Approximately 137 million American adults live in homes that use mobile phones exclusively, according to a report from the CDC National Center for Health Statistics. Additionally, 48 million children also live in mobile phone-only households without access to a traditional landline.
The tools and way we communicate have undeniably changed. Gone are the days of being wired to a wall or chained to a cord to make a phone call – we are living in the next generation of communication. Now we text and tweet, snap and Skype. We communicate visually, on-the-go, on-the-road all the time. When an incident occurs and emergency services are needed, PSAPs should be able to receive the call with all the same capabilities that are common to citizens.
The public safety industry knew they needed to adapt to how people communicate. They paid attention, they listened and evolved. Next Generation 911 (NG911) is their answer to the ringing call.
NG911 is the future of 911. NG911 networks will replace existing circuit-switched 911 networks, which carry only voice and limited amounts of data. Current networks have difficulty supporting such things as text messages for emergencies, multimedia images and video, and easy access to additional data such as telematics data, building plans and medical information over a common data network.
What exactly will NG911 involve? Here are a few of the main components that make it stand out from current 911 systems:
In some situations, it is not safe to dial 911 – for example, during incidents such as domestic abuse, robbery or abduction where being quiet and discreet is crucial. Texting to 911 centers will enable citizens to send pictures and video to 911 to provide even greater detail to dispatchers. The ability to receive texts and images at a PSAP also greatly benefits those who are audibly impaired, and can also aid in resolving language and translation impediments.
Video streaming to and from first responders in the field
Some private sector apps allow citizens to livestream emergency events like gunshot wounds or car accidents to responders. With NG911, however, that type of action can be done directly from your phone to emergency dispatch. Communication centers will have the ability to send that type of multimedia to first responders so they can have a clearer understanding of the situation and arrive better prepared for the incident to which they are responding.
Ability to share information with and reroute calls to different PSAPs
NG911 capabilities will allow for data-heavy items like floor plans and other telematics data to be transmitted to command staff. Response times will be improved by quickly routing emergency calls during a large public event or natural disaster to the appropriate PSAP. This can be done by adding virtual PSAP routing boundaries around the geographic area.
Stronger locational services
Commercial phone carriers were previously responsible for providing best known locations of persons calling 911, either through billing addresses or GPS chipsets within the mobile phone. Location data is now provided through GPS technology and is the responsibility of PSAP GIS capabilities, which can be managed and maintained either on-site or through a cloud service provider.
Launching a next-gen upgrade to current 911 systems doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time and thoughtful preparation, but it should be a serious initiative for public safety agencies to consider. Public safety agencies should seek out a partner who will allow for a seamless NG911 integration into their daily operations to propel their communications into the next generation.