This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Connecticut and Kansas are working to install next-generation 911 systems, which some say are a necessity in an ever-burgeoning wireless mobile society.
A citizen at the scene of a car accident sends a text to 911 along with a follow-up smartphone video surveying the damage. Both the text and video stream are routed to a local 911 center. Police and emergency responders arrive on location, armed with the up-to-the-second information that could save lives.
This scenario could play out in Kansas and Connecticut, two states currently installing next-generation 911 (NG911) telephone systems at hundreds of emergency call centers. Though at different stages of implementing the technology, NG911 supporters from both states believe the new arrangement is a needed evolution from an increasingly outdated system.
Connecticut will roll out NG911 on a pilot basis at 10 public safety answering points (PSAPs) during the first quarter of 2015. Over the following 12 to 18 months, the system will be installed in all of the state’s 104 emergency call centers – as Stephen Verbil, telecommunications manager for Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, told govtech.
While the existing narrowband, circuit-switched 911 network has worked satisfactorily since its inception 30 years ago, it has been stretched to its limit as technology advances, Verbil said. Unlike current voice-centric 911 capabilities, the new classification will allow text-to-911 and eventually, the distribution of video and images through those same emergency channels. However, video will not be available until the FCC requires carriers to add it.
This more diverse set of Internet protocol-based communication is designed for seamless, location-based routing and information sharing between 911 centers and the response teams they’re communicating with, Verbil said. In time, local 911 centers will also be able to receive automated data from in-vehicle crash notification systems like OnStar.
About 70% of Connecticut’s 911 calls are made from cellphones, reported Verbil. Though talking to a dispatcher is preferable during an emergency, texting can be a viable option during certain domestic situations or if the user is hearing-impaired, he said.
The next step is finding a vendor to carry the service, an enterprise that should be completed before the end of the year. Six to 10 PSAPs will be using NG911 by next summer, with the remaining call centers coming onboard as they so choose. Kansas is run by local rule, meaning unlike Connecticut, each individual PSAP has leave to opt out of the program.