Next Generation 911

Earlier this week I participated in a meeting of the Cal Chiefs legislative task force. I will focus on one issue that is both important as well as an interesting and complex component of the public safety business. The bill below speaks to the issue and it has a similar bill in the senate. I’ll attempt to condense the information into a discussion about Next Generation 911 (NG911).

A nationwide push resulted in a single three digit number (911) for use in emergencies across the Country to access a public safety system. When it came to fruition in the 1980s this resulted in more rapid communication to public emergency service providers. The reduction in what is now known as call processing time coincided with widespread deployment of paramedic services in the fire service, and enhanced care and treatment of the sick and injured. Additionally, the full spectrum of fire service and law enforcement service capabilities were enhanced with this improvement as well.

An improvement to the 911 access was E911, which provided the address location of the caller’s phone if for any number of reasons the caller was unable to provide this information. The lack of this important feature is illustrated in the 2008 killing of Juliana Redding at her home in Santa Monica by a contract murder-for-hire. While Juliana was able to dial 911 the call was ended by the killer before she was able to report the location during her struggle for life.

The E911 technology comes at a cost to both maintain and expand the system into new areas for systemwide coverage. The funds for maintenance and operation of this system was secured with a surcharge on each landline phone. Since the implementation of the 911 landline system there has been an exponential increase in the use of cellular phones, often at the cost of landline use. Consequently, most public safety answering points (PSAP) now report that at least half of the 911 callers access the 911 system using a cell phone. Because cellular technology does not provide an address, this information must be provided by the caller. This situation is reflective of the early 1980s prior to the E911 enhancement. More time is consumed in the informational acquisition component of call processing, resulting longer total response time by public safety resources for about half of the 911 requests for service.

In California, all cellular 911 calls are routed to the California Highway Patrol (CHP) by law. This can be modified via contract with the CHP if both parties are in agreement. However, the CHP holds the authority on this issue. Cellular towers near a freeway often are routed to the local CHP PSAP, and subsequently transferred to another PSAP if necessary based on the jurisdiction or discipline needed. At times, a cellular tower can become over loaded with activity and the next nearest available tower is accessed. However, this can result in a PSAP handling a call from many miles away and without knowledge of the streets or businesses reported by the caller, as this information may not be in the database of the terminal PSAP computer. Some of this was attempted to be resolved with the routing on empirical data (RED) project. However, this is a temporary solution.

The NG911 program is something that is expected to address the issues of a legacy 911 system in what is a technology driven world. It would attempt to provide access into the system for those who cannot speak, as well as texting and video uploading. Communication barriers are expected to be bridged as well. However, funding for this program is not sufficient at this time due to the reduction in landline use. Over time, legislation is proposed in an attempt to address many of these issues. However, it may be quite some time before the answer is realized.

The outcome of many of these 911 challenges is that a person who accesses the system using a cellular phone is providing the same information more than once, and that PSAP operators are are spending time transferring calls via voice. This is a time consuming process that results in an increase in call processing time. Currently, I believe that Cal Chiefs will look to a solution that more fully integrates CAD-to-CAD interface by standardizing the software so that when a call is sent from one PASP to another the need for voice communication is minimized.  This would achieve one of the most important objectives of call processing by reducing the time acquisition of critical information to the proper assignment of public safety resources.

–Paul Matheis

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