- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
E911 in the cloud
Guam Fire Department is in the process of procuring NG911, but may be missing out on the latest technology
It’s 2019 and the world has gone digital. But the current 911 systems in many U.S. jurisdictions including Guam linger in 1985, built on analog infrastructure. Click the LOL! emoticon.
“If only people knew how broken the current 911 system is, they would freak out,” said Paul Tatro, president of North American Operations at Carbyne (NG-911). “The whole 1985 system is built on infrastructure that had only landlines, so the system in the background takes you to the phone number and goes into a database to see where your phone number is registered, what address it is registered at.”
An Uber driver, who knows the exact location where to pick up a passenger, has better chances of responding faster to an emergency than a 911 dispatcher.
While the Federal Communications Commission mandates every state and territories to upgrade their emergency response dispatch to the Next Generation 911 system, jurisdictions that still use two- to three-year old specifications in their solicitations may be missing the boat. “When you go back to three years, it is like being in another lifetime,” Tatro said. “So think about technology — how it has changed since 1985. It has been dramatic. Multiple times it has gone through different types of iterations.”
As for 911, the future is in the cloud.
“Our company never participates in 1985 technology. We never develop a system that fits into the old infrastructure. We build our system to be completely internet-based protocol,” Tatro said. “You can look at all the big businesses in the word today— all their mission critical systems are in the cloud. Even the federal government puts a mandate that all their systems will be on the cloud, except for top secrets because, obviously, you do not want top secrets anywhere but where they are supposed to be — highly controlled.”
The newest available 911 platform is cloud-native that allows the call receiver to take the caller’s video on the scene and spot the caller’s exact location. “We get it directly from their cellphone, just like Uber and all these other current technology applications,” Tatro said. “All of these things that people think is somewhere of the future are now here.”
And since the system is built in the cloud, the flow of data is streamlined. “You don’t have to rely on triangulation of cell powers and all these kinds of approximation of their location,” Tatro explained. “We can also open a chat window on the caller’s cellphone. If for some reason they cannot talk — maybe they have a particular physical limitation or maybe they are in a situation where they do not want to make a noise — we can open a window and accept that chat information just like we do with their voice.”
FCC currently requires that providers of interconnected VoIP telephone services using the Public Switched Telephone Network meet E911 obligations. The current VoIP system, however, still follows a back-and-forth transmission. “They would take the TDM (time division multiplexing) call that comes in; they would convert it to voice inside the call center, process the call and revert it back to TDM to talk back to the customer,” Tatro said. “It is not native IP. It’s like a facsimile. They all try to fit the current technologies, retrofitting them in the old system.”
In 2017, FCC loosened up the VoIP requirement for some rural areas that are not ready to cut the 911 cord.
Tatro said Carbyne’s fully cloud-based dispatching solution to public safety provides a multi-redundancy server environment and multi-location backup that protect the system from any hardware failure. “The benefits for places like Guam, quite frankly, is the idea that you have a small island, you are susceptible to things like typhoon and hurricanes. To have equipment hosted on the island is vulnerable because if you have these kinds of weather events, then everything is wiped out,” Tatro said.
The Guam Fire Department is now in the process of procuring a service contract for the upgrade of its NG911 system, using a previously diverted E911 funds totaling $3.8 million, which the government of Guam recently reimbursed to the Enhanced 911 Emergency Reporting Fund.
The newest available 911 platform is cloud-native that allows the call receiver to take the caller’s video on the scene and spot the caller’s exact location. “All of these things that people think is somewhere of the future are now here,” said Paul Tatro, president of North American Operations @ Carbyne (NG-911)
According to GFD, the procurement for a lease-to-own system was designed to ensure that regular maintenance services and updates are built into the contract. GFD’s antiquated system does not include a maintenance component and availability of parts has been scarce. “The new 911 system will have state-of-the-art equipment that includes SMS, video and picture messaging capabilities, ability to communicate with speech impaired and special needs callers, more precise identification of location of emergency, and IP-based routing, among other updated features,” said GFD Fire Chief Dan Stone.
Carbyne was one of the unsuccessful bidders for the project. “The RFP was put together under the past administration using old data/technology — released then pulled back,” Andrew Merrill, regional sales manager for Carbyne, said in an email to the Pacific Island Times. “When Guam Fire re-released the RFP this year, they never updated the technology requirements to request the newest technology. Plus, Guam Fire did not want to see demonstrations from other providers. Why would they not want to see the newest and greatest technology that provides more safety to citizens?”
GFD could not be reached for comment as of this writing.
“If we hosted this solution in the cloud, you would actually be hosted in the State of Oregon and you would be connected to every highspeed connection to the island,” Tatro said. “So if a typhoon hits the island, the equipment in Oregon is not going to be susceptible to any kind of condition that is happening on Guam or any of other islands that.”
Unlike the outdated platform that requires hardware, the cloud-based solution is easier to set up. “We have the ability to bring in customers quickly because the cloud already allocated a system,” Tatro said. “It just brings in new users to set up some new parameters and they are instantly up and running. So instead of having a six-month, eight-month or 12- month project, you have two-month project. We also have faster system speed because when you are in the cloud, you have the benefit of worldwide scalability.”
Migrating into the cloud will also be cost-effective, Tatro said. “Today, not only are you required to buy software, which costs several hundred-thousands of dollars, you also have to have hardware. You have to have a staff to manage the hardware. Then have to have backup systems. All of those come automatically with the cloud — resiliency, redundancy, multiple insulations—and you pay a single monthly fee.”
“When we go to the future, there is less money to be spent because there is less hardware. It’s a wise use of the taxpayers’ money,” Merrill said.
Tatro, however, acknowledged that the cloud-based E911 has yet to catch on. “The biggest thing with 911 is that, in general, it works,” he said. “They are victims of their own success. You hear the occasional stories. But if people knew what the infrastructure was built on, they would freak out.”
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