How to Make 9-1-1 truly “next generation”
In 2000 the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the organization whose purpose is to implement and educate universal emergency telephone numbers, identified a significant deficit in how cell phones communicate with Public Service Answering Points (PSAPs). As we began to shift from voice to text, and now to video, and our communication platforms became increasingly mobile the technology that had sustained 9–1–1 emergency services was having trouble keeping up. With their sights firmly set on introducing a system and standard to bring 9–1–1 up to the 21st Century, it’s important to examine where 9–1–1 must improve and how it can be done.
As our communication habits have changed from:) to the way that we correspond with emergency and city services has changed as well. No longer are we calling from landlines that correspond with our billing address but instead, we are increasingly using wireless cell phones which have no fixed location. This shift has led to increasing difficulties for 9–1–1 in being able to locate and rescue those who are in need of assistance. One of the constant themes that we have pressed on in this blog is that cell phones are both a lifesaver and a headache for the public safety industry.
But what is ‘next generation’ and how do we prepare our PSAPs for it?
Analog to Digital
The PSAP of the future is going to be completely wired. While some PSAPs these days don’t even have internet connections, the PSAP of the future is going to be able to accept calls over the web. Why digital? Because data calls help preserve the integrity of the network infrastructure. One of the first consequences of a terror attack or any mass gathering like a protest is that the civilian cell system collapses under the heavy burden of people making calls, tweeting, or live-streaming. By being able to offload to Wi-Fi, it is possible to ensure that the cell network is preserved and people can always access emergency services.
Seeing is Understanding
Video calling is coming to the PSAP. It is a reality that all public safety officials must face when looking towards the future. While video calling does have potential downsides, such as viewing disturbing content, the upsides far outweigh them. When Reporty rolled out nationwide in Israel, the EMS service were able to decrease their time to dispatch by more than 50%.
Because telecommunicators didn’t have to ask preliminary questions like “where are you?” or “what’s the situation?” they were able to dispatch first responders in record time. The streaming video and instant location of Reporty meant that they were able to provide clear, concise instructions as well as understand where the person was calling. The addition of streaming video also meant that calls could be prioritized based on severity. If someone were calling who was in a car accident, they would get priority over a kitten stuck up a tree.
I Zee you
The first and most important role of emergency services is to help you, and they can only do that if they can find you. As mentioned above, emergency services have had significant issues in the transition from wired to wireless calling. Today, to discover you emergency services triangulate your location based on the surrounding cell towers and try to lock down an address. The problem with triangulation often lies in the distance between the towers. Sometimes, there aren’t three towers close enough together to correctly assume a caller’s position (think of rural areas) or it may be an excessively dense city with many buildings. The biggest issue with location is the lack of a Z-axis.
Z-axis is commonly known as the ‘vertical axis.’ When emergency services try to contact you, they are lucky if they can locate your address. If you are calling from a multi-story building, such as a skyscraper, then there are still several hundred offices within the 20, 30, or 40 story structure for them to have to search. A Z-axis allows the dispatcher to determine how high up from the ground you are (e.g. 18th floor) thus narrowing down your location.
Our smartphones have inside of them a range of different sensors. Accelerometers, gyroscopes, barometers, and other countless pieces of tech wizardry. All of these sensors give the phone an extraordinary amount of power in a relatively small package. By utilizing these sensors, one can begin the process of calculating the Z-axis and giving emergency responders your exact location down to height and meter.
The emergency services landscape across the United States is fractured. Some states, who have the resources, regularly update their PSAPs with the latest and greatest technology. Others, however, still can’t allow you to send a text to 9-1-1. For a truly next generation 9-1-1 experience it is crucial to look overseas to see how other countries have begun to implement the future of IP-based public safety. Citizens believe that 9-1-1 can find them no matter what, the second they place the call, and we need to catch up to this line of thinking. Next Generation 9-1-1 is coming to a PSAP near you.