VoIP — Enabling Breakthrough Advances In the 911 Network

A Next-Generation 911 Network

TRENDS IN COMMUNICATIONS' MOBILITY AND CONVERGENCE have put the 9-1-1 system at a crossroads. New wireless and VoIP technologies have underscored the limitations of the current 9-1-1 infrastructure. The nation’s 9-1-1 system, based on decades-old technology, cannot handle increasingly mobile communications, and the progressively more popular digital and Internet based communications that enable text, voice, images, and video to become increasingly commonplace in personal communications. Yet our nation’s emergency call-takers are being asked to do one of the most important jobs in our society using communication technology that most businesses have moved far beyond. Simply put, we are relying on outdated analog technology in an overwhelmingly digital world.

There is a growing consensus on the shortcomings of the present 9-1-1 system and the need for a new, more capable system. Taking advantage of advances in communications technologies can mean a more feature-rich, IP-enabled emergency response system. Many business, government, and public safety communications systems are transitioning to VoIP because it is more efficient, cost-effective, and enables convergence of voice, video and data in entirely new ways. These technologies enable users and public safety responders to send or receive critical information to, from and beyond the emergency services network, thus making possible life-saving advances in emergency services.

The benefits of transitioning to an IP-based emergency network

America’s first responders are working toward the development of a feature-rich, IP-enabled emergency response system. By migrating to an IP-based network, 911 calls might one day include:

  • Automatic language preferences. By pre-selecting a user’s language preference, an emergency call could be automatically routed to a call taker that speaks the caller’s native language, potentially saving time and saving lives.
  • Information on a caller’s medical status. If consumers choose to pre-enter vital medical information (e.g., whether an Alzheimer patient lives; the heart medicine a subscriber uses), call takers and emergency responders could access critical information that could make the difference between life and death.
  • Maps and other location specific information. Call takers could access maps of commercial buildings or notes about on-site hazards – data that could prove critical to emergency responders.
  • Ensure that all 911 calls can be answered. During Katrina, some 36 PSAPs went down and couldn’t answer 911 calls. An IP enabled emergency network allows overflow calls to be rerouted just like a modern call center. An IP network also allows nomadic 911 call takers to take calls from a remote location in an emergency.

The IP technology needed to transform existing 911 networks into next-generation networks is already available. The only obstacle is funding. But we should all soon expect the migration to an emergency network based on Internet Protocol, with all of these powerful features and functions.