Government

FCC starts to boot up Next Generation 911 (NG911)

About 70% of all 911 calls in the US are now made from mobile phones and the FCC is working to bring 911 into the digital age by enabling it to accept text and multimedia messages.

Approximately 70% of all 911 calls in the US are now made from mobile phones and the US Federal Communications Commission wants to take advantage of the advanced capabilities of those devices for sending text messages, photos, and video as part of the emergency response system. That means going a step beyond just E911, which enables location-awareness for people calling 911 from a mobile phone.

The new systems is called Next Generation 911, or NG911, and the FCC Chief of Public Safety and Homeland Security, Jamie Barnett, stated on Tuesday that the FCC has kicked off a new project that will do a gap analysis of what needs to be done to transition the current 911 system from the old circuit-switched phone system to a new digital platform that can interact with SMS and multimedia messages from the public.

This will essentially require a conversion to Voice over IP (VoIP), which will not only accept the new types of data from the public but will also be able to handle and route calls dynamically in order to avoid the types of overload that currently happens to 911 lines when a major disaster occurs, such as a hurricane.

Monday's announcement is the FCC's first step toward implementing NG911 nationwide. Some areas have already taken the initiative to deploy NG911 on their own.

Barnett said, "This November, I had the chance to visit Arlington, Virginia's state of the art 911 center, which is at the forefront of the move toward NG911. With 70% of our nation's 911 calls originating from mobile phones, the evolution of our 911 system to one which not only accepts, but welcomes, text and multimedia messages is crucial. The advances in our NG911 system pave the way for first responders to attain maximum situational awareness of an emergency before stepping onto the scene. Additionally, it allows consumers, who often rely on text and multimedia messaging, to feel comfortable in the fact that the 911 system is responsive to their unique needs in the new media environment."

I think this is one of those rare areas where most citizens would agree that this is a worthy use of tax dollars, as long as it's handled within a reasonable budget.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

35 comments
sjillingworth
sjillingworth

The iTunes App Store has an app, Advanced 911 developed by Ten43.com, which allows me to text and send photos to 9-1-1. It includes my location (address, lat & long, and Google map link) with my first message. While I hope I never have to use it, I'm glad I have it available.

GuardianWatch
GuardianWatch

Last week FCC Chairman Genachowski's announcement of a 5 point plan to develop and deploy the Next Generation 911 System was a good bit behind the times. We in the trenches are already hard at work, while Congress argues over who is going to pay for it. Your input is needed to review a new real-time video streaming mobile technology that will help public safety professionals build safer communities. GuardianWatch.com

ryaneglinton
ryaneglinton

NG911 has received a new text message from: jessthebest021688 Message: omg help my frnd iz hert - can u send help k thx

Keighlar
Keighlar

because that just made me laugh right out loud! I may have even snorted a little. :) Overheard from my 13 year-old daughter to her friend the other day: "OMG, why are you calling me? Just send a text!"

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

As an amateur radio op and volunteer firefighter, I have been in the middle of enough emergencies to know one thing. Darn near all the infrastructure can be down, but analog circuit-switched PSTN lines stay up. Losing that capability should not be taken lightly.

