The current 9-1-1 System is based on technology from the 1970s. It sends limited data over traditional voice-grade lines at very slow speeds. The 9-1-1 Network can’t handle text or video messaging, data from Automatic Crash Notification systems such as OnStar, and other new and future technologies.
9-1-1 Call Centers are not interconnected, can’t exchange data, and so have difficulty working together to effectively manage a public emergency. Currently, when your 9-1-1 call is misrouted in the current Colorado 9-1-1 network, the 9-1-1 Call Center receiving the call can transfer the call to the correct Call Center. But no additional information, such as your location and information regarding your emergency which you’ve already provided, is transferred with the call. Location information has to be reacquired after your call is transferred to the correct Call Center, and you will have to tell about your emergency all over again. This limitation on data transfer delays the dispatch of First Responders or other assistance.
Modernizing the 9-1-1 System Will Save Lives
Modernizing the Colorado 9-1-1 System to a Next Generation 9-1-1 System, along with updating Colorado’s Emergency Call Centers, will ensure you can call 9-1-1 no matter what technology or device you use. This will save lives. But it costs money—money the 9-1-1 Authorities simply don’t have. 9-1-1 Authorities are not permitted to borrow money either. Updating the current Network and Call Centers will result in First Responders arriving on-scene sooner and better prepared, saving lives. Upgrades to the Emergency Call Centers and the 9-1-1 Network will usher in an age of further computer-driven innovation and improvement in public safety services.
Misrouted 9-1-1 Calls most often occur with wireless 9-1-1 calls, because of the inherent time delay between making a wireless 9-1-1 call and the system identifying your location.
There is currently one county in Colorado where the 9-1-1 System cannot identify your location if you call from a cellphone. The fewer towers in an area, the less precisely the system can locate you unless the provider uses GPS in your phone to locate you. The 9-1-1 System cannot currently identify your location from a text message. This means the System can’t determine which Emergency Call Center should handle your message. This is the reason sending text-messages to 9-1-1 (as students desperately tried to do during the “Virginia Tech Massacre”) doesn’t work. (The four largest cellular service provider have agreed to make text messaging to 9-1-1 available by mid-2014, and the FCC is expected to require all cellular providers to make text messaging to 9-1-1 available on the same time frame. However the location information which will be provided will not be very precise.)
If you use Internet phone services or cellphones, your location may not be correctly reported to the 9-1-1 Call Center. Vonage, Skype and Magic Jack are examples of Internet phone services, although Skype states that its service should not be used to call 9-1-1. For example, if your Internet phone service was established in another state and you moved to Colorado, your 9-1-1 calls may be sent to the city and state where the device or service was first purchased unless you have updated your 9-1-1 address with the provier. “Nomadic” or mobile Internet phones create even greater issues for the 9-1-1 System.
A Next Generation 9-1-1 System has a better ability to determine your location. In the current network, the location of landline callers is based upon a simple database lookup feature, relating the service address to the telephone number. Some Internet Phone (VoIP) providers use this database to identify customers’ service locations. The most basic level of wireless (cellphone) location determination identifies the location of the transmitting cell tower or antenna. Fully-implemented wireless E-911 uses the global positioning system via your handset, or pinpoints your location using triangulation from several cell towers, to identify your location for the Emergency Call Center.
Next Generation 9-1-1 Ssytem include data processing centers with enhanced capabilities to determine your location and identify the Emergency Call Center serving your area. These data processing centers and the IP network are the also means to incorporate text and video messaging, internet phone systems, and other new and future communications technologies into the 9-1-1 System.
Internet Protocol (IP) Networks
Transition of the network used by the Colorado 9-1-1 System to a broadband digital, IP network (“Next Generation 9-1-1 Network,” also termed an “Emergency Services IP Network” or “ESInet”) will improve transfers and communication between Emergency Call Centers. This is how your calls from cellphones, Internet phones, and any additional devices or systems will be connected to the Emergency Call Center. An ESInet allows public safety agencies to create a broad umbrella network to link all Emergency Call Centers, and facilitate inter-agency communication. An ESInet is more robust and survivable than a typical analog network and more efficiently transmits data. They can be used to economically provide PSAP systems on a “hosted” basis, where several 9-1-1 Call Centers with thin clients share a central 9-1-1 Telephone or Computer-Aided Dispatch system.
