NextGen 9-1-1 Inside the PSAP

If your career is INSIDE the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), one question might be “How will NG9-1-1 help us do our job?”

In speaking with Telecommunicators (those dedicated individuals that answer your 9-1-1 call), many identify the following to be important:

  • Reduce the number of transfers– in other words, have the network route wireless 9-1-1 calls to the correct PSAP the first time, eliminating the need for 9-1-1 Call Takers to transfer the call elsewhere. note: I’ve listened to a lot of 9-1-1 calls, it can literally freak people out to tell them that you cannot help them, that they are located in another jurisdiction and you will need to transfer the call. Recently, a mother whose child needed assistance called 9-1-1 and was told that her call needed to be transferred. She became extremely upset. Later, she went to a local TV station to complain. Dan Koenig, from my team, and I were interviewed for a segment to explain how the current system works. 

Today most wireless 9-1-1 calls are routed, not by the callers location, but by which cell tower and cell tower face (sector) their mobile phone is connected to..

In the example below, the 9-1-1 caller is connected to a cell tower and sector that is ‘programmed’ to send all 9-1-1 calls to Municipality A. This is simply a limitation of how the traditional 9-1-1 network functions today.

PSAP A will receive this 9-1-1 call.  Once they determine the 9-1-1 callers location, they will transfer the call to PSAP B.

Cell Sector

  • NextGen impact:

With Geospatial Routing, the location of the caller is determined first. This information is then passed on to the GIS mapping function, which should then route the caller to the correct PSAP. In the picture above, the NextGen system should route the 9-1-1 caller directly to PSAP B.

Update: Admiral David Simpson of the FCC (Bio Here) posted a comment on this blog, mentioning that there are numerous occasions, throughout the country, where the mapping capabilities of (in this scenario) PSAP A would not provide the location of the 9-1-1 caller, so the Call Taker would not know where to transfer the call to provide assistance.

It is important to note that the above example addresses only a single  aspect, routing the call to the correct PSAP. Next post, we will look at the Holy Grail of identifying the exact dispatchable address of the 9-1-1 caller…

FCC Chairman Testifies on NG9-1-1

HECC

Today there was a meeting regarding the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) oversight responsibilities, conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee.

I am encouraged by the recommendation regarding funding for NG9-1-1.

Below is the testimony of FCC Chairman Wheeler:

Text of Wheeler Testimony on NG9-1-1

During my tenure as FCC Chairman, and in my prior testimony before this Subcommittee, I have been very vocal about the urgent need to improve our 911 system. The recent tragedies in Orlando, San Bernardino, and too many other cities highlight the importance of 911 in times of crisis. 

The Commission has taken action to improve the quality and accuracy of 911, and there is good news to report. We see industry is stepping up to many of the challenges, improving 911 location accuracy, supporting text-to-911, and generally investing to improve network reliability and resiliency. 

But effective 911 service depends on our nation’s 911 call centers. These Public Safety Answering Points, or PSAPs, must have technology to receive and process calls quickly, accurately locate callers, and dispatch an appropriate response. The unfortunate fact is that 911, designed originally for analog voice, doesn’t scale effortlessly to the advanced digital, wireless, and multi-media technology landscape. In too many communities, the PSAPs are relying on dangerously out of date technology, and the transition to Next Generation 911 (NG911) – envisioned by Congress in 1999 when it established 911 as the national emergency number – has not started or is stalled. Resource-strapped local jurisdictions struggle to maintain existing 911 service, let alone to achieve Congress’s NG911 vision. 

Industry and many states, counties, and cities are working hard to address transition risk and achieve NG911 capabilities. Nearly 20 percent of counties now support text-to-911. Many jurisdictions are building out their Emergency Services IP Networks – the basic backbone for NG911 in their communities.

But these islands of progress are the exception, not the rule. Unless we find a way to help the nation’s PSAPs overcome the funding, planning, and operational challenges they face as commercial communications networks evolve, NG911 will remain beyond reach for much of the nation. Let me be clear on this point: 911 service quality will not stay where it is today, it will degrade if we don’t invest in NG911. 

