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Developments in Public Safety Software

Written by Chaflawee, Diamond

The public safety industry is on the threshold of a major transformation. NG911 and public safety broadband are two trends leading the way. However, they aren’t the only factors impacting the industry. Here are five critical developments that are shaping the public safety solutions of the future.

 

Trend #1: NG911 (including Text-to-911)

The Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) of the future is starting to take shape. With NextGen 911, emergency calls will no longer be just voice. Instead, they might include some combination of voice, texts, pictures and video.

Last year’s FCC announcement of a voluntary agreement with service providers on Text-to-911 was a major milestone, signaling a shift how the industry is starting to change the way it thinks about Text-to-911—from ‘early adopter’ to ‘mainstream.’ According to the FCC, today there are a few dozen PSAPs in the U.S. that are Text-to-911 capable.

The FCC is also now seeking comments on regulatory proposals that would ensure Americans would be able to send Texts-to-911 regardless of their service provider by the end of 2014, assuming their 911 center was equipped to receive texts.

A number of vendors provide interfaces for handling text communications in the PSAP. Most of these interfaces include canned responses, and are able to map the texter’s location on a GIS map. Some also provide the back-end technology that bridges the mobile carrier and the PSAP, enabling PSAPs to service multiple carriers from a single Text-to-911 interface (rather than having a separate application for each carrier).

The take-away: Text-to-911 is here; and other types of multimedia 911 communications are coming. For example, newly developed technology allows the public to send images and video to 911 via the Internet.

With the advent of NG911, voice calls to 911 will change as well. Emergency calls that once traveled over a circuit-switched telephony network will migrate to an IP (Internet protocol) based emergency services network, arriving at the PSAP as data. This migration will require PSAPs to update their 911 technology—and that includes their recording capabilities.

PSAPs record calls because the recordings are a crucial link to recounting who said what to whom and when—from the first chaotic moments of a 911 call to its eventual response and conclusion. New forms of NG911 multimedia communications will need to be recorded as well.

As PSAPs migrate to NG911, they will need a specialized IP recording solution capable of capturing any traffic coming through the ESInet, whether it’s SIP-based VoIP, images, video or text messages sent from iPhones or other mobile devices.

Migrating to NG911 will not be a matter of flipping a switch. For most PSAPs, transitioning to NG911 will come in incremental steps. So if PSAPs are investing in recording technology today, they should look for a solution that supports their current recording needs and also offers a smooth migration path to NG911.

PSAPs should also ensure that whatever solution they select enables them to capture, search and retrieve all types of calls, whether they arrive at the PSAP through a circuit-switched network or through IP.

One way to address this is through a software application that sits on top of traditional telephony and IP capture platforms, making it possible to migrate seamlessly from circuit-switched telephony to IP recording without a forklift upgrade. Because all recordings can be accessed through the same user interface, this also ensures continuity and transparency, reduces training time for system users, and protects the PSAPs’ recording investment through any migration process.

Additionally, PSAPs will need to be able to link any texts, video, and voice recordings that are part of the same incident. That’s where an incident information management system such as NICE Inform comes in. NICE Inform is a software application layer that “straddles” different data repositories (such as: voice, video, GIS, CAD screens and other data sources) and consolidates this data into one timeline for investigations, evaluations, and debriefings.

NICE Inform can also incorporate external third-party data such as surveillance video, cell phone video, and police in-car video. When assembled as part of a complete picture, this information can provide extraordinary insight for investigators.

 

Trend #2: Public Safety Broadband

When Congress passed legislation to create the FirstNet (the First Responder Network Authority) just over two years ago, the idea of building a nationwide broadband network for first responders seemed a massive undertaking. Now that 2013 is in the rear view mirror, some would say it’s still a lofty goal, even though progress has been made.

The promise of FirstNet is a secure and prioritized pipeline for public safety communications, meaning that the network is ready and available when needed for field units to communicate.

An additional benefit is the ability to share real-time data. Here we’re not just talking about traditional voice communications—but video, text, photos, even sensor data. One example might be dashcam video for an early read on a scene. For example, the first fire engine at a fire typically reports the ‘size-up,’ which is a verbal description of the scene.

But someday it might be possible to push out dashcam video of the scene to other first responders en route, or to a mobile incident command center, or back to the emergency operations center or PSAP. Having these visual cues will not only save resources, it will help everyone coordinate better.

While public safety broadband is billed primarily as an information sharing superhighway for first responders, its impact will be felt in the PSAP as well. PSAPs are the hub of emergency communications, and with public safety broadband, they will become even more so.

Today, we’re seeing more PSAPs with access to city surveillance and DoT cameras, but only for viewing. They’re not able to move or process video. FirstNet is going to enable public safety agencies to move and share video in real time—and not just video, but other relevant data as well.

There are many sources of real-time information that flow into city surveillance centers that could also benefit PSAPs. Today, this information can be consolidated and correlated through an open software solution known as PSIM (Physical Security Information Management). PSIM can combine any number of systems into one user interface. Control room operators just see the big picture. City-wide video surveillance can be merged with public and private video management systems (VMSs) for expanded security reach.

Gunshot detection, License Plate Recognition (LPR), weather systems, emergency/mass notification, traffic systems, chemical/biological, radiological sensors, Hazmat alerts, weather alerts, telematics, GIS can also be integrated. GIS integration, for example, gives operators a map-based view of video cameras and other sensors for a better visual picture of unfolding events.

The bottom line is—the same PSIM that delivers this situational awareness to the city surveillance center can also deliver situational awareness to the PSAP. How can this be accomplished? One way is to simply designate the PSAP as another user of the existing PSIM solution used in the surveillance center.

