NG 9-1-1 Takes a Big Step Forward

The recent FCC announcement of the voluntary agreement on text-to-9-1-1 is, to me, a major milestone on the  Next Generation (NG) 9-1-1 road. I took three key points from this:

  • First, the announcement signals the shift of text messaging to 9-1-1 from ‘early adopter’ to ‘mainstream’.
  • The transition phase also ensures that texts to 9-1-1 that do not go to a PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) will at least get a reply.
  • Finally, the announcement re-emphasizes that text is not a replacement for voice calls – it is an alternative route to help.

PSAPs will no longer be able to take the position that NG 9-1-1 can wait. Yes, receiving texts is optional under the agreement, and yes, working practices will need to evolve to accommodate text chats, accidental messages, and many other issues with this new communication method. But with our first duty to provide emergency assistance to citizens in need, we should be embracing the opportunity to build a new infrastructure that will better suit the citizens of the 21st century.

To date, most new technologies in the PSAP have been independent from call-taking. For instance, gunshot alarms, cameras, and other sensors have not directly impacted the basic PSAP role: the call for help comes in, aid is sent.

Text-to-9-1-1 is different. It’s got a lot in common with a phone call – it may even turn into a phone conversation at some stage. Putting text in an independent silo, away from voice, is a missed opportunity to revolutionize your 9-1-1 infrastructure. Don’t forget that you’ll need to be able to present these texts, along with voice and radio communications, as time-synchronized information for investigations, evaluations, and debriefings!

Of course, with over 6,000 PSAPs in the U.S., you’re not the only one questioning how this will all work together. NENA has several committees working on documents to resolve both the operational and technical issues. Chances are, if you work with NENA, you may find they’ve already addressed many of your questions. Through NENA’s Next Generation Partner Program and Industry Collaboration Events, NICE, of course, is actively involved along with many other industry leaders.

As I said at the start, I see this as a major milestone on the NG 9-1-1 road. But it’s far from the end of the road. Text messages themselves have now been around for over 20 years. In fact, they  may already have peaked, as people turn to other IP-based communication tools on smartphones.

NG 9-1-1, with its IP core, sets the foundation for a much more connected future. The 9-1-1 of tomorrow could even move from today’s reactive centers to proactive centers. Just imagine a ‘supersmartphone’ of the future that can detect the early signs of a heart attack, connect you to your closest emergency center, and simultaneously send the center your location, real-time medical vital signs, and relevant medical history. That may seem a long way down the road from text-to-9-1-1, but it’s all possible on the IP core.

So, what’s your view on text-to-9-1-1? Is it an opportunity for your 9-1-1 center or a threat? Do you see it as something that will be overhyped and underused or as the first step in a fundamental shift in 9-1-1?

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