Next-Generation 9-1-1 Needs a Champion
By Ellen O'Hara
Tuesday, May 16, 2017 | Comments
Progress in next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) implementation is being made. Last December, the National 911 Program Office issued a 104-page report indicating that 21 states have emergency services IP networks (ESInets) deployed, with 10 of those states reporting that all of their public-safety answering points (PSAPs) are connected to an ESInet. An ESInet is a critical building block in the provisioning of NG 9-1-1 services, largely because it provides the underlying data transport network and the means of interconnecting PSAPs. Moreover, with an ESInet in place, public-safety agencies can leverage new and enhanced applications not possible with legacy 9-1-1 systems.

The 2016 National 911 progress report contains numerous other indications that NG 9-1-1 implementation is moving in the right direction. It reports that eight states indicated that 100 percent of their geographical area is served by NG 9-1-1-capable services.

Nine states reported that 100 percent of their population is served by NG 9-1-1-capable services. Six states stated that 100 percent of the primary PSAPs within their boundaries have 9-1-1 call-handling equipment capable of processing IP calls from an ESInet. Twenty states have adopted statewide NG 9-1-1 implementation plans. Eighteen states have issued contracts for procuring NG 9-1-1 system components.

This is good news, given the promise that NG 9-1-1 technology holds for our nation. Much has been written and said about how NG 9-1-1 will greatly enrich the public’s experience when making an emergency call — from providing direct access for the deaf and hard of hearing to processing a 9-1-1 text to delivering video and images from an emergency scene. These new capabilities will provide telecommunicators with significantly enhanced situational awareness, which in turn, will help them and first responders make better decisions.

But that merely represents the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of the advanced capabilities that will be available once NG 9-1-1 systems are in place. For example, because NG 9-1-1 systems are IP based, they offer resiliency that legacy systems cannot match. A PSAP that has been rendered inoperable, inaccessible, or uninhabitable by a natural or man-made event will be able to transfer its operations seamlessly to another PSAP in the next town, county or state.

Another benefit of NG 9-1-1 is data sharing between PSAPs and other public-safety/emergency-response entities, which isn’t possible with legacy 9-1-1 systems.

“NG 9-1-1 is where the internet of things (IoT) concept comes to public safety,” said Don Brittingham, Verizon’s vice president of public-safety policy, who is also vice chair of the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) and one of iCERT’s representatives to the NG911 NOW Coalition. “More data, and more types of data, will be shared by everyone in the emergency response ecosystem.”

However, while the migration to NG 9-1-1 is moving forward, the pace of the migration isn’t nearly fast enough and is plagued by funding, governance and other issues. This is particularly problematic in terms of meeting the goal set by the NG911 NOW Coalition, comprised of 9-1-1 sector organizations, including iCERT, National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA). The coalition’s goal is: “By the end of the year 2020, all 9-1-1 systems and centers in all 56 states and territories will have sufficiently funded, standards-based, end-to-end, IP-based 9-1-1 capabilities and will have retired legacy 9-1-1 systems, without any degradation in service to the public.”

For that to happen — indeed, for it to happen in the next decade — the NG 9-1-1 implementation effort will need a significant boost, and the one entity that has the sufficient resources to provide it is the federal government.

Congress Sends a Signal
There are numerous risks to not accelerating the NG 9-1-1 implementation timetable. Primarily, technological obsolescence will eventually result, as legacy systems reach end of life, or at the very least outlive their usefulness. Consider that some of the technologies still used in PSAPs were implemented more than a half-century ago. Parts and knowledgeable repair personnel for these critical systems often are no longer available; indeed, the cost of continuing to maintain obsolete equipment is escalating, and stories of PSAPs seeking parts on eBay are not uncommon. Any money spent on keeping legacy systems in service is money that cannot be spent on new technologies.

iCERT stated in a position paper issued in March that the failure to retire legacy systems will result in increasingly higher operational and maintenance costs for state and local public-safety agencies. In addition, the failure to transition to NG 9-1-1 will deny first responders — both in the field and in the PSAP — advanced capabilities that would enhance their ability to provide more effective emergency response to the public and that would keep personnel on the front line safer.

Of all the challenges that are slowing the NG 9-1-1 migration, a lack of adequate funding is the most significant. While Congress provided $7 billion in seed money to the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) to support deployment of a nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), the 9-1-1 sector is comparatively cash strapped, with many PSAPs across the country struggling to provide basic services. For many agencies, given the current circumstances, the transition to NG 9-1-1 is beyond their financial reach.