Congress has the unique ability to accelerate the transition to NG911. A clear national call to action, with timely application of resources, would actually lower NG911 transition costs by shortening the transition period and enabling 911 authorities to retire costly legacy facilities more quickly. Here are three ways that Congress could help:

  • National 911 Map: PSAPs are increasingly dependent on electronic maps for 911 routing and location, but the maps that they rely on should not end at the county or state line. Congress could authorize and fund the FCC (in collaboration with DOT) to create a national 911 map that would be available to every PSAP and would eliminate the seams between commercial communications network infrastructure and emergency response dispatch systems. 

  • Cybersecurity Defenses for PSAPs: PSAPs face the same cyber vulnerabilities that have proven so challenging to both government and commercial organizations, but most lack trained workforce and the necessary tools for cyber defense. Congress could bring PSAP IP Networks under the protective umbrella of DHS’s “Einstein” program by funding the deployment of intrusion detection sensors for NG911 networks.

  • National NG911 Implementation Date with Matching Funds: Currently, there is no national timetable or target date for completing the transition to NG911. Congress could establish a nationwide NG911 implementation date (e.g., to complete the transition by the end of 2020) and authorize matching funds to help state and local communities achieve this goal. Congress can further jump start this effort by ensuring that federally run PSAPs and Emergency Operations Centers make achievement of NG911 capability a funding priority.

This Committee has commendably made public safety a priority, and I urge you to do everything in your power to make sure our nation’s 911 system evolves safely as it adjusts to achieve your NG911 vision and that PSAPs have the tools and support they need to avoid undue risk in the transition. 

………………..Call the Governor…………..

Here is the New Mexico Revenue chart.

 

 

Outbound Text from the PSAP

Indiana

 

This past week I attended the NENA 2016 Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana.

One of the information Breakout Sessions was entitled “New, Now, Wow”. Rob McMullen ENP, the 9-1-1 Director from Vigo County, Illinois, was a member of this panel. Rob informed the audience that Indiana has implemented Text-to-911 statewide, 92 counties, a major accomplishment.

Rob provided the following “Text”data for the past 6 months:

  • Statewide average-  1,400 inbound texts per month
  • The County that includes the City of Indianapolis averages 1,000 of these texts per month
  • The rest of the Counties average 20 texts per month

However, Telecommunicators (those amazing individuals who answer your 9-1-1 call) have started to use the outbound text feature to deal with both abandoned and, excuse the term, “butt dial” calls (averaging 16,000 calls per month statewide) placed to 9-1-1.

butt

The telecommunicators have found that many times by sending a text such as, ‘Did you mean to call 9-1-1?” they will  receive a response, whereas a phone call, in many instances, is not answered. People often do not want to speak with 9-1-1 and admit their error. Many times these calls will result in an unnecessary law enforcement dispatch for follow-up.

This feature is a major addition to Text-to-911 implementations.  It may become a feature that Telecommunicators request, facilitating further adoption of Text-to-9-1-1 across the Country.

 

SECURITY – sometimes difficult to define

Security

I received a letter from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. recently. The OPM experienced a major security HACK, which they publicly admitted (thank you).  This breach of data  included, as I learned in the letter, details that were voluntarily provided and additional information from background investigations for thousands of security clearances, including mine (past life).

Anyone who has been involved in this aspect of working with the Federal Government knows that the higher the level of clearance, the more information required. This then needs to be verified (either through formal, feet on the street background investigations or the ever popular polygraph ).

polygraph

The bottom line – In my case – I am being provided credit monitoring, identity monitoring, identity theft insurance and identity restoration services, at no charge, for three years. I appreciate the Federal Governments action.

If you think about this breach, it has tremendous negative potential. In addition to the basics- name, social security number, place of birth, etc- they also have details on an individuals immediate family, business relationships, foreign travel, etc and admissions (again depending on the level of clearance) or revelations of intimate details of your personal life. So- this information could be used to identify and attempt to coerce or blackmail (reveal potentially damaging/embarrassing  information) someone in an influential role (industry or government). A pretty serious situation.

Hackers had the ability to penetrate secure, classified  government networks. We have to assume that there were policies/procedures in place and contractors tasked with securing these systems.

Until recently, 9-1-1 Centers (PSAPs), with their traditional analog phone line connectivity, have not been concerned with the type of ‘hacking’ or security issues normally associated with IP (internet protocol) networks. As we all know, this is changing.

