Minneapolis/St. Paul, federal DOT test next-generation 911 systems

The Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan region is testing a new regional, IP-based 911 system that would run over a wide area network. The system would link all of the call centers in the eight-county metro area.

Meanwhile, the federal Transportation Department is launching a Next Generation 911 pilot next week at five sites, including one of the sites in the Minneapolis/St. Paul pilot.

The Metropolitan Emergency Services Board (MESB) is implementing a two-year pilot project based on the National Emergency Number Association’s technical and operational standards. The pilot project will evaluate the network, routing, location data and answering position solutions as well as evaluate how the system could be implemented, managed, maintained and funded.

"It is critical to update our regional 911 system in order to provide comparable access to the rapidly growing number of people using new IP-based telecommunications services in our area. This pilot will ensure that we have the information we need to make the transition to Next Generation 911 go smoothly," said Pete Eggimann, the director of 911 services for the MESB.

MESB is a joint powers organization created by the City of Minneapolis and Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Scott, Hennepin, Dakota, Ramsey, and Washington counties for the purpose of managing the 911 network and location databases, a regional public safety radio system, and coordination of EMS services within the eight county Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area.

The 19 communication centers in the area, called Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), receive more than 1.3 million 911 calls annually, more than 50 percent of them wirelessly. The pilot will involve the Dakota Communications Center, the Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center, and the Washington County Communications Center. The Minnesota State Office of Enterprise Technology will be supplying the WAN connectivity for the pilot.

The pilot will be used as a model to implement a regional IP-based 911 system linking all the communication centers together over a WAN. The proposed network design has the capacity to support all of the IP-based public safety applications currently in use, plus any anticipated growth through 2010. These applications include the board's regional GIS location database management system, the Criminal Justice Data Network, the regional 800/700 MHz radio system, a mobile data network, and a secure broadband Internet connection.

TeleCommunication Systems will be implementing the pilot, which will support communication via voice, text messaging and video. The pilot will be in stages: the first year includes support of voice over IP calls, landline calls and wireless calls. The second year stages include transfer of calls, out-of-the ordinary call flows, and new communication technologies.

Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center will also be part of DOT’s 911 initiative. Starting June 16, DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration will begin proof of concept testing with three laboratories and five PSAPs as part of its Next Generation 911 Initiative.

The PSAP testing sites, in addition to Ramsey county, are in Helena, Mont., Indianapolis, Rochester, N.Y., and Seattle. The three laboratories are at Booz Allen Hamilton, Texas A&M University and Columbia University.

The project will test: the ability of the communication centers to receive voice, video, text and data; improve 911 access for the deaf/hearing impaired (for example, video relay services and text messaging); locate callers whether on landline, wireless or VOIP; transmit telematics data -- such as crash location, speed, vehicular rollover and crash velocity -- directly to the PSAP from an advanced automatic crash notification system; route and transfer calls based on the caller’s location; and IP networking and security.

Other areas may soon follow suit, as the government is providing funding to states to help improve their 911 networks. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administrative and DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published final rules for more than $40 million in grants to help states and territories improve 911 call centers.

Under the final rules of the ENHANCE 911 Act of 2004, grants will be awarded to implement and operate Phase II E911 services and enable the migration to an IP-enabled emergency network. Applications from states must be submitted by Aug. 4, 2009 with grant funds to be awarded no later than Sept. 30, 2009.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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