIP phone to anywhere that has a data connection and the current 911 systems have way to identify or know the location of such callers. And identifying callers is going to get harder as we start seeing huge volumes of WiFi-based VoIP from cellphones as cellular carriers dump voice traffic onto the landline data network in the same manner they have with other data. The promise is that NG911 will be able to handle the various flavors of VoIP.

There are a lot of new standards being developed to define the operating parameters of NG911. The standards are being driven though NENA, the National Emergency Number Association. Many of these standards are now in place, but standards keep evolving as vendors try different market solutions. A lot of the new NG911 is going to be driven by the creation and use of a number of new database systems. These systems will be used to manage functions like call validation, smart routing control, and the processing of new NENA-approved call records.

The new IP-based 911 networks are being referred to as ESInets (Emergency Service IP Networks). There are managed private networks that will be used to support not only 911 but also other types of public safety communications.

The overall goal is to do a much better job responding to emergencies. Today there are far too many examples of calls to 911 that never get answered, calls that are sent to the wrong 911 center, or calls where the 911 operators can’t determine the location of the caller. Further, the new system will allow for the public to summon 911 in new ways other than through voice calls. There will be a two-way process for sending pictures and videos to the 911 center or floor plans and medical advice back to callers. When fully implemented this should be a big leap forward resulting in reduced costs due to more efficient use of our emergency resources as well as more lives saved.

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