NYC Looks to Make Its 911 System Fully Digital

The city has issued an RFP for its Next Generation 911 project, while installing interim text-to-911 capabilities slated to go live in early 2018.

by / June 20, 2017
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New York City is working to make its 911 system fully digital, which in practical terms means that residents will be able to interact with emergency responders through text messages, photos, videos, social media and other state-of-the-art methods of communication.

The city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications has released a nearly 300-page RFP looking for vendors to help build the underlying infrastructure necessary for the coming upgrades — specifically the IP-based 911 system. The upgrade effort has been dubbed Next Generation 911, and while it is being developed and implemented, the city will also launch an interim system called Text-to-911 in early 2018. This system is exactly what it sounds like — a way to use text messages to contact 911 the way one would with a traditional phone call.

This type of 911 system is becoming increasingly common throughout the country, from New Jersey to Kansas City to Indiana, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has estimated that the tech has been adapted by about 650 dispatch centers nationwide, which constitutes roughly 10 percent of American emergency responders. The Next Generation 911 project seeks to provide greater functionality than these text-based systems.

“We have the nation’s largest, busiest and most complex 911 system, which is why we need to be on the leading edge of emergency communications technology — and that’s exactly where Next Generation 911 will take us,” said Anne Roest, commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. “Early next year, New Yorkers will be able to text 911, with much more to come down the road. Ultimately, our system will do more than give New Yorkers new ways to communicate — it will make it easier for the city to continually upgrade and improve 911 as technology evolves in the coming years, and for generations to come.”

The advantages of text-based communications with 911 services are especially relevant for members of the deaf community, as well as for those who are speech-impaired or hard of hearing. This system is also designed to aid crime victims caught in situations where speaking might put them in danger.

Victor Calise, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, praised the addition of this tech in a release, saying that equity is a key part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. This project marks the most recent enhancement to New York City’s 911 functionality undertaken by Mayor de Blasio. The administration also recently built a backup answering center, one that is fully redundant and able to provide service in full if there is a failure or problem at the city’s existing response center.

Proposals are due Aug. 8, and work is targeted to begin in December. Officials hope the Next Generation 911 project will be ready to launch for public use in early 2022. The request for proposals can be downloaded at http://www1.nyc.gov/site/doitt/business/next-gen-911-emergency-services.page.

Kate Blumm, assistant commissioner for Communications and External Affairs within the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, stressed the importance of this project in the wake of rapid advancements in the ways citizens use technology.

“Our 911 network needs to accommodate this national revolution in the way people are using personal technology,” Blumm said, “and that’s a big part of what this project is all about.”

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.