tom
tom

You're absolutely right. Here in NY during the Ice Storm of '98 we were without power for 5 days, some places for 5 weeks! Many high tension lines and towers broke, dumpiing the lines throughout the county woods and mountains. No TV, no radio, no short-wave, roads closed, gas stations closed, supermarkets closed, etc. etc.. BUT we have PSTN service the entire time; it was hard to believe! Our DSL line still seemed to work too, but there weren't any loacl web sites we coulc access and backbones for longer distances were out too. But we never lost our PSTN phone service for a second in all that. We've had two serious outages since then, one not affecting us directly, the other putting out the whole county again but only for 18 hours here, 3 weeks at the most other places. Again, never lost phone service during any of that. I "blame it" on their drive to bury the phone lines in trouble areas, a program that's around ten+ years old now I guess. Sorry about yammering on, but the phone company deserves credit for whatever it is they've done the last decade or so. So don't throw out your old phones just because you have DSL these days; that tip and ring has served us well.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I'll never be without it, until it's completely replaced. The last ice storm we had down here, some people were without power for up to a week, but the phones never went down. The only time I can remember the phones ever being out was after the Thanksgiving blizzard of '68 or '69 in upstate NY. Starting Thanksgiving night, we got something like 2-1/2 or 3 feet of snow over the next day and a half. (It didn't make big news or get a name, of course, because it didn't affect Chicago, New York City, or Boston. Wimps.) IIRC (and I may not), the phones in our area were out for about the last three hours before power was restored, I think because their generator ran out of fuel and they couldn't get a truck in to refill the tank. I do remember the local branch of New York Bell [u]apologizing[/u] for the outage. When was the last time that happened? Added: Yes, I have wireless phones at the house. But I keep an old Model 2500 phone on hand for use when the power is out.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I have the same. I wake up many people to that fact. They either get a UPS or something like the Model 2500. It is amazing that there are companies that still make replicas of the original.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The PSTN is very resilient, because we've made it that way over time. We should design the same resiliency into our next generation digital systems, and I expect that we will over time. The danger is in the transition period between now and then.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Is it possible to have a routing system that routes to the best functioning switches, it'd start trying with the newer kinds, going to PSTN when all else fails? It'd have to be so that it goes to PSTN also if the routing system is dead, that could be tricky. At the least, the old system could stay up, but with a new number assigned. Shunts are bad in security, but good elsewhere. A system can't be made more safe than the least safe entry route it has, but a system can be made as rugged as its least sensitive subsystem, if that one doesn't depend on the others. Parallels.

Techie Mom
Techie Mom

Verizon keeps bugging us to switch to their fibre service, but the battery backup is only 8 hours on the phone line. We get multi-day power outages here every few years. They told us we can't get their FIOS TV without losing the copper phone line. We'll stick with PSTN and DSL and cable TV until power is more reliable.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

There are many concerns that need to be addressed physically and electronically. DSL and PSTN coexist, but I am not sure pure Ethernet and PSTN can, using the same cabling. Existing pairs are not twisted sufficiently to avoid interference when the cabling is subjected to the higher frequencies. There is an attempt to roll out fiber, but even in larger cities, that is a slow process. Here in MN, I can not get fiber to the house.It is a few years off. Next, I am not sure DSL, Ethernet, and PSTN can coexist at the switches or travel the same backbone.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

"The whole idea is trying to be cheap"... I.e. isnt' that then supposed to be "The whole idea is trying to be cheap[i][b]er[/i][/b]. I mean, the old system has been worth the money so far, so scrapping it is an effort to save money that it was ok to spend before. That saving can/should be postponed until the new system works.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

There is no way the infrastructure will be as reliable due to the power issue. PoE would resolve it, but that would negate any cost advantages significantly. Due to PoE having a limited range.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

After all, this has been worth that money up until now. But the PSTN system should at least remain undemolished until the new system has proven itself... both in theory and practice. That'd be what I'd demand at least.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Okay cost effective then. PSTN is circuit switching. That requires 2 wires per conversation. VoIP doesn't. I will let you do the math.

tom
tom

The "transition" period can be negated too, by having a portable generator of about 5,000 W output and the required isolation switch. We've had one since 1996 and ahve used it 6 times for heat & lights, well pump, fridge, & a couple other things. ONE gas station in this whole county had a genset, not near us, and he made a fortune selling gas until they closed all roads to only emergency traffic for two weeks. Trouble was, he ran out of gas too & didn't have enough for the whole time without power.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I know you get some serious weather similar to us. Yet, businesses here are the same way.

twaynesdomain-22354355019875063839220739305988
twaynesdomain-22354355019875063839220739305988

+1 Correct. Switchboards, PBXs, any digital equipment, home digital phones, cell phone towers, etc., isn't going to be available when the power goes out unless they have a genset or large battery bank such as many PSTN telco's have. We even lost E911 service once, but they quickly re-routed around the 911 consoles to standard lines to keep thos calls working. I don't see digital ever being self sufficient like the analog Public Switched Telephone Service (PSTN) is. And you won't see the PSTN going away until the digital world of comms can match or beat the PSTN in service. So if phone service is critical to a household (disability, elderly living alone, the best bet to maintain communications is to keep the PSTN Tip & Ring coming to your home and active for as long as possible. What I do NOT understand is why a lot more businesses and companies don't have generator backups! Since the "Great Ice Storm of '98" here not a single place of business appears to have incorporated generators, a less than $1000 investment, in order to do business during blackouts, which are assured to happen three to four times a year here, with usually at least one of them lasting 4 to 7 days, longer in the outlying areas.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

