FCC Task Force Adopts NG 9-1-1 Architecture, Cybersecurity Recommendations
Friday, December 11, 2015 | Comments

The FCC’s Task Force on Optimal Public-Safety Answering Point Architecture (TFOPA) procedurally adopted recommendations developed by two of its three working groups Dec. 10.

TFOPA is a federal advisory committee created to provide recommendations to the commission about what steps public-safety answering points (PSAPs) can take to optimize security, operations and funding as they migrate to next-generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1). Working group one studied cybersecurity issues, and working group two focused on NG 9-1-1 architecture implementation. Working group three, which studied 9-1-1 fees and resource allocation, released its report with recommendations in October.

The cybersecurity working group said cybersecurity threats to PSAPs and public-safety agencies are real and increasing. Both telephony denial of service (TDoS) and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks continue to happen in the legacy 9-1-1 environment. Other threats include swatting — when an attacker generates a 9-1-1 call to send first responders to a non-existent incident — and attacks designed to compromise entire PSAPs are increasingly worrisome. Both criminal and nation state actors have been involved in cyber attacks on public safety, and the threat is expected to increase exponentially as 9-1-1 networks transition to IP-based NG 9-1-1 technology, the report said.

To combat those threats, the cybersecurity working group recommended public-safety agencies and PSAPs consider building and staffing a new type of security facility called Emergency Communications Cybersecurity Centers (EC3). These security centers would provide intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) and 24/7 monitoring to PSAPs, emergency operations centers (EOCs) and potentially other public-safety agencies, including the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). Sharing EC3 costs and services among agencies at the local, state and federal levels would save money and allow for information sharing that could help agencies predict and respond to cyber attacks, the working group said.

The report also includes appendices that outline cybersecurity use cases; best practices, including checklists, a roadmap and basic security hygiene activities; and resources, including government and commercial sources, reference materials and specific documents.

Working group two’s report on optimal 9-1-1 service architecture is broken into nine sections and addresses four key areas, including Emergency Services IP network (ESInet) considerations; access and NG 9-1-1 core services (NGCS); PSAP terminating equipment and call-taking support subsystems such as CAD, management information systems (MIS) and dispatching equipment; and governance.

The report discusses potential architectural models for transitioning to NG 9-1-1 as well as basic operational and architectural possibilities, technical components, requirements, challenges and opportunities, with a significant focus on options that will maximize cost effectiveness and efficiency.

The recommendations focus on shared services and hybrid services that would allow PSAPs to share equipment and costs and take advantage of redundancies and resiliency in cases of high call volumes or outages, while maintaining a highly local presence. Potential architectures presented include on-premise dedicated infrastructure, hosted and shared infrastructure, and hybrid possibilities.

The report also addresses the possibility of routing 9-1-1 calls using forest guides, which use a tree structure to determine the responsible 9-1-1 authority. Forest guides would require cooperative sharing of geographic polygons that define public-safety authorities’ service areas, said the report.

Within governance, the report said PSAP managers and 9-1-1 authorities will have to decide whether to remain independent or share resources, and if they choose a shared architecture, they will have to establish relationships and work out issues related to questions of control.

The report noted that delays in transitioning to NG 9-1-1 may create a situation in which both legacy and NG 9-1-1 systems must be maintained simultaneously, which will increase costs for 9-1-1 authorities.

Foundational capabilities that must be established during the NG 9-1-1 transition include ESInet, IP PSAP and the geographic information systems (GIS) data preparation. These elements do not need to be accomplished simultaneously or in any particular order but will be driven by the 9-1-1 authorities’ goals and NG 9-1-1 transition plan, said the report.

The working group said additional guidance will need to be developed to make use of the findings and encouraged the FCC to charter such efforts as part of the 2016 TFOPA initiative. Topics that still need to be explored include potential costs of transition, comparative early developer use cases, additional study of access for people with speech and hearing disabilities, and integration of applications that provide access to the 9-1-1 system.

TFOPA will consolidate the findings of all three working groups into a report that it plans to present for a vote on Jan. 29.

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