Are Your Voice Systems Ready for NG9-1-1? (Pt. I)

First of two parts

In an emergency, every second counts. But as more people rely on mobile phones and Internet-based communications, the nation’s aging, voice-centric 9-1-1 infrastructure is struggling to keep up. That’s why there’s a nationwide move toward Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), which provides multimedia capabilities, enables broadband applications, and ensures system security, resiliency, and interoperability that most current 9-1-1 systems lack.

If you manage enterprise voice systems, you need to be prepared for the transition to NG9-1-1. More than 30 states have deployed NG9-1-1 systems or are in the process of doing so, and more are on the way. The transition to NG9-1-1 will undoubtedly accelerate when Congress passes the Next Generation 9-1-1 Act of 2023, which will provide the necessary funding to help remaining states and localities make this critical technology upgrade.

Conveying dispatchable locations

In NG9-1-1, enterprise systems have two ways to convey dispatchable locations. The first is in civic form with street addresses followed by subaddress elements, such as building, floor, suite or room.

Enterprise phone managers should understand that civic address validation in an NG9-1-1 system built to NENA’s open NG9-1-1 standards, including the cornerstone i3 Architecture Standard, uses a Location Validation Function (LVF). Basically, the LVF uses map data created by a recognized local authority – referred to as authoritative GIS data –– to determine if an address is valid or not. Authoritative GIS data is usually maintained by a city or a county, and has been used for years in 9-1-1 and emergency response. However, most authoritative GIS data today does notcontain the important subaddress information, even though this data ultimately calls the shots in determining what a correct dispatchable address is and what is not.

So, if you have to input or manage dispatchable addresses in civic format for your enterprise, you may need to contact your local GIS data providers, such as a county assessor’s office, to determine why the addresses you are trying to provision is coming back as invalid. In turn, your local GIS providers might also reach out to your IT team to ensure the dispatchable addresses in the authoritative GIS dataset are mapped correctly. In either case, it is vital that the GIS data contains the proper subaddress information to get field responders to an emergency location quickly if someone dials 9-1-1 from an enterprise phone. NENA recommends you start making those connections now, so that it’s easier to synchronize the data and troubleshoot any issues before facing a life-threatening crisis.

A 3D format

A second method to convey a dispatchable address is in a geodetic form, using an x-y-z format to pinpoint the emergency location in three dimensions. This data is typically available from a mobile device whose user has turned on the location services feature or has dialed 9-1-1. [BS1] 

The geodetic approach is a hot topic in 9-1-1 circles right now because it can allow 9-1-1 dispatchers to identify a dispatchable address with extreme precision – sometimes within feet of the emergency location – so long as the authoritative GIS data for the geodetic location is detailed enough that it contains elevation and subaddress information. That can accelerate the arrival of field responders, especially if the responders have access to a map of the building or facility. However, the mobile device requires a wireless or satellite connection to place the call for help, and may require the enabling of location services if using a third-party calling app, not the device’s native dialer, to initiate a VoIP emergency call, if the app does not automatically enable location services when 9-1-1 is dialed. In this situation, emergency callers need to be informed and educated on the importance of permanently enabling and allowing this location service.

When talking with your local GIS data providers, you should also discuss the geodetic approach. It may be particularly useful in large metropolitan areas with tall office buildings where 3D location is an essential resources for field responders.

So, before you upgrade your phone systems to use NG9-1-1 (or configure them if you have already made the transition), be sure that your enterprise dispatchable addresses are still valid and connect with your local government authorities to support the integration of your phone systems with the NG9-1-1 system that serves your community. Doing the work now on the front end will save you time, save field responders time, and, potentially, save lives.

Next: 10 Tips for Planning an NG9-1-1 Deployment

 [BS1]Note that dialing 9-1-1 on a mobile handset will initialize the device’s location services, even if the calls has disabled location services on their device.

Author,  Brooks Shannon, ENP
Interoperability Program Manager
National Emergency Number Association (NENA)
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