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Voice network readiness marks the first NG9-1-1 milestone

In just a few weeks' time, a technical change to Canada’s 9-1-1 infrastructure will take place that will mark the dawn of a new age for Canadian public safety. It likely won’t make the evening news, but rest assured it is very significant.

Today, over 80% of all calls to 9-1-1 are made from wireless devices, and they are coming from a population that lives in a world of texting, social media and location-based services all at their fingertips. It’s no surprise most 9-1-1 callers assume their operator will have access to the same technological framework and communication tools that that they do. Unfortunately, this is not the case. 

Public safety professionals are still working within an outdated, analogue-based 9-1-1 system that was designed in a time when wireless devices (as we know them today) were pure fiction. When people hear this, they’re quite shocked and wonder how our modern conveniences like Uber, Skip the Dishes and Pizza Hut delivery can find their location, seemingly with ease. It’s because these apps are built to leverage your wireless device’s location, while our 9-1-1 system simply was not. Over the years the telecom industry has tried to keep pace with technological advances, but these efforts often resulted in band-aide fixes like triangulation technology, giving first responders just a general area of 50 to 300 meters of the wireless device location. Not as precise as your Uber.

Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) will look to solve these problems and more with an overhaul to the entire 9-1-1 system.

What is NG9-1-1?

Next Generation 9-1-1 will upgrade the outdated 9-1-1 system and introduce modern capabilities to support accurate location detection and common modes of communication including text and multimedia. These changes will be enabled by GIS data and an IP-based infrastructure. Once the switch to NG9-1-1 is complete, the link from a caller to the 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Centre (ECC) or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), will be completely digital and capable of transmitting requests for help from existing mobile devices and futureproofed for new sources as they become available.

The first milestone is fast approaching. March 30, 2021 is the day when the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has directed the NG91-1 network providers to “flick the switch” of a dedicated IP-based network, capable of providing NG9-1-1 voice services. This is a meaningful enhancement for Canadian PSAPs.

This change will most likely go unnoticed by most Canadians; however, it marks the start of a series of implementation milestones over the course of the next 3+ years that will bring emergency response systems in line with 21st Century standards and transform our interaction with public safety professionals.

By the time Next Generation 9-1-1 is fully implemented, public safety professionals will have access to robust technology, enabling them to:

  • Receive real-time text, photos, and video from the emergency incident.
  • Respond to network outages quickly and efficiently.
  • Monitor a mobile caller's specific location in real-time by leveraging authoritative GIS data.

The benefits for our Public Safety professionals and all Canadian citizens are immense and the reasons are obviously clear, but there are still hurdles to jump before we cross the Next Generation 9-1-1 finish line. One of the biggest challenge stems from the current lack of data standards needed to operate 9-1-1 today. Every Canadian municipality or region manages the 9-1-1 services for their own jurisdiction and operations could vary greatly, even between neighbours. Next Generation 9-1-1 introduces a standardized data approach as prescribed by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and is rooted in GIS technology. Every jurisdiction will need to adhere to these new data standards to ensure their effective operation of NG9-1-1. It is crucial to prepare your GIS data correctly for this step.

We’re still a couple years out before Next Generation 9-1-1 is fully implemented, but my advice is to start preparing your data and organization for these changes now. You won’t want to be scrambling at the last minute on this one. You might want to consider Esri Canada’s GIS Readiness Assessment, where our team will analyse and assess your organization including your current data and processes to get you on the path to NG9-1-1 readiness.

Wondering where to start or have more questions? Contact me and let’s talk!

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

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.

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