Next Generation 911

Barry Furey discusses how much of the current 911 network is becoming outdated with new technology demanding change.


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...


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On the political front, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is overseeing a formal NG 911 initiative in conjunction with its Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) project. DOT envisions that smart highways coupled with a robust emergency reporting network will greatly improve traffic safety. In April 2007, the Senate Commerce Committee met with public safety communications leaders to discuss the scope and funding of what lies ahead. Comments from many involved echoed concern with the ability of public safety to keep pace with consumer technology. Contributing to past challenges has been 911 legislative language that defined a telephone in terms that are as outdated as our current 911 infrastructure. In a world where portable video games can wirelessly interact, access to 911 is not limited to a hard-wired device with a rotary dial. Jason Barbour, president of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), expressed a desire to cover all of our bases now. "We do not need to repeat this process every time a new technology comes along," he said.

Wanda McCarley, president of the Association of Public-safety Officials (APCO) International, testified that, "Next Generation 911 systems will ultimately occur within a broader array of interconnected networks comprehensively supporting emergency services; from public access to those services to the delivery of emergency information to call-takers, dispatchers and first responders. This development is an evolutionary process to enable the general public to make a 911 call from any wired, wireless, or Internet Protocol (IP) based device." Earlier in the month, both organizations issued a press release outlining complementary efforts being carried out by NENA and APCO relating to NG 911.

This cooperation, and more, will be required in order to bring about the agreements on standards and methodologies that will result in the long overdue modernization of our 911 system. Forty years ago, when the first 911 call was made, our fathers responded on the backsteps of apparatus, wearing leather helmets and cotton-duck turnout coats. A lot has changed since then, but perhaps nothing has changed more than technology and public expectations. We are facing a new generation of challenges in the fire service, and a new breed of 911 system is required. That breed is Next Generation 911; it's not your father's emergency number.


BARRY FUREY, a Firehouse contributing editor, is director of the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center in North Carolina. During his 35-year public safety career, he has managed 911 centers and served as a volunteer fire officer in three other states. In 2002, Furey chaired the Association of Public-safety Communications Officials (APCO) International conference in Nashville, TN, and in 2005 he received an APCO life membership for his continued work in emergency communications.