Text-to-911 momentum builds, glimmers of hope on horizon for NG911

When we wrote our first blog on text-to-911 in 2013, the FCC had just announced a voluntary agreement with the nation’s four largest wireless carriers to accelerate the availability of text-to-911. In that announcement then-FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that “access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century” and called on the communications industry and public safety entities to work together to enable nationwide text-to-911 as quickly as possible.

What a difference a few years can make!

Today all the major wireless carriers provide text-to-911 services to their subscribers, and close to 500 PSAPs are now able to receive them, up from 121 PSAPs just a year and a half ago.​​​

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In fact, since the end of last year, there has been a flurry of text-to-911 activity, with many towns, cities, counties, and states announcing that they’ve either implemented text-to-911 or plan to do so in the near future. This heightened interest was also evident in our recent webinar (What really happened? Reconstructing incidents in a multi-channel, multimedia world). When we polled webinar attendees on their text-to-911 plans, a whopping 42% of respondents said they had already implemented text-to-911 or were planning to do so this year, with an additional 30% saying it was on their future roadmap.​

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When further asked “In addition to text-to-911, what other types of citizen-provided multimedia are you most interested in accepting now or in the future,” 15% of respondents replied “pictures or video from cell phones,” 5% said “Automatic Crash Notifications or other telematics,” an additional 5% said “social media,” and 62% answered “All of the above.”

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Still, ​while our webinar attendee poll indicates that PSAPs want to receive additional multimedia information, the reality is that while some inroads have been made toward NG911 adoption, progress is slow. Citing recent findings from the National 911 Office report (based on input from 42 of the 57 U.S. states and territories), this Urgent Communications’ article points out that only 34% of these states and territories have actually deployed the necessary core network infrastructure to make the transition to NG911.

So, what’s standing in the way of progress? According to National 911 Program Coordinator Laurie Flaherty, who was also quoted in the article, roadblocks to progress have less to do with technology, and more to do with governance and funding. Still, the article also points out that Flaherty is “encouraged by recent signs of progress.”

For example, the NG911 NOW Coalition – led by the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), the Industry Council for Emergency Response Technologies (iCERT) and the National Emergency Number Association(NENA) – has launched a nationwide campaign “to create increased attention to NG911 issues and promote actions that will accelerate implementation of NG911 systems and services throughout the nation,” with the goal of having all PSAPs complete their transition to NG911 by the end of 2020.

Another recently launched initiative, APCO Project 43, will tackle broadband implications for PSAPs. According to APCO’s announcement, initiatives like NG911 and FirstNet are going to transform the PSAP into “a nerve center (for) managing data-rich communications” with citizens and first responders, in the future. The mission of APCO Project 43’s six working groups will be to develop best-practice guidelines to help PSAPs prepare for this transition. The groups will focus on six key areas: governance, cybersecurity, technical, operations, staffing and training. Project 43 is slated to kick off in April and will deliver its findings in August 2017. 

So while progress toward NG911 may not be moving as fast as everyone would wish for, initiatives like these provide glimmers of hope on the horizon.

 

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