Partnership Is the Most Critical Piece of Tomorrow’s 9-1-1

There’s only one way to attain the enhancements key to providing mobile phone users reliable 9-1-1 call answering: through collaboration between state and local governments.

Not surprisingly, the majority of calls received by 9-1-1 answering points now come from mobile phone users. What may be surprising, however, is the amount of renovation required to update current 9-1-1 systems so that they may accurately and expeditiously handle mobile calls and potentially data communications such as text and video.

The “Next Generation 9-1-1” services will be an enhancement for public safety, but as became clear in a recent session at the MACo Conference, this transition will not be possible without state-local collaboration and additional investment.

County representatives plead for immediate and coordinated efforts to improve 9-1-1 services.

Delegate Anne Healey,  Chair of the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee and Member of the Environment and Transportation Committee moderated the discussion of national 9-1-1 experts, and local GIS and communications specialists.

Trey Forgety, Director of Government Affairs of the National Emergency Numbers Association, Scott Roper, Executive Director of the Maryland Emergency Number Systems Board, and Kenny Miller, Regional Public Safety GIS Team Lead, Michael Baker International shared national and state perspectives on the issue. Forgety spoke about how 9-1-1 services need to evolve alongside changes in carrier, and Roper described how one regulated 9-1-1 provider is now becoming many unregulated providers as citizens move to mobile networks as their main phone lines. Miller stated that the technology transition means that local public safety answering points, not carriers, will be responsible for managing location data.

Tony Rose, Chief of Fire and EMS Communications, Charles County, Chair of National Capital Region 911 Directors and Jack Markey, Emergency Manager, Frederick County, provided a local perspective. Rose emphasized the importance of 9-1-1 as a connection to citizens, calling it a social contract between government and residents. He also pointed to the importance of the GIS piece in the transition.

All of the speakers described a need for collaboration to make the new system work. The system will rely on creation of boundaries in GIS systems, and without communication between parties on either side of a boundary, whether it is across state or county lines, the system cannot assure full coverage. Frederick County Emergency Manager Jack Markey described the role emergency management can play in coordinating the transition.

All speakers shared the many unknowns with regard to the transition to Next Gen 9-1-1. As Rose stated,

What is most concerning to me is what we haven’t thought of yet.

MACo’s Emergency Managers’ Affiliate has assembled a work group on Next Generation 9-1-1. For more information on this topic, contact Robin Clark at MACo.