Most of us have heard the terms firewall or encryption. In reality, we are going to require the expertise of our vendors and consultants to make sure that our information and system functionality is safe as we move to these IP based networks. There have been critical scenarios described, such as having an ‘event’ in a major city and the 9-1-1 system being totally disabled as part of the attack.

The challenge is, who really understands all of the aspects of security? Not unlike taking your car to be serviced. The mechanic basically has you at a disadvantage. You need to make a decision – should you trust him? We should not move into IP networks with this approach.  The individual, consultant or vendor we might ‘trust’ may candidly not really have an in depth knowledge of this very complex subject.

Make sure that your security advisor is aware of the following efforts:

National Institute of Standards and Technology:

Cybersecurity Framework

CSRC

NICE

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

CSRIC

 

John Oliver Highlights Location Issues

hans

By now, you may have seen the 9-1-1 segment from the HBO show “Last Week Tonight”.  If you have not seen the clip, here is the link- but please be aware that this is HBO and there is no censoring as far as language…    Last Week Tonight- 911

We normally only see 9-1-1 in the news when there is a specific problem with 9-1-1 technology (locating a 911 caller, 911 system failure, etc.).  John Oliver looked at 9-1-1 location issues on a national level  (calling out a few states in the process) and, in doing so, reached a much larger audience. The day after this segment aired, telco carriers and 9-1-1 staff nationwide were busy responding to inquiries from the media, as well as their own internal executive teams, in an attempt to clarify the issues.

Mark Fletcher explained the current situation in a recent NetworkWorld article

Network World- 911 Location Issues

Given the current environment surrounding location, one can understand why app developers are creating alternatives to ‘simply dialing 9-1-1’ by creating innovative (well..sometimes) Smartphone apps.

The U.S. is the world leader in technology. Maybe a trip to Silicon Valley is in order?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

APCO Broadband Summit

img_0449

This week I participated in my first ‘Broadband Summit”.  I gave a presentation on the network management tools (SNMP, Wireshark, Dashboard) that we have implemented within our NextGen 911  ESInet in Palm Beach County.

FirstNet was, of course,  a major topic. A number of their executive team members were present. During the two day summit, there was occasional discussion regarding the potential synergy between FirstNet and NG9-1-1.

During my presentation, I put up the following slide to depict the PSAP’s  relationship to both FirstNet and NG9-1-1.

APCO Broadband Summit Slide

FirstNet (on the right) will directly connect to the PSAP, mainly for dispatch  purposes. The other role the PSAP plays, call taking (inbound on the left), I left blank. This is simply to depict that there is no nationally funded broadband program to ensure we can implement NextGen 911 across the country. It is possible that FirstNet might be rolled out in a region with no corresponding NG9-1-1 system.  Pictures, video, etc. ‘from the scene’ would not be available prior to first responder arrival.

Another topic of interest was FirstNet Apps,  applications that will run on the new broadband  first responder handsets:

firstnet app

The app depicted above could provide visual, real time info on data such as field intelligence, nearest officers, local maps, photos of a person of interest, etc. This is, of course, what we expect as we provide a hardened, ‘smart device’ to Public Safety teams.

And finally- FCC Commissioner  Jessica Rosenworcel addressed the group. Her comments include the following:

“..take jurisdiction. Federal authority over 911 is limited and with 6000 public safety answering points nationwide, we have a system that is vast—and vastly different in different parts of the country. There are 375 call centers in Mississippi but only 12 in Nevada. Yet both states have populations of just under 3 million. In other words, we have very different ways of managing emergency calling in different parts of the country. It makes a uniform effort hard.”

A positive event. Lots of information on ‘what’s coming’ and a number of dedicated individuals pushing to ensure we ‘get there.’

 

When Your “backup” fails..

netmon_rev1

Last month a close associate of mine experienced two outages at one of his PSAP’s. The first event lasted over three hours, the second 15 minutes. All 9-1-1 calls were rerouted.

The PSAP in question is served by two circuits. Supposedly physically diverse. During the conversion to IP in 2011, each circuit was physically routed into the PSAP facility in a manner to ensure diversity.