But, that does not help with the phones if they are digital. and not running PoE.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

It would work is if something similar to Power over Ethernet was introduced as that is a key ingredient of PSTN.

panhead
panhead

Just something else to get deeper into our pockets, over something we already paid for... We need to start asking ourselves, do we really need such things as this? And will we use it? Or is it another way for them to tap your a*s again...

monster_cookie2148
monster_cookie2148

This is a great idea and should have been implemented two years ago. The only two concern I have with NG911 is, 1: it will be one more step to taking additional tax dollars from landline and wireless users. A tax is already collected each month for 911, a tax that should have gone away five years ago. Phone companies have collected enough from users to pay for the current 911 twice, and 2: this will be just another step in violating our civil rights. Anything like this in the hands of government (or civilians) is like giving candy to babies. Your cell phone can be monitored now without your knowledge as to location and voice. With NG911 any agency will have the ability to activate your camera or video on a wireless device and see everything you are doing and everything anyone around you at the time are doing. And, of course this will be done under the "Homeland Security Act" as a means of citizen protections. If in doubt just search the Internet for hacking tools available now that will do this. Privacy, defiantly a thing of the past. The only way to maintain privacy now days, just don't carry a cell phone or talk to anyone on a phone. And the part of VoIp, we all know that sooner or later phone companies will provide fiber to the house (being done in large metros now) and all phone within the next few years will be VoIp phones. My question, if hackers from all around the world are accessing VoIp PBX and other type systems today with a fair amount of ease, what makes one think that NG911 on VoIP won't be a picnic in the park for these people? Ya there are security firewalls, listen to that daily, have it on my VoIP PBX and they still manage to break in, so that won't wash either. I can just see now the headline news in 2-3 years "Major 911 Systems Being Compromised Or Taken Down Due To Hackers"....

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

First, that E911 collection doesn't go to the telephone company, it goes to your local emergency services to help keep them in business. Think of it as a contingency retainer. Second, what civil right is being violated by either E911 or NG911? The right to die in the street or have your house burn down? Yes, your location can be determined by what towers your cell phone is hitting; congratulations, you've watched a crime show. But just like a tap on your phone and a tracking device on your car, the police only get it with a warrant. If your carrier gives it up without a warrant, they are at fault, and it's usually inadmissible as evidence.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But I'm not understanding why somebody would text in an emergency. It's a lot easier to dial 911 and say "I'd like to report a car wreck at the intersection of highway one and highway six" than it is to text "car wreck @ 1 and 6." And a lot more understandable. At least it is on my phone.

jbram
jbram

I am having a hard time trying to figure out why I would want to text 911 myself . . 911 is programmed into speed dial on my keypad and how hard is it to say I need an ambulance , or fire truck at this address? It's like anything else .. in a hurry take the path of least resistance.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

you've been kidnapped and you want to alert emergency services without drawing attention to the fact that you're doing it. Another alternative ... you're in an area with a ton of noise and won't be easily understood over the phone.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

and you're hiding somewhere in the home... Or if you're able to write english better than speak it, be it due to foreign origins or any of a number of speech impediments.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I'm still likely to be old-school about it and think "voice" first, though.

Chas4
Chas4

Given how long it has taken the cell providers to fully support E911, I expect that this will come into effect some time after 2015. Even now not all of the providers provide all the information they should be to fully comply with E911.

pwel-la
pwel-la

I think this is a good idea. One suggestion is that people should preset their info (like their address) on their mobile device for quick response.

gavin142
gavin142

because I have mine autolocking with pin. Most people (non business usage, that is) never bother with that. Some provision should be made so that NG911 can query that info from the phone without it ever having to be unlocked, but ONLY if the session was initiated by the device originating the call... yes, paranoia, but I am not a fan of "big brother".

daanbrg
daanbrg

Although I definitely see the use of all of this, I can only shudder when I think about the enormous load that the equipment of the equipment has to cope with, if they'd like to receive mobile phone video - the quality is going up each day, even phones already recording HD video, like the Nokia N8 or the iPhone 4. Well, I guess we'll just wait and see.

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