Since the first call to 9-1-1 on February 16, 1968 in the small town of Haleyville Alabama, these three digits have become an important moniker of our nation’s emergency communications history and heritage. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, dedicated call takers man their consoles, saving countless lives with their calm, cool fortitude, and minimal information about their callers.
From that initial ceremonial 9-1-1 call, made by Alabama Speaker of the House, Rankin Fite, and answered by Congressman Tom Bevill, while manning a special red phone in the Haleyville Police Department, right to today’s advanced Emergency Services IP Network (ESINet) and modern NG9-1-1 emergency centers like the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications facility just outside of our Nation’s capitol, the technology that sits in the data centers behind the 9-1-1 call taker has radically changed and has greatly improved.
While technology used by citizens, and to some degree in the 9-1-1 centers themselves, has slowly evolved with the evolution of the Internet and our increasingly connected world, the core functionality of the 9-1-1 network itself has remained somewhat stagnant. Initially, the digits 9-1-1 simply acted as a short-code that routed callers to their local emergency center. A decade and a half later, more intelligent selective routing, as well as basic Automatic Number Identification, was added allowing 9-1-1 emergency call takers to identify the source of the call. Digital switching in the central office became commonplace, and new features like Caller ID, Star Codes like *69, and others became available. PSAP’s now not only had the phone number of the originating caller but the billing address associated with the number. Additional capabilities came in to help solve the location and routing issue of cellular telephones, which had become very popular around the same time, but it’s there where the network technology paused.
As innovation normally does, technology advanced, and telephone systems used in commercial businesses, hotels, and other large environments begin to grow and become more feature-rich. VoIP and IP telephony slowly took over and surpassed legacy analog device sales, and today have become the norm with communications clients providing not only voice, but text messaging, and now often times video to the users of nearly any type of endpoint technology. Due to limited government IT budgets, long budget cycles, and the speed of adoption of new technology, the public safety technology market stagnated, and the technology gap between the 9-1-1 call taker and the 9-1-1 caller widened dramatically.
THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG?
I have always been a vocal proponent of building the network first. Then, technology on either side can connect using new modalities, while legacy systems down-convert and take in what they can over a legacy network interface adapter. This way, each side of the equation can upgrade independently, and at their own pace and financial ability. Using this ‘Over the Top’ model, that I proposed to the Federal Communications Commission back in 2012, the network could slowly right itself, and end-to-end connectivity will slowly grow and evolve organically.
The invitation for this event came directly from Henning Schulzrinne, Newly appointed to the FCC as CTO, and one of the forefathers of many of the SIP RFC’s When I presented this concept to the Illinois Institute of Technology Real Time Communication conference in the fall of 2011. Be sure to checkout this years conference, Which will be offered to everyone at no charge thanks to our sponsors. Once again for the fifth year in a row, I will be the track chair for the next generation 911 communications track, and I’m looking forward to some exciting presentations and panel sessions from the technology leaders in the market. If you would like to propose a talk, or even a panel session, I’ll be firming up the schedule over the next month, and you can submit your proposals online at no charge. Sponsorships are still available.
THE END TO END VISION
As every week passes, more and more networks come online, and more and more PSAP’s are upgraded with the latest technology. Slowly but surely, the end to end vision is being built and is nearing completion. And the effective way of describing and NG9-1-1 network, and the various components involved, is an example that often also works describing electricity. Think of a pristine reservoir of water, far away in the mountains. The water is the information that we need to get to the PSAP operator in the city. The various pipes and pumping stations along the way are the network components that represent the various central office switching points, and the water faucet at the PSAP is the local call-taking equipment that the PSAP call taker uses.
I, as the 9-1-1 caller, have a fresh pure glass of water (the information about the location and the incident) that I would like to serve to the 9-1-1 call taker at the PSAP. If I pour my glass of water into the local reservoir for my area (the Additional Data Repository or ADR), it can travel through all of the pipes, pumping stations, and filtering equipment (the NG9-1-1 Emergency Services IP Network or ESINet) to ensure its purity when it reaches the water faucet (PSAP NG9-1-1 Call Taking Solution) at the PSAP. When the 9-1-1 call taker opens the tap (answers the emergency session request), water comes out (my original data arrives).
I agree that due to the distance and time factor getting my water to the PSAP is a bit far-fetched, and may have some flaws, but if you picture the infrastructure in your head, do you now understand, at least at a very high-level, the flow of information in an NG9-1-1 network, as well as the various components throughout the call flow? I’ll bet that you do, or at least can better rationalize it. Comparing that simple model with today’s NG9-1-1 Network, we can easily visualize in our mind that nearly everything is in place, except for one final piece at the reservoir, where all of the freshwater is stored. Not everyone has a reservoir built, and the ones that are may not have been connected to the pipes and pumping stations that can deliver it to the PSAP. So, in reality, what we are missing is one last short piece of pipe. We know how big it needs to be, we know what it needs to be made of to protect the contents it will carry, leaving the final step of connecting it and opening up the valves (the Session Border Controllers) that were installed for security.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE PHONE?
Remember that bright red shiny rotary dial telephone that received the very first 9-1-1 call in the United States?
Wonder where it finally ended up?
Due to great effort and much help from industry volunteers, NENA, and the great people of Haleyville Alabama, the telephone left it’s home in Haleyville, and is now proudly enshrined and on display in the National Law Enforcement Museum in Washington DC, oddly enough just a short distance away from that brand new NG9-1-1 center at the Fairfax County Department of Public Safety Communications. This modern public safety facility, formerly run by a very dear friend, and 9-1-1 industry icon, Steve Souder, is now under the watchful eye of Director Roy L. Oliver, who was appointed Director, Department of Public Safety Communications on October 30, 2018.
In closing, we at 911 inform, took the location problem that exists today in the enterprise, and started from scratch with a brand new, innovative solution that solved the problem, not just masks yesterday’s issue.
Through an exclusive agreement with our NG 911 data delivery partner RapidSOS, feeding PSAPs covering 95% of the population or more, we’ve created the next paradigm shift in Enterprise emergency event detection, collection, and management technology.
We accomplish this by providing a real-time, live data feed directly to public safety first responders using NG911 NENA i3 compliant processes. Here is an example of how we do this:
I welcome your comments, suggestions, or queries.
© 2020, All Rights Reserved, Mark J. Fletcher, ENP
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