Since 911 was introduced as the North American emergency number in 1968, billions of calls for assistance have been made. In fact, according to recent statistics, people in the United States dial these three digits over 500,000 times on an average day. As the volume of calls increases, the...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
Since 911 was introduced as the North American emergency number in 1968, billions of calls for assistance have been made. In fact, according to recent statistics, people in the United States dial these three digits over 500,000 times on an average day. As the volume of calls increases, the infrastructure continues to age.
Designed around technology that is approaching its 40th birthday, much of the 911 network is becoming outdated; especially in comparison with the more modern consumer electronic systems that it is now called on to support. If they were fire apparatus, many of the critical 911 components would have been long retired. Instead, they remain in front-line service. And, while they work, they are increasingly becoming dinosaurs in this age of digital media.
Part of the driving force behind the Next Generation 911, or NG 911 as it has come to be called, are the myriad features of telephony that have found their way into everyday life. Text messaging and video phones are but two of many examples that will have a profound effect on emergency reporting, but that are not currently supported. Telematics is another. While private sector companies like On-Star and ATX offer data-enhanced communications, the public sector has been slow to embrace the ability to receive such information.
As we progress in the 21st century, we find ourselves attempting to flow volumes of data through the equivalent of booster lines, when in fact we are facing a challenge that requires large-diameter hose. A detailed size-up of the issues provides a better understanding of the challenges ahead.
Currently, the realm of Telematics is almost exclusively contained within the private sector. Whether included in a new-car purchase or obtained after the fact, Telematics involves the delivery and receipt of data through a monitoring facility. Acting in almost the same fashion as central fire alarm stations, these call centers can track vehicle location, monitor a variety of sensors and even unlock doors. Additionally, they provide value-added services such as providing directions and making reservations for subscribers, and can even track their vehicles should they be stolen.
When it comes to accident and emergency reporting, however, there is a school of thought that favors direct contact between the caller and the responsible Public Safety Access Point (PSAP). (After all, the fewer people involved in relaying information, the better the chances for accuracy and timeliness.) While that contact is normally now voice, under NG 911 it could be voice - and much more. There is almost no end to the amount of data that can be monitored by vehicle sensors; a big-rig driver can now commonly check tire pressure without leaving the cab, for example. But a more promising use for public safety is Automatic Crash Notification (ACN). Using this technology, any vehicle involved in a serious accident would dial 911 itself, reporting a wide number of conditions such as the number of passengers, speed before impact, rollover and airbag deployment. Even if the driver is incapacitated, this data will be automatically routed to the appropriate agency, along with Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) location data.
While there are no corporate statements to support this viewpoint, one may envision a world where profit-based Telematics providers wean themselves from emergency reporting and focus more on concierge-based services. Liability and staffing concerns prompted the telephone companies to abandon publicizing "Dial O for emergencies" years ago, and there is significantly less exposure in sending someone to the wrong restaurant than there is in sending a fire call to the wrong department. In March 2007, On-Star announced that through the General Motors Foundation, it will donate $250,000 toward research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding how Telematics can be best used to help ensure survivable crashes. GM plans to equip two million of its 2007 models with advanced Telematics capacity, and to increase this by another 50% in the 2008 model year. Although most users renew their memberships, many do not, and On-Star statistics show that lock-out calls outnumber emergencies by almost three to one. The ability of the 911 network to capture and utilize collision-based data may, in itself, sound the death knell for the privatization of these services. Why pay for what you can get for free?