April 2010 | Volume 13 / Number 4
The 411 on 911: Emergency Calling Systems Evolve to Address IP, Broader Communications Options
By Paula Bernier
Here are the current plans for establishing the Emergency Response Interoperability Center.
Proposed Primary Mission
To establish a technical and operational framework that will ensure nationwide operability and interoperability from the outset in deployment and operation of the 700MHz public safety broadband wireless network.
The migration of the country’s networks to IP, as well as the proliferation of different types of connected interactions and devices, is impacting virtually every aspect of communication. Emergency services are no exception.
The National Emergency Number Association is calling for the migration of E911 networks to what NENA calls NG911, or next generation 911, as discussed in the E911 Watch column authored by RedSky (News - Alert) Technologies Senior Vice President Nick Maier in the January issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY. The idea is to move E911 systems to standards-based IP platforms and, in the process, enable citizens and those involved in emergency response to interact not only in voice, but also via text, IM and possibly even video communications.
“It’s not just Mrs. Smith calling from her living room on the wireline” anymore, notes Ian Colville (News - Alert), product manager at Aculab, which sells a PSTN-to-IP gateway. The gateway, called GroomerII, is used in public safety applications by such companies as microDATA.
He says a hiker in Yosemite National Park who breaks her leg might call 911 using her mobile device, or an executive working in a skyscraper might call in via a Skype (News - Alert) connection. Teens, meanwhile, might be predisposed to reach out via text. E911 systems should be able to accept all these types of communications and have the know-how to locate the individuals in peril.
“A growing number of service providers are choosing an IP infrastructure to deliver mission-critical services, like voice, conferencing – even emergency services – to consumers and enterprises,” says Chris Gravett, sales and marketing director at Aculab. “While IP networks offer a number of profound economic and operational benefits, they have evolved in a ‘best effort’ environment and do not possess the same inherent degree of resilience and redundancy as traditional PSTN networks. Our Dual Redundant SIP Service helps these providers meet the needs of their customers by increasing the reliability of IP networks to a level similar to legacy TDM environments.”
Kevin Breault, vice president of sales and business development at Dash Carrier Services (News - Alert), says FCC rules put in place in 2005 stipulate that VoIP providers have to deliver 911 services to their subscribers, and they can do that by gathering in advance location information from their subscribers and use it to populate E911 databases. Dash, which late last year expanded its 911 play with the acquisition of VIXXI Solutions, outfits various types of service providers, as well as large organizations, with E911 services.
But while some rules addressing the transition to IP exist, and while NENA has laid the groundwork for the E911 migration to next-generation technologies, Breault says significant questions remain about who will pay for all this, and who will be responsible for what and in which situations.
While those questions remain, there was encouraging news on this front in late February when officials at an FCC (News - Alert) event announced that The National Broadband Plan, which the commission was expected to present last month, would ask that Congress immediately appropriate funding for the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration to analyze the cost of deploying an NG911 system on a nationwide basis.
“This report should serve as a basis for congressional action to create a coordinated, long-term funding mechanism for the deployment and operation of such a broadband system,” said James Arden Barnett, Jr., chief of the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau. Streamlining this process will make the transition to a nationwide next-generation 911 system more likely.
Another recommended solution may be for Congress to establish a federal legal and regulatory framework for the development of next-generation 911 that removes jurisdictional barriers and inconsistent legacy regulations.
“The FCC may, as part of the efforts to implement solutions, consider initiating a proceeding that would address the future roles of 911 and next-generation 911 as communications technologies, networks and architectures expand beyond traditional voice-centric devices,” he added.
Based on 2009 spending of $7.9 billion, Gartner (News - Alert) predicts that public safety departments across the U.S. will spend approximately $9.1 billion by 2012. The research firm also indicates that new CIO structures within state and local governments are likely to be more receptive to alternative technology and delivery methods for core operations.
However, to bring about changes for 911 and provide better services around emergency response, Breault says, more funding and organization will be required. Some states, like California, Indiana and Texas, have more state oversight and resources to help support the migration to IP, he says, but it would be helpful to get more support.
Breault says the FCC has been “turning a blind eye” to states that are asking VoIP service providers to contribute to 911. Of course, that could help contribute to the cost of the E911 migration to next-generation technologies; but it’s just the start. According to Breault, a variety of organizations, including the E9-1-1 Institute, 9-1-1 Industry Alliance and NENA, have been lobbying to get more federal funds for 911.
