A Q&A Interview with James Lipinski, ENP, Enhanced 9-1-1 IT Manager for the Vermont Enhanced 9-1-1 Board

James Lipinski, ENP, Enhanced 9-1-1 IT Manager for the Vermont Enhanced 9-1-1 Board, was one of several NG9-1-1 experts to join our NG9-1-1 Panel Discussion at APCO recently (NG9-1-1: Past Lessons, Present State, Future Opportunities). In this three-part Q&A interview, James touches on the implications of NG9-1-1 from the standpoint of 9-1-1 Communication Center processes.

What types of change management issues did you run into regarding your 9-1-1 PSAP processes?

James: If you only change the technology without looking deeper, you will create misalignment within your organization. This will stand in the way of reaping the benefits of moving to NG and could even negate them completely.

Let me give an example. In Vermont we had four PSAPs that were run by the Vermont State Police (VSP) and six run by local agencies. In our collaborative model, the State’s 9-1-1 Board provides the system to all PSAPs and the PSAPs provide staffing. To cover staffing costs, the VSP PSAPs also received state funding while the local agencies did not, relying solely on local taxpayer funding.

When we went to a TCP/IP based system the entire state looked like a single PSAP. By creating a single virtual PSAP and letting calls roll from any physical PSAP to any other physical PSAP, we realized economies of scale that let us reduce the number of physical PSAPs by 20% while improving our ability to handle 9-1-1 calls. However, this meant that locally funded PSAPs were now answering calls that rolled from state funded PSAPs. Anyone involved in local politics will quickly see that this creates a situation that local taxpayers will not stand for.

The technological change required a governance change to create a sustainable situation. We revised the way we compensate PSAPs and provided funding to the local PSAPs as well as the state PSAPs. The savings from a 20% reduction in physical PSAPs provided the necessary funds in a revenue neutral way. We could not have supported the technical change without the corresponding governance change.

You may notice a circular chain of events. We had to reduce the number of PSAPs by 20% to get the funds to pay the locals to let state calls roll to them in order to realize the efficiencies that enabled a 20% reduction in PSAPs. Often these circular cause and effect relationships require setting aside preconceived ideas to be able to see and understand. Almost always, they require bold action up front to be able to initiate and exploit. If we had waited for the savings to materialize before we could fund all PSAPs and let the system function as a single large PSAP, we would still be waiting. We had to analyze the situation, see how the moving parts aligned, and then jump in. Moving to NG will bring about many situations like this.

Now we are seeing the need to have an operational change because of the technological change. Here is another example. If one position out of three positions is down for whatever reason in a small PSAP at a quiet time, it isn’t a critical issue, provided it is addressed in time. And if that occurs in three different PSAPs over a statewide system, then it also isn’t a serious issue if it is addressed in time. But what about all three positions in a three position PSAP? Under usual circumstances that would be a big problem, but not so with our current virtual setup. Why? Because these three positions are part of a statewide system where calls can roll to any available seat, along with the data to properly handle the call.

How is this any different than three positions down in three different PSAPs, or in a single 25 position PSAP?

Here is where a change in operational requirements may have a significant cost savings, while improving the service provided as seen by the caller. If we can negotiate lower support costs because of the efficiencies provided by a single state-wide system and these savings can be used to provide better call-taker training (perhaps have all call-takers get advanced EMD training), then service would actually improve in the eyes of the customer. What at first might appear as a step backward– (allowing relaxed vendor response to support issues) – could actually result in better service to callers. Of course, every situation is unique. What I am saying is that you need to be willing to look at things differently and consider courses of action that may require a bit of courage. I always find it helpful to view these issues from the eyes of the callers.

In the next installment of this blog, James will share his advice on how to prepare your PSAP staff for the changes NG9-1-1 will bring and answer other questions.

James Lipinski has extensive experience with Enhanced and Next Generation 9-1-1 systems. As the Information Technology Manager for the Vermont Enhanced 9-1-1 Board, James was responsible for implementing the first statewide all IP 9-1-1 system in 2007. He is currently working with Intrado Inc. on the implementation of an Advanced 9-1-1 system. With over three years of direct responsibility for the operation of a consolidated Next Generation 9-1-1 system, he has firsthand knowledge and experience with the technical, operational, governance, and fiscal issues posed by Next Generation 9-1-1 Systems. James is active in many committees related to Next Generation 9-1-1. He is a contributing member to the NENA NG9-1-1 Security Work Group. He is also a member of the NENA NG9-1-1 PSAP Work Group. James was co-chair of the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) - Working Group 1- A - Public Safety Consolidation, Governance Sub-Work Group. James is also a member of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center’s (MS-ISAC) Metrics and Compliance Work Group. James can be contacted at james.lipinski@state.vt.us.

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