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Moving PSAP Operations to the Cloud

NextGen911 Text-to-911 PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) technology has become a reality in Durham, N.C., the first PSAP to test text-to-911 technology with Verizon Wireless and 911 services provider, Intrado.


was one of the first few jurisdictions in the country to take the necessary step of moving its emergency call center operations to the cloud.

James Soukup, Emergency Services Center Director, prepared his department for NextGen911 by moving their 911 emergency call center operations to the cloud, ready for the full range of Web-based Next Generation 911 services when they were made available. Verizon Wireless chose


to pilot a trial 911 texting program in 2011 and


began its move to NG911. The carrier delivers the text messages to the PSAP via Intrado. AT&T also tested texting with them in March 2014 and they now have both Verizon and AT&T on board.

Soukup reports their old landline system was with Verizon and they were an anomaly as most of North Carolina had AT&T or other providers. When it became necessary to move to a new system with Verizon, the cost was prohibitive and Intrado offered an opportunity to move into the future with NextGen 911 technology. The new cloud-based system enhanced the capabilities of their communications center, while reducing the existing vulnerabilities.

For instance, with their old system, they had a primary communications center and a backup center and in case of outages, they could physically move from one center to the other. With their new system through Intrado, they can use each center as a separate entity or they can combine the capabilities of both centers and use them simultaneously and seamlessly.

This was a distinct advantage when the unprecedented winter storm hit Durham in 2013 and they were able to use both centers as one, with calls being routed to whichever operator was available at either center, thus being able to utilize a much larger staff taking calls.

Also, with the old 911 system, if a phone cable was cut, the center would go down, but utilizing the cloud, the calls can be rerouted anywhere, allowing a lot less points of failure and the ability to get back online much faster. Intrado has two independent server centers and usually Durham is not even aware if one has an issue.

Soukup stated, “The cloud is the future and as more centers come online with the network approach, it should be virtually impossible to have abandoned 911 calls.” He defined abandoned calls as those which were unanswered after 20 seconds. “With such networks, the call would go into the cloud and other centers would answer the calls and forward the information to


. Corporations have been using this system for years, and if all their servers are busy, their calls are routed to someone else’s server in the cloud.”

Durham is at the apex of the system and he anticipates others joining the network, hopefully with the system going statewide at some point.

Much of their existing equipment was replaced with routers. All of their RMS was moved to the cloud as the beginning step and that was handled fully by Intrado and Frontier. They would no longer lose their database information in case of any type of catastrophic situation, such as fire or natural disaster.


NextGen911 Current Advantages and Future Options

Soukup stated that everything just came at the right time. He was looking for ways to make their system more technologically advanced and the pilot project made that possible. They were the first communications center to be accredited through CALEA and are also accredited through APCO and P33 Training. They are still one of only four centers so accredited.

They do not receive many 911 calls by text. The primary advantages of NextGen 911 lie in the networking capabilities and the future opportunities. They will in the future be able to receive photos and videos attached to texts. They will be able to receive photos of suspects, rather than the varying descriptions that often occur. They will be able to receive video feeds from bank security cameras at the 911 center and send those to the officers on the street.

The Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) feature looks to see who is available for calls and by the time an automated message is played, “


911, what is your emergency?” the operator hears the answer and is ready to take the call. They can also view the calls in a queue and see how long callers have been waiting. There are no major changes for dispatch when texts are received because they are already familiar with that format for TDD and TYY calls.

Director Soukup reports no major problems at all in moving to the system. He stated, “Intrado was so super responsive to anything we needed, it made all the difference in the world and we had no issues.” He suggested that anyone moving to the new network carefully check out the vendors they might use, checking references and the stability of those vendors.

He said that many more vendors are moving into this arena and many of them will be out of business within a few years. “The lowest price doesn’t mean the best product.” He said that Intrado has been around since 1979 and did a lot of database work for major carriers in the past and has a great deal of experience.


Cost Effective and Citizen Friendly

Durham has listed FAQs on their website and their community is technologically sophisticated, with two major universities in the area. He does not anticipate any problems in their citizens accessing the new capabilities as they become available.

Durham’s move to NextGen 911 was a cost-effective step for them. North Carolina imposed a statewide surcharge on all telephone service, making funding available and saving Durham $200,000 a year.