Automatic Crash Notification and Alarm Systems
When an accident is detected by OnStar or other Automatic Crash Notification (“ACN”) systems, an OnStar operator communicates with the occupants of the vehicle involved through the OnStar system. The operator then tries to determine the correct 9-1-1 Call Center and calls on a 10-digit, administrative telephone line (rather than through the 9-1-1 system) to relay information about the accident and location. This manual process takes time and is required because the current 9-1-1 Network can’t interface with ACN systems to send these calls over the 9-1-1 Network. This poses several problems. Some Emergency Call Centers don’t have the personnel to answer non-emergency lines outside regular business hours, and others don’t have Emergency call taker positions. An Emergency Call Center which is incorrectly called by the ACN operator can’t transfer the call to the correct Call Center. The ACN operator must hang up and place a new call to the correct Emergency Call Center. Finally, data information from sensors in the vehicle, such as the speed of the vehicle and forces involved in the accident, whether the car has rolled over, and whether passengers have been ejected, may be transmitted to the OnStar call center. However this information cannot currently be transmitted to the 9-1-1 Call Center, and Call Centers do not have the systems necessary to interpret and use the information.
With a Next Generation 9-1-1 Network, an ACN operator will be able to connect with the Emergency Call Center through the 9-1-1 Network. The Next Generation 9-1-1 Network would determine the correct Emergency Call Center to handle the call using the location data from the ACN system. Location data would be automatically displayed for the call taker and transmitted to the Call Center’s Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. The CAD system could use the location data to automatically dispatch First Responders, or recommend units for dispatch. The 9-1-1 Call taker at the Emergency Call Center would be able to speak directly with you, rather than having information relayed by the ACN operator. In a fully-developed system, information from the vehicle crash sensors could be automatically delivered to the 9-1-1 Call Center, where systems would interpret the data and usable information could be relayed to First Responders and/or Emergency Room personnel.
Home alarm systems are similar to ACN systems. Alarm company operators must confirm that there is not a false alarm, and then contact the Emergency Call Center by a regular telephone line, rather than through the 9-1-1 System. Data from the alarm system cannot be automatically relayed to the 9-1-1 Call Center. Call-takers in busy 9-1-1 Call Centers answer the 10-digit telephone lines (non-emergency lines) used to relay alarm information on a secondary basis, when they are not busy answering 9-1-1 lines.
With Next Generation 9-1-1, however, an alarm company would be able to transfer a call from you or your alarm system to the correct Emergency Call Center through the 9-1-1 system. This means you would be able to speak directly to the call taker at the 9-1-1 Call Center in the event of a valid alarm, and data from the alarm system could be transmitted to the Call Center and relayed to First Responders. If it is a health emergency, notification could be sent the Emergency Room to which you will be transported.
Health Monitoring Systems
Health monitoring systems are a relatively recent introduction to the monitored alarm market. These systems include health monitoring devices or manually activated alarms worn by an elderly person or other person with health concerns or risks. When an alarm is activated, such as when you have fallen or are otherwise incapacitated, the system operator contacts you to inquire whether there is an actual emergency or an accidental triggering of the alarm. It you respond that there is an emergency, or do not respond, the system operator calls the 9-1-1 Call Center serving your area on an administrative line to report the emergency.
With Next Generation 9-1-1, the alarm company would be able to connect with the 9-1-1 Call Center via the Next Generation 9-1-1 network in the event of a valid alarm. The 9-1-1 Call Center operator will be able to speak directly with you. The location where the alarm was triggered will be immediately displayed for the operator and transmitted directly into the automated dispatch system for dispatch. Alarm sensor data or health monitoring data can be transmitted directly to the automated response system as well, and then to the First Responders. If it is a health emergency, notification could be sent the Emergency Room to which you will be transported.