A second option is to leverage PSIM to make additional information available through the interface already used by dispatchers—CAD. (CAD is one of many systems that PSIM can integrate to.) This means that in the future, multiple agencies might be able to share the same real-time video views while collaborating on an incident.

Similarly, through the power of broadband and PSIM integration, a 911 call could bring up video from the 911 caller’s location. This would allow the 911 dispatcher to not only hear what’s happening, but also see what’s happening and be able to relay this information to first responders, or better yet, push the video, images and other incident data directly to first responders en route to the scene.

 

Trend #3: NextGen Quality Assurance

There are few instances when quality service matters more than 911 emergency communications. To ensure high service standards, PSAPs routinely review voice calls (a process known as Quality Assurance or QA). Until now, QA focused on 911 calls. But as NG911 and public safety broadband come online, PSAPs will become the touchpoint for handling Text-to-911, video, and an increasing number of sensors and data.

Telecommunicators will need to be able to process new media formats and make decisions based on those inputs. In this complex environment, QA will be even more essential for identifying and closing knowledge gaps. With this in mind, NextGen Quality Assurance Solutions, such as NICE Inform, enable PSAPs to review and assess a telecommunicator’s quality of response involving all forms of incoming data, including 911 calls, text, video, radio communications, and GIS.

Supervisors can easily identify knowledge gaps and provide continuous coaching, guidance and reinforcement over time to ensure telecommunicators are proficient with new systems. Supervisors can also track how well telecommunicators are acquiring new skills and adhering to procedures related to Text-to-911 and NG 911. This is not only important in providing the public with a high standard of service, but also to ensure compliance with a growing number of regulations such as CALEA, APCO P33, and future NENA standards as they gain momentum.

Finally, QA reporting provides essential information on trends, resource utilization, and overall performance so that PSAPs can make smarter and more efficient staffing decisions. Next-generation QA systems can provide managers insights into the quality and productivity of the PSAP and each staff member. Supervisors can drill down to results for each QA metric, on both a group and individual basis.

 

Trend #4: Mobile Apps

As the use of smartphones and other mobile devices becomes more prevalent, we’ve grown accustomed to ‘capturing [and sharing] the moment’ on these devices using various apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitter. We instinctively reach for our phones to share this information with others. But what if these same instincts could also help facilitate real-time information sharing during an unfolding incident?

Some companies are now offering mobile apps that enable first responders, security personnel, or just about anyone to communicate multimedia incident information. There are different variations on the app, but essentially it allows users to send an alert about an event, along with location information (X, Y, Z coordinates), and even images and videos of an incident scene.

The logic behind this seems to be that if responders know about a situation sooner and have access to rich, accurate, real-time information on the ‘what, where, when and why,’ situational awareness goes up and response time goes down. Such mobile apps will be invaluable to cities, PSAPs, government and private organizations, and even ordinary citizens.

While NG911 will empower citizens to communicate with 911 centers in new ways, these apps, powered by public safety broadband and other delivery mechanisms, will extend multimedia communications even further, unlocking real-time collaboration and data flow far beyond the capacities of spoken communication.

 

Trend #5: Hosted Solutions

Finally, we all use Internet hosted solutions every day—Gmail, Hotmail, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, to name a few. For business applications, think Web collaboration tools (like WebEx), customer-relationship management solutions (like Salesforce), enterprise-resource planning (ERP) software and marketing automation software (like Marketo). So what of Public Safety?

According to a recent research by Stratus Technologies (Nov. 2013), 28 percent of PSAP surveyed are running or planning to run critical and non-critical apps in the cloud. PSAPs are giving hosted and cloud-based solutions a serious look and there are good reasons why.

First, they can save money by combining funds to purchase systems that accommodate the needs of multiple sites at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost to purchase duplicate systems. They can even pay as they go rather than having to find funding for large investments/capital expenses.

VoIP E-911 and Computer Aided Dispatch have been available in hosted configurations for a few years now, although not with widespread adoption. Using NICE Inform, PSAPs can host their IP recordings and other multimedia at a central site and securely access this information over a shared IP network, eliminating technology duplication.

NG911 (based on the NENA i3 standard) is going to make hosted solutions a more viable option for every PSAP. That’s because the NENA’s i3 standard is based on an Emergency Services IP network (ESInet) that will be shared across all Public Safety agencies. In addition to being the future mechanism for delivering Next Gen emergency calls, the ESInet will also lay the foundation for agencies to interconnect at local, regional, state, and national levels—and share applications.

This means that instead of procuring alone, agencies connected by a regional ESInet will be able to combine their purchasing power to invest in shared hosted solutions. These solutions could be implemented using dedicated equipment (a “private cloud”) hosted at one centralized site, or sold to participating agencies by the 911 system provider in the form of software as a service (SaaS).

Today, a PSAP might source its 911 system from one company, its CAD system from another and its recording solution from yet another, but these and other solutions likely will be bundled and sold as software services in the future. This makes it possible to offer different applications to different users on the network.

For example, one PSAP may need to log only audio calls, while another may also need to log Text-to-911 communications, and another might want to add speech analytics. Hosted service providers will be able to offer a menu of solutions for PSAPs to choose from, ranging from call processing to GIS to workforce management. Such economies of scale will put richer functionality and resiliency within the reach of every PSAP.

 

Diamond Chaflawee is Director of Marketing and Business Development for Public Safety sector for NICE Systems, Inc. Diamond developed the NICE Inform technology, which provides an automated way for 911 centers to manage and reproduce multimedia information.


Published in Law and Order, May 2014

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