Next Generation 911 projects get going again

Connecticut restarts its NG 911 project as FCC plans broadband public safety network

The state of Connecticut is restarting its statewide Next Generation 911 (NG 911) project, months after tabling its initial effort. The Federal Communications Commission, meanwhile, is pushing forward with its efforts to develop a nationwide public safety broadband network.

This time around, Connecticut is seeking to develop a more pointed RFP and solicit additional information on available 911 vendor solutions, Evan Halperin of market research firm Input wrote in a blog posting on the subject. Connecticut issued the request for information Jan. 24.

“It is understandable that state and local agencies, strapped for cash, want to ensure they develop a system that will be cost-effective and function properly, but spending an additional six months or a year in the RFI review process may turn out to be more costly,” Halperin wrote.


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Ready to text-message 911?


In December, the Federal Communications Commission issued a notice of inquiry seeking ideas on how to move forward with the NG 911 project, which integrates cellular and digital communications. The 45-day comment period is due to end today, and the FCC intends to consolidate these comments by the end of the month.

Today’s technology and applications far outstrip current 911 capabilities. The current system, for example, cannot send and receive photos, text messages or videos. The 911 system was also developed in the days when people used land lines; today, 27 percent of U.S. households are cell phone-only and 70 percent of all 911 calls are now made from mobile phones, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The NG 911 program calls for moving the system to an IP-based system from its current Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) wireline service, which would expand 911’s capabilities to handle data as well as voice transmission, such as texting, photos and videos.

During the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University, “Some students and witnesses tried to text 911 during that emergency, but those messages never went through; they were never received by local 911 dispatchers,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in the commission’s announcement of the inquiry notice.

Photo and video communication could provide additional information to first responders, while text capabilities could allow individuals who were unable to speak, either due to disability or the danger of the situation, to communicate with 911. Additionally, text capabilities would enable government entities to issue emergency alerts using less bandwidth than voice communications. NG 911 could also enable automated alerting from sensors or other devices.

Several states are starting or are in the midst of implementing NG 911. More information on issued awards and NG 911 project statuses can be found on two websites: The National Emergency Number Association, a professional organization focused on 911 issues, and the National 911 Office site, created by Congress and part of the Transportation Department. Other websites providing information on NG 911 include the 911 Resource Center, in partnership with 911.gov, and the Transportation Department's Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, reintroduced the Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act (S. 28) on Jan. 25. The bill would allocate the D Block in the 700 MHz band of spectrum to public safety and would also allocate $11 billion for the construction, maintenance and operation of the new network.

That same day, the FCC adopted a requirement that the network utilize Long Term Evolution, which would provide 4G wireless broadband as the communications infrastructure network for first responders, InformationWeek reported.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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