U.S. 9-1-1 System is Overdue for an Upgrade
By Bill Campbell
Wednesday, February 16, 2022 | Comments
When an emergency situation strikes, it is crucial that those responding have access to the most reliable, resilient and up-to-date technology. However, the majority of America’s 9-1-1 centers are still operating with decades-old technology. It is clear that the United States’ 9-1-1 system is long overdue for a major upgrade.

Fortunately, there are currently several federal efforts underway to modernize the 9-1-1 system. Although legislation calling for $10 billion in federal funding to support the deployment of next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) was recently downgraded to only $470 million, that still provides opportunity for improvements. Additionally, Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s bill that was introduced in September would allocate $10 billion in funding for 9-1-1 modernization. The potential funding opportunities presented by these two federal efforts are a chance to move the nation’s outdated 9-1-1 call centers and related technology into the digital age. This upgrade is a necessary step for public safety as it will create a safer future for the nation.

The transition to NG 9-1-1 calls for a full digital transformation of public safety services, but the most impacted are public safety answering points (PSAPs). NG 9-1-1 provides PSAPs with greater amounts of useful data that can be leveraged for better serving citizens.

One of the most notable problems NG 9-1-1 solves is location intelligence. With approximately 80% of 911 calls originating from wireless devices, rather than landlines, being able to locate callers has become a significant issue for dispatchers and first responders in the field. You may be thinking that everyday apps, such as Uber, have access to your precise GPS location, so it would seem reasonable to assume that first responders should have that same access. However, that is not always the case. NG 9-1-1 makes this a possibility as callers can be located much more accurately. The responder automatically receives the caller’s precise location information and phone number. Therefore, the caller can be found with elevated precision, potentially saving precious time in a scenario in which the difference in seconds can be critical.

Have you ever wondered why you can’t text 9-1-1? In some emergency situations, it may be important that the person contacting 9-1-1 can do so discreetly, and the ability to text 9-1-1 makes that possible. NG 9-1-1 is capable of receiving not only SMS messages, but also photos, videos and other data. This information could be helpful for providing a clearer understanding of the situation and better preparing first responders before they arrive on the scene.

NG 9-1-1 also provides the ability to seamlessly share critical information from a variety of sources across the 9-1-1 system and support improved workflows. With the increasing number of cameras and sensors in communities, video feeds from body cameras and highways, and video and text from wireless devices connecting to 9-1-1, this system can capitalize on the connection to these inputs and ensure integration into a common workflow that supports improved efficiency and effectiveness of operations.

NG 9-1-1 leaves nothing to chance. In the event a 9-1-1 center experiences an outage or a natural disaster, or becomes overwhelmed for any other reason, this technology allows 9-1-1 centers to quickly transfer calls and data to other centers. Therefore, anyone in need of help should be able to receive it in a timely manner no matter the circumstances of one 9-1-1 call center.

In emergency situations, time is of the essence and each situation is unpredictable, often with circumstances that change in a matter of seconds. With the additional data NG 9-1-1 provides, agencies can identify trends more quickly for a proactive approach to public safety and react more efficiently in the event of a sudden change. This ability to create a quicker response time will ultimately result in more saved lives.

Gaining the many efficiencies that NG 9-1-1 provides ensures that the quickest and most informed decisions can be made when it matters most. When lives are on the line, it is vital that first responders, public-safety officials and law enforcement are all able to communicate seamlessly. The current federal efforts to upgrade America’s 9-1-1 system are a much-needed step in the right direction to improve America’s emergency infrastructure for this generation and generations to come.

Bill Campbell is senior vice president for Hexagon's safety, infrastructure and geospatial division, leading the Americas region and the global public-safety business. Prior to Hexagon, Campbell served as global sales officer and vice president of the technology services business at Capgemini and held executive positions at General Electric Information Services. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, a master’s of business administration (MBA) from the Johns Hopkins University, and a master of public service and administration and graduate certificate in homeland security from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

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