NG9-1-1: What Comes First? Governance or Technology?

Technological convergence of legacy and real-time data communications are quickly shaping emergency call taking and the role of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) nation-wide. The result of current Emergency 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) trends, including technological progression, PSAP consolidation, and regional networks, is not only the evolution of the emergency response landscape, but the entire public safety ecosystem. A future influx of multimedia, GIS, and physical surveillance information necessitates analytics to scrutinize content, create next generation alerts, and disseminate relevant data from PSAPs to first responders. At the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 2014 Conference and Expo big name vendors presented a host of E9-1-1 and Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) technologies ranging from text-to-9-1-1 logging to Spatial Information Function white papers. The technology is the easy part; deciding who will filter out non-important messages from incoming data, and the implications of such governance decisions, is more complicated.

Call takers, already overwhelmed with transmitting the incident location while shortening call times, fear an inability to sift through incoming texts. Yet community expectations evolve with each iPhone upgrade; a different generation of citizen expects public safety standards to mimic their personal lives.

What is going to happen when the information onslaught begins? Many in the public safety community suggest innovative, automated technologies will solve the information overflow issue.  But there is another and potentially more important problem: each of the nation’s 6,000 PSAPs varies in its structure and operational procedures. If 9-1-1 is unable to shift towards a more consistent governance model, next generation technologies could prove ineffective to PSAPs and responders and maybe even fail.

Moving to a more consistent model will not be easy. It is hard to ignore the economic realities: 9-1-1 communities constantly struggle to upgrade technology and maintain personnel. Primarily controlled at the local level, PSAPs do not want to hand over their autonomy and funding to the state due to past experiences. But how will a statewide Emergency Service IP Network (ESINet) function without state oversight and structural uniformity? With the price tag accompanying NG9-1-1 upgrades, rolling out and sustaining the necessary infrastructure without state involvement would be extremely challenging.

NG9-1-1 rests upon the ability to successfully transfer citizen’s multimedia data to responders – that requires both the technology and governance pieces. While access to layers of data is a step towards richer, more efficient PSAP communication with responders and citizens, there is one burning question on everyone’s mind: can we resolve the governance and control issues in time to take advantage of the new technology?