A draft bill, dubbed the “Next Generation 911 Act of 2017” and co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Bill Nelson, could be the first step to resolving both the funding issue and several other challenges that are slowing the NG 9-1-1 migration. The working draft, which describes the transition to NG 9-1-1 as a “national priority and a national imperative,” includes the following elements:
• The federal government would establish a federal grant program to assist states and localities in transitioning to NG 9-1-1.
• States would have to identify a single-point-of-contact (SPOC) to interact with federal entities regarding NG 9-1-1 implementations to be eligible for federal grant awards.
• States would need to demonstrate that any federal grant money received would be used solely for NG 9-1-1 implementations.
• States would be required to demonstrate that any NG 9-1-1 implementations use components that are standards based and nonproprietary.
• The federal government would assist states and localities in addressing cybersecurity issues and threats.
“Without Congress’s muscle behind it, the migration to NG 9-1-1 will be much slower,” said David Jones, a member of iCERT’s policy committee and a senior vice president with Mission Critical Partners. “The fact that Congress is beginning to recognize this is significant.”

An equally positive development occurred in late March, when the Communications and Technology subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, titled “Realizing Nationwide Next-Generation 9-1-1.” The following 9-1-1 sector leaders testified during the hearing:
• Mary Boyd, vice president for regulatory, policy and external affairs, West Safety Services, speaking on behalf of iCERT
• Barry Ritter, ENP, executive director, Indiana Statewide 9-1-1 Board
• Steve Souder, Maryland Emergency Number Systems Board
• Trey Forgety, director of governmental affairs, NENA
• Dr. Walt Magnussen, director, Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC), Texas A&M University (TAMU)

In her testimony, Boyd addressed the lack of funding for NG 9-1-1 implementations, reminding subcommittee members of the “critical role” that Congress played in the initial deployment of 9-1-1 a half-century ago.

“So, we think it is very appropriate that you look at NG 9-1-1 funding, just for the capital upfront costs for state and local governments,” Boyd said. “We’re not asking Congress to endure the entire cost, but we do know that we have an impediment today because funds are lacking at the state level to cover the upfront implementation.”

“FirstNet and NG 9-1-1 should be partnered,” Boyd said, meaning that development and deployment of these emergency communications services should be closely coordinated.

While FirstNet’s NPSBN and NG 9-1-1 are on parallel implementation paths, there are numerous reasons why they should be integrated, and this integration is a provision of the Klobuchar-Nelson working draft bill. First and foremost, such integration would foster the seamless exchange of data between first responders in the field and those in the PSAP. Another key benefit is that a single set of cybersecurity policies can be created, which will be critical, given the enormous amount of data that will pass between the two networks.

Much has been done regarding NG 9-1-1 implementation, but there is more still to do. Given recent events in Washington, there is new hope that Congress will provide desperately needed support. Neither the NPSBN nor NG 9-1-1 will realize its full potential unless the networks fully integrated, requiring both to be ubiquitous from coast to coast. It seems clear that FirstNet’s NPSBN, given the jump-start provided by Congress, will reach ubiquity. The same needs to be true for NG 9-1-1.

Ellen O’Hara is chair of the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) and chairman of the board for iCERT member company Zetron, a JVCKENWOOD company. Email comments to

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On 5/30/17, Linda Leong said:
Perhaps a constituent's perspective with a personal testimony on how the legacy system failed her twice when cell phone calls to 9-1-1 resulted first in being placed on hold, and then without being able to provide a street numbered address, the public-safety answering point (PSAP) was unable to forward the emergency call to the secondary PSAP whose personnel would have know the location of the caller because the PSAP is located one mile away. My husband passed away on the Rancho Santa Fe Soccer Field from a heart attack after a Sunday soccer game, and the 9-1-1 call never was transferred to the Northcomm PSAP due to a lack of a numbered address. Next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1) would have prevented this from happening and would have been able to provide GPS coordinates to the PSAP.
I have already testified in Sacramento before a state assembly committee on 9-1-1 in 2015, and I'm available to help champion the need for federal budget allocations to implement NG 9-1-1 in all states nationally and with Congress. I am a financial planner whose first career was a 9-1-1 analyst with the San Diego County Department of Health Emergency Medical Services. Linda Leong


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