One year later: The NET 911 Act of 2008

          Trends in telecommunications mobility and convergence have put the nation's 911 system at a crossroads. The growing market penetration of both mobile telephones and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony has underscored the...

     First and foremost, the Act brought the issue to a head, garnered industry-wide attention and created the first wake-up call to all vendors and stakeholders that these requirements aren't going away.

     At a glance it would seem the Act hasn't accomplished enough — or even much at all. But one needs to step back and look at the forest, not the trees. Matter of fact, imagine this Act was intended to protect and help a community-owned forest. This "forest" needed significant enhancements and specific care for growing critical new species of trees and foliage.

     Unfortunately, there are different owners throughout this "forest" and everyone must work together to deal with the problems. Without the needed funds, some must rely on community grants. Passing an act that effects positive change in this forest would be required to create a unified plan and infrastructure that solves the problems.

     Various progress has been made in different parts of our "forest," but obviously much more of the work still needs to be done. This doesn't mean the Act has been a failure — it appears to be achieving the positive changes it intended.

     A PSAP can purchase technology that meets the proposed regulations of the Act and still not be able to handle the latest communication and dispatching challenges. One PSAP may receive the latest telecommunications protocols, but its computer-aided dispatch (CAD) or call receipt product aren't yet upgraded to support and utilize those data elements. Other PSAPs may be even further ahead, handling challenges beyond the intentions of the Act, but have had to compromise in other areas, such as choosing a small vendor with limited operating history, but advanced in innovation. Bottom line, PSAPs are evaluating and deploying solutions piecemeal, while they wait on other infrastructure improvements, or budgets, to complete the migration.

     What should your PSAP do?

     The two most common challenges PSAPs face are meeting the Wireless Phase I and II requirements and transitioning to a NG911-ready system. If you're involved in PSAP decision making and are faced with replacing aging systems or purchasing new technology for the very first time, you need to consider what your most immediate requirements are and where you need to be 10 years from now.

     Due to the ever-changing communication enhancements and technology advancements, it would be wise to consider "beyond NG911" roadmaps from vendors you are considering. You should keep in mind that NG911 means different things to different vendors, so an in-depth review with each vendor about how it will meet your PSAP requirements could be critical, especially in more complex sites.

     Generally speaking, however, your PSAP will likely coincide with one of the two following situations:

  1.      You have significant investment in complex legacy systems, joined together roughly by custom interoperable pieces. Replacing everything is definitely not a consideration, nor would it be practical to attempt. PSAPs supporting large populations often have chosen best of breed products from different vendors. The integration between these components is purchased from the appropriate vendors.

         This model has served larger PSAPs well, enabling them to solve the toughest across-the-board requirements that no single system could handle. This class of PSAP faces significant challenges when migrating to new technology. Often new technology isn't scalable and reliable enough, or at least hasn't been proven to handle those two critical aspects. Larger PSAPs have more hardware and software to replace, more workflow issues to solve, more personnel that must be (re-)trained, more disparate pieces that must operate seamlessly and generally more demands are put on every link throughout the architecture, often exposing weak link issues. Significant planning and budget allocations will be required and you will often have to address and purchase additional customization or interoperability services.

         Due to the complexity and cost of this situation, you will need to create and follow a fairly detailed plan and likely should wait until most of the relevant pieces and appropriate standards have solidified, along with deployments at a range of mid-tier sites. In some cases, you may need to meet the bare minimum of compliance requirements, keeping costs to a minimum, while you either wait on progress or finish evaluating more leading edge deployments. You will likely be working with proven vendors that have worldwide exposure and a solid reputation in the industry, such as Intergraph Corp., PlantCML, OSSI Sungard, Positron and Intrado.

  2. Your less-complex PSAP needs to replace aging legacy hardware or purchase call-taking, CAD and/or mapping components for the first time — or a mixture of both.
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