By Audrey Fraizer
Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) stimulates lots of ideas in the open market, which is a good thing, although some of the concepts may be a bit premature.
Take, for example, the solar-powered phone system—solar panels mounted in reception-poor areas create energy stored in a sealed battery, allowing for 24/7 phone availability. Solar power saves the cost of running cable and is a renewable energy source.
While a possible solution for some, it’s not going to work everywhere.
A solar-powered system wouldn’t work in sun-deprived areas, such as heavily forested regions or near the north-facing side of a mountain. They would also require some type of directory similar to one for AEDs in a cardiac emergency.
Features that some solar-powered phone manufacturers claim are built into their systems are not 9-1-1 friendly, at least at this time. A model talked about in Utah supposedly has the capability to send videos straight to the dispatchers, which might provide a helpful visual of the location.
This brings up the larger problem: the public’s awareness and understanding of our current technology against incorrectly (though unintentionally so) heightened expectations.
In the case of the solar-powered phone system, an alternative-locating device could prove beneficial, but in the absence of a theoretical video capability, it is impractical.
Video sharing is not available at any PSAP, although text-to-9-1-1 continues to gain momentum. Nearly 60 PSAPs in 16 states accept texts (as of May 14, 2014); however, no state has full text-to-9-1-1 capability. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) text-to-9-1-1 deadline of Dec. 31, 2014, applies to carriers and certain IP-based application providers.
Some states are offering interim solutions or going the route of pilot projects prior to total deployment. Utah is moving ahead with a text-to-9-1-1 pilot project in six PSAPs along the Wasatch Front, according to Utah 9-1-1 Program Manager Eric Parry.
ProQA has been text-to-9-1-1 capable since 2010, and to receive a text, a center must have a CAD that interacts with the ProQA software.
Locating the caller remains problematic for any center, and that’s where carrier opposition enters the debate in relation to timelines and actual technology. CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents the major carriers, has called for the FCC to base its rules on verified data, not aspirational goals.
Current FCC outdoor location accuracy regulations include any county or PSAP service area in which the carrier has deployed at least one Phase II cell site.
Carriers can request exclusions where they determine outdoor location accuracy is limited or technologically impossible. A spreadsheet compiled by National Association of State 9-1-1 Administrators (NASNA) Officer Daryl Branson lists 1,533 exclusions and includes all 50 states. The reasons for exclusion include insufficient cell sites and sites too far apart to allow triangulation.
In the near future, the exclusion list could go the way of rotary dial phones.
According to the E911 Location Accuracy Third Report and Order (released February 2014), the FCC will require carriers to test outdoor location accuracy compliance on a periodic basis. Results must be made available to the FCC, PSAPs within their service areas, and 9-1-1 offices in the states or territories in which they operate. The exclusions declared might not pass compliancy testing, especially considering advancing technology.
It’s neither my point to downplay advancements in communication center technology nor to admonish wireless carriers. This is a remarkable period in emergency dispatch history, and we have made tremendous strides in the direction of reaching NG9-1-1 goals. And if the costs of location accuracy improvements are a hang-up for carriers, face it: When a nation goes wireless, people in an emergency need to be assured that help can find them when they call 9-1-1.