Roundtable Participants Gain Insight into Pressing Emergency Telecommunications Issues

The subject of texting emergencies to 9-1-1 came up as part of a discussion at the final two roundtables at the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International’s meeting in Orlando, with some participants believing it was a positive move that would aid in saving lives while others called it “a nightmare.”

A large part of the discussion at APCO’s Technology Roundtable centered on the increasing number of platforms residents want to use to reach emergency services. The NG9-1-1 transition brings new applications, such as the ability for Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPS) to receive text messages, photo and video, and deploy systems or software designed to receive text-based tips to agencies.

“Short message service was not designed for 9-1-1,” said Bob Gojanovich, NG9-1-1 sales director for TCS. “That said, that doesn’t mean it can’t be modified to support 9-1-1, there are solutions to text. We don’t have to wait for the entire industry to go to 4G LTE in order to get instant messaging.”

Steve Reinke, director of Valley Communications Center in Washington, referred to the ability to text 9-1-1 as his nightmare. “Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you should. I would like to see a study done on how often somebody is under distress and their only choice to communicate with us is through texting. How often does that happen?”

Countered Robert Jeffery Jr., communications system supervisor for Orange County (Fl.) Sheriff’s Department, “If we can save a life, shouldn’t we try?”

Although all attendees agreed, the issue of cost management for this new technology remained a major concern.

Reinke said suggested establishing standard operating procedures for texting: when a telecommunicator receives a text message for help, his or her first response should be: “Can you talk?”

Attendees discussed an upgraded infrastructure to improve resiliency, enabling virtual PSAPs and wireless data networks for radio systems and preparing and molding efficient technology platforms.

When PTI Executive Director, Alan R. Shark asked participants at the Technology Roundtable held recently in Washington, D.C., “What’s your weakest link?” security was the overwhelming answer.

“We need to worry about security. There are plenty of people out there who will bring you down just for fun; the firewall has to be ironclad,” Chris Terry, Lincoln County (W.Va.) 9-1-1 Communications systems administrator said.

“What scares me to death is opening up our network to viruses,” said James Wadsworth, Fairfax County (Va.) Radio Services Center manager. “IP technology is going to totally revolutionize our budget cycle. The typical computer replacement cycle of 3 years isn’t realistic when the computers are running 24/7 and never turned off.”

Participants in the roundtables discuss what’s most important to them at the time and share best practices with their peers. Dates and locations for 2012 Technology Roundtables will be announced soon. Visit http://roundtable.apcointl.org for information.

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