This latest outage revealed that, in the providers central office, both circuits connected to the same equipment rack, same shelf and same card. Back in 2013 he had a similar scenario, only then the outage took down six PSAP’s. All circuits, primary and backup, terminated onto a single card. This sounds impossible, but I have read the official ‘Outage Report’.

An important fact- they spent tens of thousands of dollars throughout their county in ‘outside plant’ construction costs, with their service provider, to make sure there was physical diversity into the PSAP.

He also educated me on a fact he recently learned- In 2013 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued the Derecho Report. This was in response to major storms and 9-1-1 outages in the midwest. The report listed a number of findings regarding 9-1-1 providers. Here is a quote from that document: “In most cases, the 9-1-1 and other problems could and would have been avoided if providers had followed industry best practices and available guidance.”

Derecho Report and Recommendations

This report resulted in the FCC issuing an Order:

FCC Order to Improve Reliability       Note -Appendix B- Part 12 Final Rules

The bottom line- as a customer you can request an audit, to include the physical path of  your 9-1-1 circuits. Here in Palm Beach County we now have an audit in progress.

Remember- it does not matter how big your circuits are  or how many you have (2, 3). When it comes to the last mile, the connection from the PSAP to the service provider, it is a PHYSICAL world.

A great way to address this issue is to contract with two providers. But only if they do not share the same telco facilities.

We are transitioning to a new world in 9-1-1. Like it or not, we occasionally will need to become more actively involved in order to understand how services are provided.

 

Text to 9-1-1 and Language Translation

 

text

 

In certain areas of the United States there are large segments of the local population that do not speak English.

In 9-1-1 Call Centers (PSAP’s) today, it is common practice to have a third party language translation service under contract. For example, a 9-1-1 call is received and the call taker does not speak Spanish. It is a simple process to add a Spanish speaking translator to the 9-1-1 call.

Most translation firms offer this service for numerous languages.

We recently held a meeting with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties to discuss the implementation of Text to 9-1-1 on a regional basis. Paul McLaren, of West Safety Services (formerly Intrado) provided a technical overview. I was surprised to learn that -Today- it is not possible to ‘bridge in’ a third party translation service to a 9-1-1 text ( or any third party). There were a number of reasons identified, technical limitations, security, etc.

Here in South Florida, launching an ‘English-Only’ 9-1-1 Text service will need careful consideration and approval.

What would happen if you were working a shift in a 9-1-1 center and, on your screen, you receive a text in a foreign language?

If you have plans to move forward with a Text to 9-1-1 solution in your area, it will be important, in today’s scenario, to educate the public on language availability. You also need an emergency ‘contingency plan’.

Text can certainly be a useful tool, it is important that we understand all of the facts prior to implementation.

 

No Funded Plan for NextGen 9-1-1 in Your State?

Strategy

In the perfect world there is a plan and approved funding for a NextGen ESInet Emergency Services IP Network in your State (disclaimer.. this is my personal opinion). This will serve as the public safety broadband network for all of the 911 centers (PSAPs). There is local control of the PSAPs, the state has simply removed a major technical hurdle by providing the ESInet backbone as a utility.

This is a great scenario…

With over 30 ‘home rule’ states – the state constitution grants cities, municipalities, and/or counties the ability to pass laws to govern themselves as they see fit (decentralized authority)- it can be challenging to establish a funded statewide 9-1-1 initiative.

In many counties across the US, staff responsible for 9-1-1 are maxed out. They have full time jobs, often serving in an Emergency Management, Police or Fire Rescue position, maybe even managing the PSAP(s). Strategic planning for Next Generation 9-1-1, securing funding and contracting for technical expertise at the local level represents a major undertaking.

SO.. if you are the responsible party at the county level, with no State initiative on the horizon, what do you do?  We are starting to see a grassroots movement where local counties are working together. In Illinois, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, to name a few,  counties are teaming together to adopt a regional model, migrating to an IP based network with hosted (centralized) call processing. A great first step.

This is not wasted effort, as it lays the foundation for connecting to a full ESInet solution at a future date.

Here in Florida, there are a large number of counties who have begun to ‘self organize’, holding regular meetings to look at options.

Laurie Flaherty,  National 911 Program Coordinator, and her team have put together an annual report that provides an overall view of what is happening nationwide:

National 911 Data