“9-1-1 – What’s Your Emergency?” It’s Security.

Simple connectivity is no longer enough to meet the needs of emergency responders. The Internet of Things (IoT) and iterative improvements to wireless IP-based communications technology necessitate a need for more advanced emergency communications systems. Enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1), designed to link Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) to first responders, is no longer capable of performing the services citizens expect from modern utilities, such as simple text. The identified solution is Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), an upgraded system that not only supports voice calling for wire line, cellular, and VoIP, but added capabilities including text messaging, photo, video, and sensory data. The shift to NG9-1-1 will address a myriad of needs for both public safety and citizens. Some states already boast functional Emergency Services IP Networks (ESINets) or can receive texts, increasing efficiency and lowering risk. Yet numerous challenges face the 911 communities as it makes the transition from legacy systems to IP-based technologies: interoperable systems, funding, governance models, coordination, and accuracy are just a few.

While many of these challenges seem familiar for this type of technological transition, IP-based databases fundamentally change the nature of one threat in particular: security. Moving from a closed analog system to an interconnected IP network demands not just physical security, but more complex compliance for the protection of networks and data.

In 2010, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) developed the Security for NG9-1-1 Standard to establish security criteria for ESINets with full IP connectivity. Since then, there has been much discussion around planning, policies, training, monitoring, and auditing NG9-1-1 systems. Privacy and protection of citizens’ personal information from hackers is the biggest concern. But the real emergency is not what happens when a hacker obtains data, it's what happens when a hacker manipulates it.

Public safety personnel intend to leverage the IoT and incoming interconnected data to improve situational awareness, protect emergency callers, and reduce the risks to responders seeking to assist them. Imagine the consequences of a first responder receiving false information, and wholly trusting the data, before entering an emergency.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told Congress “PSAP's are being thrust into the same cyber fight that have proven so challenging to both government and commercial organizations, but without the necessary tools.” If public safety does not trust the security of its system, adoption is unlikely despite its numerous benefits. Therefore, it is imperative that government, industry, and subject matter experts (SMEs) work together to develop world-class defense mechanisms that are fiscally and institutionally appropriate for nationwide adoption by PSAP's. But the need begs the question, how do you balance the need for security and ease of usability?