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How Public Safety Organizations Can Prepare for the Changing NG9-1-1 Landscape

In this Government Technology Q&A, Jim Carlson, director of public safety business development at Lumen, discusses how the NG9-1-1 landscape is evolving and how public safety organizations can build a robust ecosystem to take advantage of all the functionality it brings.

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What does the NG9-1-1 landscape look like currently?
With the Internet of Things (IoT), there are now so many pieces of information out there that are useful in emergency response — things that go way beyond just a person making a phone call. There are data sets coming from many different sources, and they have to come together in a secure way and get to the right place at the right time within the right context. The NG9-1-1 landscape is a world of complexity, and agencies and the vendor community are working to pull all the pieces together so we can take that complexity and harness it to increase the efficiency of public safety.

NG9-1-1 involves a change to IP network technology. How is this different than the networks organizations may be using now?
I think it’s different in a couple of ways that are really important. One is that a lot more functionality is going to be made available by making this shift, and the other has to do with complexity. One of the benefits of NG9-1-1 as it relates to an event like the pandemic, which happened almost overnight, is that public safety answering points (PSAPs) had to immediately make changes to their operations. As we move toward NG9-1-1, we can harness that new set of functionality so we can embrace the complexity and position public safety to respond to events like the pandemic.

Why is it important to consider the entire ecosystem?
Because the journey of NG9-1-1 is complex and there are a lot of elements in the ecosystem. Public safety has to ask a whole new set of questions with a whole new set of people. The questions have to begin with the foundation itself and how you infuse public safety-grade standards into the foundation, how you set up the network and how you bring all the pieces together. That is going to set the stage for everything you want to do in the future. And then the platform has to be managed in a certain way so there’s total visibility and you can see when things go down and respond to them quickly. Public safety organizations should be able to make changes and scale the platform easily in situations like a pandemic.

What are the advantages of working with a network provider versus an application or software provider?
The marketplace has two sets of players, and they are both important. One set are the players like Lumen whose core competency is the underlying network. The other set involves players who provide applications designed to harness the promise of NG9-1-1 and deliver new functionality. A network provider can bring the platform into existence. But when an application provider does this, it needs to lease the facilities and capabilities from some other organization because that’s not who they are. At Lumen we focus on integrating applications into our platform and we have several application partners we work with in the ecosystem to bring all the elements together. When issues arise they will most likely be somewhere within the network, so working with a network provider and leveraging their understanding of those kinds of situations and how to resolve them becomes really important.

Are you seeing more public safety organizations work with a managed services provider for NG9-1-1?
There are definitely many more examples of organizations using managed services or software-as-a-service now than years ago. What we’re seeing is companies like Lumen offering applications in a managed services environment, which can be really powerful for public safety organizations that often deal with a scarcity of people and need to be as efficient as possible. When public safety organizations use managed services providers they can ensure they have the latest technology and rely on the provider to take care of the daily management of the solution.

What can public safety do about the cybersecurity risks to NG9-1-1 systems?
All the new functionality of NG9-1-1 also increases security risk. Public safety agencies need to educate themselves on the risks and bring in an outside organization to help assess security vulnerabilities because it’s highly technical and changing all the time. Then, identify what the risks are and fix the holes that might allow a bad actor to come in. Look at areas of risk like your processes and your people; it’s not just a technology challenge.