Part III: Innovations

North Central Texas Emergency Communications


North Central Texas Emergency Communications District 9-1-1’s UAS Program is changing the way 9-1-1 collects and uploads location data. For more information about their UAS Program, go to https://www.nct911.org/911-using-drones-to-find-your-location/

An invitation to the Early Adopter Summit is a golden opportunity to swap ideas, network, and magnify your view of what can be done and what is being done in emergency communications.

Going on its fourth year, the summit draws upon the experience that influences operations and industry partners (vendors, for example). The three-day summit is strictly informative. The 2019 summit featured 19 presentations, and while every talk merits description, we’re highlighting just a few to demonstrate the forces bringing innovation to the forefront.

Rodger Mann, GIS Manager, North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) described combining unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (drones) with three-dimensional modeling to integrate and analyze data to guide emergency communication planning.

Time-saving is among its biggest benefits. UAV aerial photography can integrate a large amount of information in a short time (compared to manually gathering the information).

The first phase of the project—led by Mann and 9-1-1 GIS Project Coordinator David Dean— involved capturing data from a proposed 60-acre subdivision in Johnson County, a 740-square-mile rural county in the expansive NCT9-1-1 district. In rural spaces lacking addresses, PSAP mapping does not display the specifics of a housing community under development. Without street markers and other geographical data, response time increases and, through no fault of EMS, jeopardizes the people seeking police, fire, or EMS assistance.

The drone captured the defined imagery in a little over four hours, far surpassing traditional ground surveying data collection. The data was uploaded to a lab specializing in drone surveillance, and within 48 hours, it was available to the Johnson County address coordination team and Johnson County PSAP for dispatch mapping.

A second phase is three-dimensional (3D) modeling of critical infrastructure (such as hospitals and schools) with Johnson County, again, acting in a pilot capacity. Currently, NCT9-1-1 centers have full integration with XY (horizontal) location data and is experimenting with modeling to give dimension to static buildings. The modeling can be used to clearly delineate spatial components and identify the floor level (z-axis, vertical) for wireless 911 calls made from multi-story buildings.

Mann and Dean selected the Rio Vista Independent School District in a rural section of Johnson County for 3D modeling. They secured the district superintendent’s permission and, starting with the high school, followed the district ground rules of when they could fly a drone over the campus. They outlined the area on a base layer map and flew the drone along an automated flight path to capture images. Software-based processing stitched the geo-tagged images together and the initial 3D model was complete.

Mann said they will build out the imaging, label the buildings, integrate with horizontal data, and color code to designate levels of risk associated with each building.

“I always saw the value in 3D,” Mann said. “We don’t need a drone for collecting 3D data, but a drone provides precise imagery, far superior to other data sources available.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires carriers to deploy z-axis technology that meets accuracy metric of plus or minus 3 meters for 80 percent of indoor wireless E911 calls in the top 25 markets by April 3, 2021 and in the top 50 markets by April 3, 2023.

The 43 PSAPs in the 9,000-square-mile, 13-county NCT9-1-1 district provides service to roughly 1.7 million people. The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolis is projected to grow by 4.5 million more people in the next 20 years. Outside the metropolis, long stretches of uninterrupted farmland on flat plains, rolling hills, and grasslands dominate the terrain. Population growth is spreading into sparsely inhabited plains with the current and predicted rate posing more than a few challenges to NCT9-1-1, with GIS data collection for better call location accuracy among the chief initiatives.

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