IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Several California Counties Move Toward Next-Gen 911

Next-Generation 911 systems are heralded for their ability to pinpoint caller locations during an emergency while handling the sorts of data coming from smartphones.

Several counties in California are moving forward with phasing out their decades-old emergency 911 systems, and replacing them with digital versions capable of moving more data faster for improved location accuracy.

The new technology can more quickly route first responders to the scene of an emergency, improving response times, said Robert Bustichi, systems management supervisor for San Mateo County Public Safety Communications. 

“For the residents, Next-Gen 911 will allow better location accuracy and call-routing to the proper 911 dispatch center and reduced response times,” Bustichi explained. “First responders gain the benefit of having additional functionality in the field including pre-plans, routing and enhanced mapping.”

The improved location accuracy and call-routing of the next generation technology will require a number of system upgrades, such as phasing out a 25-year-old computer aided dispatch (CAD) system with a new “state-of-the-art system and 911 facility,” said Bustichi. Both of them should be complete by early 2020.

“Once the state rolls out the Next-Gen 911 network, we will be in a position to connect,” said Bustichi.

California receives some 27 million 911 calls annually, and the state is in the process of developing an Internet Protocol (IP) based 911 system, able to receive calls and data from new and emerging technologies and devices. The state's Office of Emergency Services has led a number of Next-Gen 911 pilot projects in counties such as Imperial, Butte, Mendocino, Ventura and other locations.  

The state is assisting various counties in their Next-Gen 911 projects in the form of funding and project management, said Budge Currier, 911 branch manager with Cal Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Public Safety Communications.

“We’ll be the data aggregator at the state level. And at the local level [the counties] remain the GIS authority,” said Currier.   

The statewide project is set to be complete by late 2021, said Currier. 

In Merced County, in California’s Central Valley, officials are developing a Master Road and Address Database (MRAD) for the county of 269,000 residents. 

“The MRAD will not only provide address and road centerline data for use in the county computer aided dispatching system, but will also be provisioned to meet the needs of Cal OES as it begins to develop its statewide Next-Gen 911 system,” said Gene Barrera, GIS manager for Merced County. 

DATAMARK, a GIS and public safety communications technology company, is partnering with both Merced and San Mateo counties to provide the needed 911 upgrades. In San Mateo DATAMARK is involved with aggregating GIS data from various sources into one database.

“The Next-Gen 911 technology pattern represents a complete overhaul of the legacy systems used in today’s 911 environment,” said Robert Murphy, a public safety subject matter expert at DATAMARK, in an email. “This transformation includes replacing traditional analog telephony technology with Internet-Protocol networks, known as Emergency Service IP Networks (ESInet) with the abilities to transfer data, such as text and multimedia, within the networks.”

Notably, Next-Gen 911 changes how GIS systems are used, said Murphy. The GIS data coming from the caller’s device can be used to identify the caller’s exact location.

“In addition to providing a vehicle to transfer data along with voice to the 911 center, Next-Gen 911 will provide a pathway for improved caller location accuracy, network redundancy and network security,” said Murphy. “In today’s legacy system, we do not have the ability to receive real-time-text, pictures, video or location information [using GIS data] that is readily available from wireless devices.”

DATAMARK has a number of workshops planned across the state in the coming weeks to meet with public safety technology officials to discuss Next-Gen 911. The system will require upgrading hardware and software, say industry officials.

“It is estimated that nearly every community or county in the United States is developing plans to adopt and transition to Next-Gen 911,” said Murphy, adding the upgrades “will come with a significant cost of deployment.”

A report by the National 911 Program in February 2018 found that 28 states had Next-Gen 911 infrastructure in place, according to 2017 data. By comparison, only 22 states could make this claim in 2016.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.