The public safety industry is on the threshold of a major transformation. Here are five critical developments that are shaping the public safety solutions of the future.
Trend #1: NG911 (including Text-to-911)
Last year’s FCC announcement of a voluntary agreement with service providers on Text-to-911 was a major milestone, signaling a shift how the industry is starting to change the way it thinks about Text-to-911 – from ‘early adopter’ to ‘mainstream.’ According to the FCC, dozens of PSAPs in U.S. are now Text-to-911 capable. A number of vendors already provide interfaces for handling text communications in the PSAP. At its August Open Meeting, the FCC will take up a discussion on establishing deadlines for all text providers to provide Text-to-911. The take-away: Text-to-911 is here; and other types of multimedia 911 communications are coming.
With the advent of NG911, voice calls to 911 will change as well. Emergency calls that once traveled over a circuit-switched telephony network will migrate to an IP (Internet protocol) based emergency services network, arriving at the PSAP as data. This migration will require PSAPs to update their 911 technology—and that includes their recording capabilities. As PSAPs migrate to NG911 they will need a specialized IP recording solution capable of capturing any traffic coming through the ESInet, whether it’s SIP-based VoIP, images, video or text messages sent from i-Phones or other mobile devices. Additionally, PSAPs will need to be able to link any texts, video, and voice recordings that are part of the same incident.
Trend #2: Public Safety Broadband
When Congress passed legislation to create the FirstNet (the First Responder Network Authority) just over two years ago, the idea of building a nationwide broadband network for first responders seemed a massive undertaking. Now that 2013 is in the rear view mirror, some would say it’s still a lofty goal, even though progress has been made.
While public safety broadband is billed primarily as an information sharing superhighway for first responders, its impact will be felt in the PSAP as well. PSAPs are the hub of emergency communications, and with public safety broadband, they will become even more so. Today, we’re seeing more PSAPs with access to city surveillance and DoT cameras, but only for viewing. They’re not able to move or process video. FirstNet is going to enable public safety agencies to move and share video in real-time – and not just video, but other relevant data as well.
Trend #3: Next Gen Quality Assurance
There are few instances when quality service matters more than 911 emergency communications. To ensure high service standards PSAPs routinely review voice calls (a process known as Quality Assurance or QA). Until now, QA focused on 911 calls. But as NG911 and public safety broadband come online PSAPs will become the touchpoint for handling Text-to-911, video and an increasing number of sensors and data. Telecommunicators will need to be able to process new media formats and make decisions based on those inputs. In this complex environment, QA will be even more essential for identifying and closing knowledge gaps.
Trend #4: Mobile Apps
As the use of smartphones and other mobile devices becomes more prevalent, we’ve grown accustomed to ‘capturing [and sharing] the moment’ on these devices using various apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter. We instinctively reach for our phones to share this information with others. But what if these same instincts could also help facilitate real-time information sharing during an unfolding incident? Some companies are now offering mobile apps that enable first responders, security personnel, or just about anyone to communicate multimedia incident information. There are different variations on the app, but essentially it allows users to send an alert about an event, along with location information (X, Y, Z coordinates), and even images and videos of an incident scene.
The logic behind this seems to be that if responders know about a situation sooner and have access to rich, accurate, real-time information on the ‘what, where, when and why,’ situational awareness goes up and response time goes down. Such mobile apps will be invaluable to cities, PSAPs, government and private organizations, and even ordinary citizens.
While NG911 will empower citizens to communicate with 911 centers in new ways, these apps, powered by public safety broadband and other delivery mechanisms, will extend multimedia communications even further, unlocking real-time collaboration and data flow far beyond the capacities of spoken communication.
Trend #5: Hosted Solutions
We all use Internet hosted solutions every day – Gmail, Hotmail, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name a few. For business applications, think Web collaboration tools (like WebEx), customer-relationship management solutions (like Salesforce), enterprise-resource planning (ERP) software and marketing automation software (like Marketo). So what of Public Safety?
According to a recent research by Stratus Technologies (Nov. 2013), 28% of PSAP surveyed are running or planning to run critical and non-critical apps in the cloud. PSAPs are giving hosted and cloud-based solutions a serious look and there are good reasons why. First, they can save money by combining funds to purchase systems that accommodate the needs of multiple sites at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost to purchase duplicate systems. They can even pay as they go rather than having to find funding for a large investments/capital expenses.
NG911 (based on the NENA i3 standard) is going to make hosted solutions a more viable option for every PSAP. That’s because the NENA’s i3 standard is based on an Emergency Services IP network (ESInet) that will be shared across all Public Safety agencies. In addition to being the future mechanism for delivering Next Gen emergency calls, the ESInet will also lay the foundation for agencies to interconnect at local, regional, state, and national levels – and share applications.
This means that instead of procuring alone, agencies connected by a regional ESInet will be able to combine their purchasing power to invest in shared hosted solutions. These solutions could be implemented using dedicated equipment (a “private cloud”) hosted at one centralized site, or sold to participating agencies by the 911 system provider in the form of software as a service (SaaS).
Today, a PSAP might source its 911 system from one company, its CAD system from another and its recording solution from yet another, but these and other solutions likely will be bundled and sold as software services in the future. This makes it possible to offer different applications to different users on the network. For example, one PSAP may need to log only audio calls, while another may also need to log Text-to-911 communications, and another might want to add speech analytics. Hosted service providers will be able to offer a menu of solutions for PSAPs to choose from, ranging from call processing to GIS to workforce management. Such economies of scale will put richer functionality and resiliency within the reach of every PSAP.