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NG9-1-1 puts GIS on its map

Canada is preparing to write a new chapter in public safety and emergency services. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has mandated telecommunications service providers to upgrade the current analog-based national 9-1-1 system to digital-based Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) by June 2020. 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centres are expected to begin transitioning to the new NG9-1-1 ecosystem shortly thereafter. Find out more about the role of GIS in the implementation of NG9-1-1. 

Implementing NG9-1-1 won’t be an easy task; instead, it will require many local, provincial and national organizations to collaborate. Most importantly, there will be a learning phase for many organizations as tabular-based 9-1-1 location databases transition to using GIS services to help deliver improved data, more types of data, event location data and routing of emergency calls to the appropriate 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centre (ECC).

You may ask what goes into making NG9-1-1 a reality? And more specifically, what role does GIS play in public safety and especially, in the implementation of this new emergency communications infrastructure?  

To help answer these questions and others, we are compiling a series of articles and thought-leadership content by experts, who are a part of this implementation process in Canada. The articles will explain various aspects of public safety emergency response and their relationships (sometimes complex) with GIS systems. Our upcoming posts will discuss each function and how GIS systems and services interact providing benefit to the public safety community.

Let me introduce our first expert in this series of articles: Holly Barkwell, President and CEO of BH Group Inc., and the Canadian Region Director of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA). With more than 25 years of experience working with public safety agencies, Holly is an active participant in national and regional regulatory working group subcommittees and is working hard to promote NG9-1-1 operations and policy planning in Canada.

Over to Holly Barkwell. 

Hooray! The new IP technology-based NG9-1-1 platform is almost ready in Canada! But, you may wonder why the switch to a new infrastructure is necessary in the first place. The answer is quite simple. As consumer mobile devices continue to increase in popularity and functionality, the public expects to contact 9-1-1 from anywhere on any device.

The existing platform, however, is analog-based and never designed to carry new types of data or texting traffic; mobile data was shoehorned onto the existing platform at the expense of functionality. Once the switch to NG9-1-1 is complete, the conduit from a caller to the 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centre (a.k.a Public Safety Answering Point or PSAP), will be completely digital and capable of transmitting requests for help from existing devices and new sources as they become available.

Transition planning for the existing analog-based 9-1-1 call handling environment to the new digital NG9-1-1 ecosystem is well underway across Canada.  As 9-1-1 call handling migrates onto the Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet), the tools PSAPs and ECCs use will also evolve. These changes will affect how existing and future GIS data is transmitted, manipulated, interpreted and ultimately stored. Although changes won’t occur right away, it’s time to get to work because the timelines are fixed based on CRTC decisions. According to CRTC decision 2017-182, service providers may begin decommissioning the existing analog 9-1-1 network as of June 2023.

Before jumping in, it is useful to think of 9-1-1 call processing and emergency response as four distinct functions:

  1. Routing of 9-1-1 emergency calls to the correct PSAP/ECC;
  2. Call handling and confirming location and nature of the incident at the PSAP/ECC;
  3. Dispatch of appropriate response resources and management of responder safety; 
  4. First responder technologies including mobile devices that interface to the PSAP/ECC.

Before tackling these four functions, we need to discuss relationships. This is because where relationships exist between GIS data and the public safety environment, changes will occur: some major and others minor. Relationships such as those between municipal/provincial/federal GIS data providers, data management entities, service providers, public safety agencies and third-party application providers must be considered, and, in some cases, new models of service developed. Other relationships also cover the continuum of public safety and emergency response affecting technical, operational, governance and funding aspects of service delivery.

Once 9-1-1 call routing transitions from the existing technology, and as caller location technologies mature, the NG9-1-1 ecosystem will increasingly depend on GIS. This evolution will further strengthen relationships with and between public safety agencies nationally. Agency implementation decisions will impact GIS information management entities, public safety datasets, municipalities and regional cooperative agreements and these relationships, in turn, will affect technical processes such as 9-1-1 call routing, PSAP/ECC 9-1-1 call handling, caller location, dispatch and coordination between responding agencies.

Governance of GIS information will most certainly change as data is increasingly shared among responding agencies and other local/regional/provincial partners. Management of GIS information will require increased forethought and planning to address sharing, storage and security concerns. Last but certainly not least, initial and ongoing funding of the new NG9-1-1 environment is a major concern. System and equipment lifecycles are much shorter than they were for legacy systems, and more funding is required for ongoing care and feeding of these assets.

To say there is work to be done is an understatement; so, join us to learn, share and move forward.

Please pass our material along, comment, or ask questions. This series of articles/blog posts is meant to be interactive and a platform for an ongoing discussion related to NG9-1-1 for public safety. Email to discuss more with David Hamilton or Holly Barkwell.

About the Author

David Hamilton is the Public Safety Industry Manager for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to improve all areas of public safety, specifically (NG)9-1-1, law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services, emergency management, and search and rescue. Prior to joining Esri Canada in 2010, David managed the GIS for E-Comm 9-1-1 in Vancouver, and worked for the RCMP at the Integrated Security Unit for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games where he managed their Common Operating Picture. Being active has been a major part of David’s personal life; soccer, track & field, skiing, cycling, hiking and now kayaking are all among his favourite activities.

Profile Photo of David Hamilton