•  December 15, 2020

    More than standards, software and technology: Navigating the new world of NG9-1-1

    This article was originally published by Applied Geographics Inc. (AppGeo), a company acquired by The Sanborn Map Company Inc in September 2022.

    Synopsis: With the coming update of Next Gen 9-1-1, states, counties, and municipalities are scrambling to update their systems. While the updates that Next Gen 9-1-1 will bring to public safety and service operations are much needed, the transition can be difficult and many communities are unsure how to comply fully, much less get the most out of the new system. Luckily AppGeo is here to help.

    AppGeo is using our expertise in GIS to help state and local governments transition to Next Gen 9-1-1. This webinar (recorded on August 5, 2020) brings together Brian Coolidge, Senior Project Manager and Former First Responder, Cheryl Benjamin, NENA GIS Standards Expert, and Bill Johnson, Carpe Geo Evangelist from AppGeo, to discuss the challenges and opportunities during the transition to Next Gen 9-1-1 systems

    What is Next Gen 9-1-1?

    Johnson: “There are a lot of different places around the country that have already started the transition to Next Gen 9-1-1. There are a lot of different approaches to how that’s taking place… There isn’t just one right way to implement Next Gen 9-1-1. That said, what everyone needs to understand right out of the gate is that Next Gen 9-1-1 is not an incremental upgrade. It’s actually a completely re-architected system… I’m sure by now everyone has heard that Next Gen 9-1-1 is replacing a telephone only communication channel, with one that is internet based or IP-based. That means that the answering points are going to be able to receive not just voice calls but also text messages, photos, and video. In Next Gen the system is finally catching up to where we are as a society with phones.”
    While our legacy 9-1-1 systems still fulfill a crucial role in public safety operations, it relies on the now-outdated assumption that phones can’t move. While that was true when the system was created to serve a landline based communication environment, our society has changed a massive amount since then. In the current routing structure, the system attempts to match the caller with their street address, and match that street address with the nearest Emergency Service Providers. Today, with mobile phones making up the majority of 9-1-1 calls, a landline-based system will struggle to provide the most accurate and helpful location information to emergency services. Next Gen 9-1-1 attempts to address this issue by connecting mobile phones to a new system and allowing for more forms of communication and more data analysis.

    GIS and Next Gen 9-1-1

    Benjamin: “We’re going to look at how that works when you get to a situation when you have a 9-1-1 call that comes from a wireless device… The call is going to be sent from the device to the ESI Net to the ESRF. But this time the PIDF-LO record is going to contain a geodetic location, that means an X-Y coordinate that is the location of the device… The ECRF is going to simultaneously query both the road and the address points, as well as the PSAP and emergency service boundaries. It needs to query the roads and address points because it needs to identify a dispatchable address, something that the emergency service providers would understand where they need to go. It does this by finding the nearest address point and road centerline as the dispatchable address they’re going to recognize.”

    While Next Gen 9-1-1 makes use of some of the same systems as our current legacy 9-1-1 communications, it uses geodetic locations to determine the nearest emergency service providers rather than solely relying on landlines and street addresses. This makes the system much more accurate and efficient in our modern society, where phones generally travel with their users. While it still makes use of addresses and road centerline data, these function as a supplement to the GIS-based location data generated from the call itself. This system represents a massive step up for emergency response and makes mobile calls far more accurate in reaching the nearest emergency services.

    Human Factors in the Transition to Next Gen

    Johnson: “In the public safety world they need data they can trust, and their operational reality is they need to make those decisions very quickly. Because of that they may be reluctant to trust data from sources they aren’t familiar with. This can be worked out, but building trust is a long term incremental process so it’s important to start that work now and work steadily towards that goal. Public safety folks are also used to safeguarding their data, keeping it secure and sharing it only on a need to know basis. Let’s contrast that with the typical world of GIS where the culture is to openly and freely share data as the default. Often the data are updated on a much slower timeline than what would be typically needed for 9-1-1; only once a year or a few times a year. These things can be sorted out and worked out, but it’s going to require changes at the host agency of those data layers. The reality is that the changes we’re talking about will improve the data in a lot of ways. It will make the data more current, it will be checked more rigorously against quality standards, it will ensure it is created only from authoritative sources. All of those things together will make better data, and better data is better for everyone.”

    One of the most important aspects of the transition to Next Gen 9-1-1 is being able to build a successful team across different agencies and expertise. Creating trust and overcoming operational differences is essential to any multi agency project. Without a respectful and functional working relationship, any project of this magnitude is doomed to fail. By working together we can create a better data environment and create a more functional 9-1-1 system for all Americans. GIS staff will play a vital part in building relationships and using data in ways that PSAP and public safety officials can make sense of.

    Watch more: Closing the Gap Between PSAPs and the GIS Community for NG911

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