While many of the blogs and articles that I write are intended for the technical IT administrator, or public safety first responders and dispatchers, I’ve decided to break that pattern in an attempt to provide some grounding around an important topic that will affect the lives of nearly 300,000,000 people each and every year. I am talking about what is commonly known as public safety emergency services, and the E911 emergency network that exists in the US.
There is been quite a bit of hype recently formulated around what is been called Next Generation 911 networks or NG 911. But what exactly are these new entities? How do they actually help over what we have today? And most importantly, how they affect the the general citizen?
These are all great questions to ask, and while many in the public safety business may have relevant answers for each of those questions, in most cases the general public doesn’t have access to these experts to make an inquiry. Without validation of the basic facts, our imagination is left to run wild, myths and opinions, and all the cool stuff we see on TV, ends up being transformed into factoids that get quoted over and over, until they actually carry a level of credibility.
What exactly is NG911?
In a nutshell, NG 911 is an evolution of the current emergency services network from its existing analog-based, 1970s era technology, to one that uses modern IP networking to convey information about location and a particular incident between the emergency call originator, and the 911 call taker or public safety answering point (PSAP).
Think of it this way, 15 to 20 years ago we relied heavily on the US mail. The speed of business was radically changing, and specialized service companies such as UPS and FedEx evolved with overnight package and letter delivery.
In the last decade, we have increased our communications urgency, and provided email as a near real time solution. But today, even that is being challenged as instant communications have taken precedence in the form of peer to peer messaging and communications forms such as Facebook and Twitter, to mention just a few.
How does NG911 improve
what we have today?
In the late 60s, and early 70s, the rotary dial telephone was still common in homes and businesses. And while that technology will still work today on most networks, you would be hard-pressed to actually find a device for sale. Communications channels that are commonly used today simply will not work over the legacy 911 environment. As a primary example, text to 911 has taken more than a decade to roll out in the US, and even now is only available in about 5% of the 6800 PSAP’s in the US, according to the Federal Communications Commission. even with those PSAPs that will accept text messaging to 911, do so through a technology kludge on the backend that is challenged with the ability to deliver location with the text message. Now to be clear, we’re not talking about the accuracy of that location, it is a little known fact that NO LOCATION information is delivered to the 911 center with a text message today.
In addition to providing an intelligent link between the call originator, and the 911 call taker, NG 911 will provide the ability to send multimedia between the two endpoints in the form of pictures, video, or any other “additional data” that may be available on the device requesting assistance, or ultimately any associated sensor such as a blood pressure monitor or sugar monitoring mechanism for diabetics. This of course, brings me directly to my last point:
How does NG911 affect me?
This is in fact the most easiest question of all, and one that is limited only by one’s imagination.
In addition to environmental sensor information, basic health information can be provided to emergency responders, and even conferenced with healthcare providers that can review the information while in route. Low blood sugar levels can alert healthcare providers of a pending situation that can proactively reach out to a patient under managed care and possibly remind them to take their medication if they forgotten. Once contact is made, and the dire situation is discovered, emergency services can be brought into a conference call establishing a response if needed.
A spouse with dementia may wander outside of a specific geo-fenced area, and their wearable device generates a notification to their spouse as well as healthcare providers. If additional assistance is needed, once again public safety can be involved, and explicit location tracking can be employed and delivered directly to responding units so the individual is intercepted as quickly as possible.
It’s all about “Contextual Priority”, that Kevin Kennedy described in his recent blog. Kevin gives a great example about context, and how the interpretation of that context changes the picture, again and again. Speaking of the “judgment of context”, Kevin says:
“When we have context, we can make a judgment about the information. For example, if you hear that John shot Sally, your first response may be that his action was wrong. But then you learn John shot Sally because she pointed a gun at him, so your opinion changes because you think it was self-defense. Next, you discovered John is a US soldier and Sally a terrorist. Now you think: That’s war! It’s totally justified . . . Until you find out Sally was six years old. Puts yet another spin on it, doesn’t it?”
While some with “Big Brother Syndrome” will look at NG911 is our downfall into a mire of social control, clearly the health and safety benefits outweigh the concerns.
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he provides the strategic roadmap and direction of Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, and co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the EU, where he provides insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.