NG911: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know, We Weren’t Afraid to Ask

Mark Fletcher, VP of public safety at 911inform, tells us how it works, why it’s growing and what it means for security integrators. 

NG911: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know, We Weren’t Afraid to Ask

Adobe Stock image by oneinchpunch

Next Generation 911 (commonly referred to as NG911) is a digital, internet protocol (IP)-based system that will replace the analog 911 infrastructure that’s been in place for decades.

We asked Mark Fletcher, vice president of public safety at 911inform, to tell us more about how it works, why it’s gaining momentum and what it means for security integrators.

SSI: First, can you compare the benefits of NG911 versus legacy 911 systems?

Mark Fletcher: NG911 uses an all-IP architecture; offering flexible and scalable approaches to emergency response. Extensible data structures determine routing based on precise geospatial location. Calls are routed more accurately to the appropriate PSAP, even when callers are mobile.

In contrast, legacy networks use fixed-length data, which makes it difficult to expand without causing disruptions. Static routing is based on phone number tables sourced from billing records. This makes the system inaccurate for parks or rural areas with no street addresses. Mobility is also a challenge, as the static nature of legacy routing cannot accommodate the dynamic locations of modern mobile users.

SSI: What are the essential network and hardware upgrades required to support NG911, and how do these impact existing physical security systems?

Fletcher: Supporting NG911 requires significant upgrades to both network and hardware infrastructure. The connections in NG911 are ethernet-based, simplifying the hardware requirements and reducing the need for complex, specialized equipment.

Systems are now deployed using virtual machines, which are easily replicated and communicate through IP connectivity. This virtualized environment is easier to manage than typical legacy systems.

However, while physical security becomes less of a concern, the importance of cybersecurity increases dramatically, requiring robust measures, like firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and regular security audits essential to the integrity of NG911 systems.

SSI: What specific technical training is required to handle the advanced features of NG911?

Fletcher: NG911 requires specialized technical training. Professionals must deeply understand IP routing and troubleshoot complex network issues. This includes knowledge of how data packets are managed and routed across an IP network and familiarity with various networking protocols and standards.

Given the increasing sophistication of cyber threats, continuous education in cybersecurity is essential. Continuous security diligence ensures that NG911 systems remain resilient against evolving cyber threats.

SSI: How does NG911 improve data sharing and coordination during multi-agency responses?

Fletcher: NG911 significantly enhances data sharing and coordination during multi-agency responses through its dedicated ecosystem, the Emergency Services IP Network (ESINet). This network facilitates seamless data sharing among various agencies, provided that appropriate security credentials are in place.

By utilizing mobile 5G and emerging 6G technologies, NG911 extends full connectivity to mobile network devices, ensuring that responders have real-time access to critical information. Sharing detailed data, such as caller location, medical history, and real-time video feeds, enables better coordination and faster decision-making during emergencies.

SSI: How do current federal and state regulations impact the deployment and operationalization of NG911 technologies?

Fletcher: Federal and state regulations play a crucial role in deploying and operationalizing NG911 technologies. One of the primary concerns is updating the funding models to support the new networks and entities required for NG911.

Traditional funding mechanisms for 911 services, which often rely on surcharges from telephone bills, may not be sufficient to cover the costs of transitioning to an IP-based system. Policymakers must develop new funding strategies to ensure that NG911 can be implemented and maintained effectively.

Additionally, regulatory frameworks must address interoperability standards, cybersecurity requirements, and privacy protections. These regulations ensure that NG911 systems are technologically advanced and secure and compliant with legal standards.

SSI: What technical lessons have been learned from early adopters of NG911, and how are these lessons being integrated into ongoing deployments?

Fletcher: Early adopters of NG911 have provided valuable insights into the technical challenges and best practices associated with implementing the new system. One key lesson is the importance of using vendor-neutral and open standards.

Proprietary technologies, while innovative, often have short lifespans and can create compatibility issues with other systems. By adopting open standards, NG911 ensures interoperability and easier integration with various technologies and vendors.

Additionally, early deployments have highlighted the need for robust cybersecurity measures and continuous personnel training. These lessons are integrated into ongoing deployments by emphasizing open, flexible standards and prioritizing cybersecurity and training programs.

SSI: How do you foresee the evolution of NG911 standards and protocols to keep pace with advancements in communication technology?

Fletcher: The evolution of NG911 standards and protocols is designed to keep pace with the rapid advancements in communication technology. Personally, as a member of several NENA Standards workgroups, developing these standards is approached with a focus on functionality, openness, and extensibility.

While the current standards are effective, they are also designed to accommodate future innovations and expansions. Unlike past standards, which allowed for gradual evolution, the new standards anticipate and are built to support ongoing technological advancements.

This proactive approach ensures that NG911 systems remain adaptable and can leverage the latest communication technologies to improve emergency response capabilities.

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