Meanwhile, different levels of government need to work out how they are going to handle various emergency calling scenarios, Breault adds. For example, if a car breaks down on the interstate and the motorist calls 911, the call today would be routed to a public safety answering point, or PSAP. But the interstate is a state-based entity, so that call does not fall within the typical jurisdiction of PSAPs, which tend to be managed by lower-level governments. Yet PSAPs can’t forward calls, says Breault, so various levels of government need to get together on the processes and responsibilities around these kinds of things as they invest in new systems. IT
Federal Regulators Revisit First Responder Interoperability
By Paula Bernier
The 9/11 event , which extinguished many lives and destroyed the World Trade Center in New York, put in stark relief one of the shortcomings of the nation’s emergency response infrastructure: The fact that first responders such as fire fighters, police and medical personnel are unable to communicate in emergency situations because their organizations’ systems are not interoperable.
Following this tragedy, there was a lot of talk about the need to address this disconnect, but in our country’s great tradition of following the bright shiny object, eyes and minds quickly moved on to other concerns before finding a fix.
Years later and with a relatively new administration in office, it appears as if federal regulators are now seriously looking at how to address this problem.
At a meeting in late February, FCC (News - Alert) Chairman Julius Genachowski said The National Broadband Plan will request that Congress allocate $12 billion to $16 billion over 10 years to help build an interoperable, pubic-safety broadband network. That would include $6 billion to support the creation of the public safety network and $6 billion to $10 billion for upgrades, operations and maintenance. The plan also involves making a broader swath of spectrum available for public safety.
“The private sector simply is not going to build a nationwide, state-of-the-art, interoperable broadband network for public safety on its own dime,” Genachowski said. “Local municipalities and states can certainly contribute some amount to sustaining any network that is built. But the bottom line is that if we want to deliver on what our first responders need to protect our communities and loved ones, public money will need to be put toward tackling this national priority.”
James Arden Barnett, Jr., chief of the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, added: “Police officers and firefighters must be able to talk with each other, share data with emergency managers and transmit critical, time-sensitive information to decision-makers at all levels of government in any type of crisis or emergency situation. We believe that broadband technologies and innovations will ultimately help us meet this challenge as a nation. However, the creation of this network is not inevitable. It is essential that the FCC work closely with public safety, our federal, state and local partners and the communications industry to make this a reality.” IT
Enterprise 911 Works on Emergency Location Challenges
By Paula Bernier
When an individual calls 911 from his or her home, emergency responders get an address and typically can find their way to that location relatively quickly and easily. But what happens when someone within an office building, corporate campus, school or multi-dwelling unit makes an emergency call? The answer to that question varies. Considering that a minute can seem like an hour in an emergency situation and that seconds can sometimes make the difference between life and death, that’s a little scary.
Thomas Beck, business strategy executive at Teo Technologies, says there have been situations in which someone at a school calls 911, the police then arrive at the front desk of that school, but the front desk receptionist has no idea at what location in the school the emergency is taking place.
Pinpointing the scene of an emergency within a high-rise building or corporate campus could be an even bigger challenge.
That’s why 20 states already have in place requirements for organizations with more than one floor, more than one building or more than a certain amount of square footage, to support E911 for the enterprise.
Such solutions allow PBXs and related gear to provide public safety answering points, or PSAPs, with more discreet information as to the origination of on-site emergency calls, says Beck. But, he adds, there are lots of ways to do that, and many of them are prohibitively expensive for most potential customers. So Teo engineered a more affordable answer, he says, which sells for about $4.50 per person protected, or about a tenth the cost of some competing solutions. And it brought a lot of other important features into the mix at the same time.
Teo’s solution connects to any PBX (News - Alert) with a PRI output and detects whenever a 911 call goes out. It then triggers a screen pop to key people within that organization to let them know about the 911 call and where it originated. Those people are asked to confirm, with the click of a mouse, that they’ve gotten the notice, so others in the organization are aware of who is in the loop about the emergency and who still might need to be alerted about the situation. An organization can also elect for the Teo appliance, which is a database running on a hardened server, to send e-mails to on- and off-site personnel about the situation.
At the time of installation, Teo works with customers to divide their locations into “zones” so various areas are more easily defined and found. A five-level map, including floor and street views, of the organization also can help pinpoint the emergency. The system even offers information to on-site personnel about hazardous materials in the area, so they can take extra precautions if needed in the event of a fire, for example.
Teo solutions are in use today with “thousands and thousands of customers,” says Beck. That includes the City of Seattle; about two-thirds of the hotels in Las Vegas; and a variety of other small, medium and large organizations. IT
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