They are able to pay less and get much more for their money. As other communities take advantage of the network approach in

North Carolina

, they will be able to fund their systems with the surcharge also. Soukup reported that for Durham, the opportunity was too good to pass up.


Intrado Led the Way for IP-Based Routing

Intrado was the first 911 service provider in the U.S. to construct and deploy an IP-based 911 routing solution for public safety, upgrading and replacing the 1960’s analog long-distance telephone technology with high-performance Emergency Services Internet Protocol networking (ESInet). Intrado’s services are available anywhere in the U.S. Intrado has two geographically diverse centers, located to ensure both geographic as well as “climate” diversity, and both centers active to prevent any service failures.

Intrado’s networks are engineered to ensure that 100 percent of the traffic can be handled by each route independently, so that in the event of a failure on one route, the other can handle the complete load, without interruption. They also offer other safeguards, including a variety of other “public safety-grade” redundancies within the network equipment itself, as well as 24/7/365 monitoring of equipment.

Choosing Intrado’s cloud can be important in reducing outages from weather disasters. None of the Intrado network’s customers on the East Coast suffered 911 outages during 2012’s Super Storm Sandy. Similarly with Hurricane Irene, the network in Vermont didn’t fail to deliver a single 911 call, when many other statewide systems were down.

Intrado reports reluctance from some agencies to use cloud-based services to handle life-critical applications such as those involved in 911. They believe, however, that positive experiences by early adopters such as


will provide a credible example for other agencies who may be wary of off-site solutions.


What Intrado Offers

Intrado does not have fiber in the ground but rather contracts with major carriers for transport-components of ESInet service. Intrado provides the “intelligent routing” function for 911. That includes identifying the location of the 911 caller, the appropriate responding agency (police, fire or EMS), and utilizing various network components (including those owned by Intrado and those obtained from telecom carriers) to deliver the call to that agency.

PSAPs have a variety of ways to obtain 911 call routing services, depending on their individual circumstances, and Intrado has a corresponding variety of business arrangements with telecom companies to meet the PSAP’s specific needs. Intrado can act directly as the PSAP’s 9-1-1 Service Provider (procuring parts of the overall solution from others) or provide the routing and supplemental data components for a telecom company who serves the PSAP themselves, or anything in between.

The National Emergency Numbers Association (NENA) has established a Next-Generation 9-1-1 interoperability framework (referred to in the industry as “i3”) that allows multiple network and hardware vendors to build IP-based solutions that will interface with each other, both for the delivery of calls, as well as information such as the caller name and address.

Intrado’s NextGen 9-1-1 solutions are based on the i3 standard. Multiple PSAPs with NG9-1-1 solutions can be linked for backup situations, overflow, special-event circumstances, or other times where multiple agencies may need to interoperate. This capability is not always available currently.

Intrado’s customers who move operations to the cloud for NextGen911 have several distinct advantages. These include removing the customer’s responsibility for their cloud-based services because Intrado manages and maintains the solutions, while retaining the advantages of resiliency and reliability. Other advantages are the opportunity to add future functionality without adding new hardware, and the ability to interoperate with other locations or agencies.

Intrado also offers services beyond NextGen 911, such as caller name and address database management services, caller location services, call delivery services for Wireless, VoIP, Telematics and Satellite providers, and call-processing and call-display equipment.


Departments Can Begin a Gradual Migration

Both rural and urban-located agencies can benefit from the advantages of NextGen 911, depending on their unique situation, which determines the ease with which each department makes the change. Some agencies rely on a single NG911 services provider for network services, equipment and database management, while some contract individual elements among several vendors and manage the deployment and ongoing system operation themselves.

Intrado believes the most important thing PSAPs who haven’t started the migration to NextGen 911 should consider is that it is in fact a migration. There are a number of ways that they can get started with this process. Nothing says that the process has to be accomplished in one single, monumental project.

Several elements can add value to the PSAP and help them make progress toward the benefits of NextGen 911 and these can be done incrementally. Adding to their network, premises equipment, Graphical Information System (GIS) data, and supplemental data sources are all steps in the process of this migration.


Kathy Marks is a previous contributor to


Magazine and has worked as a child abuse investigator for more than 25 years. She also teaches law enforcement classes for mobile training units in Illinois. She can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, May 2014

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