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Kansas Latest to Implement Statewide Next-Gen 911

The next-generation emergency communications system will be built in four phases over the next five years, and is expected to boost speed, security and reliability between PSAP operators, dispatchers and first responders.

Kansas has joined a handful of other states, including Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, in implementing next-generation 911 (NG911) systems designed to deliver faster, more reliable communications for emergency workers. The Kansas 911 Coordinating Council expects the NG911 system to boost the speed, security and reliability of communications between operators, dispatchers and first responders.

NG911 is an Internet protocol (IP)-based system designed to provide access to emergency services from virtually all connected communications sources. It also provides multimedia data capabilities for 911 call centers, or Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), and other emergency service organizations.

“The legacy 911 system has served the citizens of Kansas very well and continues to do so for voice calls,” said Dick Heitschmidt, chairman of the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council. “[But the] legacy 911 system is a voice-centric system and is not capable of accepting the methods of communication that our citizens use today."

Because citizens often communicate with their friends and family via text and picture messaging, they expect to communicate with 911 in those same ways, according to Heitschmidt. To meet these expectations, the state has decided to migrate from outdated legacy technology to an IP-based network platform.

AT&T is building the system, which will combine wireless and private cloud service. Emergency call takers will then access the cloud via a secure, high-speed connection. First responders, PSAP dispatchers and operators will have near real-time access to 911 event data from any connected location.

The new system will also include Airbus DS Communications' VESTA 911 call processing solution, which will support the state's 348 call taking positions and 117 PSAPs and allow seamless communication between cities, counties and municipalities.

The first phase of the project was the development of a statewide, seamless GIS database for call location mapping, explained Heitschmidt. To facilitate development, the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council implemented a GIS Enhancement Project. GIS data was gathered from all PSAP jurisdictions and compared to a NG911 GIS data standard, developed by the Council’s GIS Committee. Variations from the standard were identified and remediated by GIS companies contracted by the Council.

Once remediation is complete, the data is submitted for a quality assurance audit to verify that the remediation efforts brought the GIS data into compliance with the standard. At present, 72 of the 117 PSAP jurisdictions have completed the quality assurance audit. The remaining PSAP jurisdictions are expected to complete the process by the end of 2015. 

Phase two of the project, currently underway, develops IP network connectivity between the PSAPs and a hosted call handling solution that can be shared among the PSAPs, said Heitschmidt. Concurrently, the third phase of the project is in the planning stage and will deliver text messages to the PSAPs that are connected to the statewide system. This phase of the project is expected to be delivered to the PSAPs within six to eight months of their coming onto the statewide platform.

The fourth and final phase of the project will be the migration to geospatial call routing. This phase is expected to begin in late 2017 to early 2018, with full migration in the 2019 to 2020 time frame.
Beyond that, SMS messaging, incorporation of third-party databases and machine-to-machine communications are expected to be added to the statewide platform as the standards for these enhancements become available.

Total costs for the statewide emergency sytem upgrade are estimated to be $27 million over five years, according to Walter Way, chair of the state's 911 Coordinating Council.

NG911 will also improve the overall resiliency of the state’s 911 system, explained Heitschmidt. For example, if a tornado takes down one of the PSAPs, another can immediately take over.

“With the shared system, redundancy of equipment is built into the system design, which could not be achieved cost-effectively at the individual PSAP level,” Heitschmidt said. “Additionally, because it is a shared system, personnel assets can be more easily shared from PSAP to PSAP, and continuity of operations planning is greatly simplified, without degradation of service capabilities.”

The shared nature of the system allows a 911 operator to log onto any workstation on the system as if they were in their home PSAP. This logon will deliver their home call handling screen and their 911 calls to the workstation that they are logged onto, without the need to reroute calls or do anything in addition to the logon.

“This ability makes emergency operations much more efficient,” said Heitschmidt.

The biggest challenge with the project thus far has involved PSAPs within the state that are currently utilizing a call handling platform no longer supported by the manufacturer, explained Heitschmidt. 

“These PSAPs are faced with the possibility of failure of their call handling platform, with no option for repair,” he said. “We have handled this situation by prioritizing these PSAPs as our first installations of the new call handling system.”

Hutchinson-Reno County Emergency Communications and Cowley County Emergency Communications will be the first two PSAPs brought on to the statewide system this summer.
Heitschmidt suggested that other states considering moving to a NG911 system start by developing a vision of what their state’s NG911 offering should look like and then looking for vendors that will fulfill that vision. Beyond that, he suggests states reach out to local units of government and draw on their resources for planning and project development support. 

“In Kansas, we have a 26-member Coordinating Council made up of local government employees and elected officials, state Legislature representation, and telephone company representation (wireline, wireless and VoIP [voice-over Internet Protocol]),” he said. “All of these individuals are volunteers and are not compensated for the time that they put into NG911. It has been incredible to see the amount of time and dedication that these folks have committed to our statewide project. The commitment they have made has made it much easier to obtain buy-in from the PSAPs toward the statewide system approach.”