FirstNet and NG911: The Big Picture View

Although NG911 and FirstNet are evolving on similar paths, they are not always part of the same conversation. Recently, NICE Systems’ John Rennie joined other industry experts at IWCE for a panel entitled ‘FirstNet and NG911: The Big Picture View.’ The panelists discussed, among other things, why it’s vitally important for the public safety industry to keep the big picture in mind as it moves forward with these transformational initiatives. John sat down with me afterwards and shared some of his key insights and takeaways from the panel. Here is a transcript of that interview.

To start off, what do you see as the key difference from where public safety is with LMR and the legacy 911 system to where it’s heading with FirstNet and NG911?

John: The IP infrastructure is inherently smarter, more adaptable and more flexible. It’s far more capable of adding new features and information types than the current LMR and 911 technologies. Just look at how the Internet and mobile phone applications have transformed society and you can start to imagine how IP infrastructure will do the same for public safety.

Can you give me an example?

John: Sure, let’s take the example of a car crash in a rural environment. If the driver is unconscious, it could take 15 or more minutes before someone even drives by and calls 911. But with NG911, that won’t matter – because the automatic crash notification system built into the car will instantly dial 911 to report the crash and location. So there’s 15 minutes potentially saved right there. Beyond notifying that a crash occurred, the ACN system could also provide vital information about the accident. Did the car roll over? How many passengers were in it and were they wearing seatbelts? Did the airbags deploy? All critical details when deciding what type of emergency response resources and equipment to dispatch. Under today’s scenario, this assessment might not take place until the first responder arrived on scene, potentially causing additional delays. All in all, in our analysis, we estimated that up to 30 minutes or more could be saved in this type of scenario through the types of capabilities that NG911 would offer.

One of the premises of the panel is that NG911 and FirstNet are rarely part of the same conversation, but you believe it’s important to talk about them together. Why?

John: Of course, FirstNet and NG911 will each bring their own benefits to public safety – and they’re strong benefits – but the combination of the two is even more powerful. Information will move between the general public, 911, and first responders more quickly, in greater detail, and without alteration. Compared to today’s verbal message chains, this is a huge step forward.

One example is video. NG911 will deliver video into the 911 center, but public safety broadband (FirstNet) will be the mechanism for pushing that video out to first responders. To put it another way, FirstNet will help deliver on NG911’s promise and potential.

NG911 is not just about getting information to the PSAP. In some ways, NG911 data is even more relevant for medical, police, fire and emergency rescue personnel – because they rely on this information for a clear picture of what’s happening.

The combination of NG911 and FirstNet will create connections so information can be easily shared and understood. Everyone will share the same common operating picture.

FirstNet & NG911 obviously have different goals. Is there a shared vision for them to come together?

John: True, FirstNet and NG911 have different, independent goals. FirstNet was envisioned primarily to enable better communications for the first responder community; NG911 was envisioned to bring 911 communications into the 21st century and to create a more flexible, resilient and scalable system compatible with the types of modern communications technology used by the general public today. The underlying IP technology of FirstNet and NG911 will enable easier – not trivial, but easier – integration between the two.

In terms of a shared vision, I think it’s starting to come together on some levels. A good example is the work that’s being done within the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Emergency Communications. The OEC has recently updated their National Emergency Communications Plan ( It's mostly focused on emergency management and response, but it does touch on and bring in NG911 and other information sources. This replaces and updates the voice-centric plan of 2008, which, to put the rapid transition of communications in perspective, was released shortly after the launch of the iPhone.

You said in an earlier interview that analytics will play an increasing role in public safety going forward as NG911 and FirstNet accelerate. Can you elaborate?

John: Analytics will definitely play an increasing role – from helping to ‘determine’ what information to display, to real-time decision support and post incident process improvement.

There's simply going to be too much data for a human to digest and comprehend.

Take telematics for example. Just consider the quantity and type of data that an automatic crash notification would generate, and not just one but hundreds over time. It’s the understanding of what really happens during a crash that’s going to tell the dispatcher how likely the threat of injury is, how likely it is that it’s a life threating injury, and how best to dispatch the level of assistance needed. Answers to those questions will come from analytics based on hundreds if not thousands of accident datasets over time. So that’s just one example of where analytics is going to come in and play.

The nature of the work of public safety demands immediacy. It demands the best decision support we can offer. The intent of moving to Next Gen and FirstNet is to get data to people who need it, but first you need to take those large datasets and turn them into information. That’s where analytics comes in.

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