Policy, Governance and Operations
The issues surrounding policy, governance and operations are intertwined and are closely associated with the statutory and regulatory framework. Before an agency can establish policies, begin transitioning to NG9-1-1 or define a governance structure, some overriding questions must be addressed:
- Is the state allowed to implement NG9-1-1? In many instances, modifications to existing legislation will be required, because existing legislation may actually forbid NG9-1-1-style operations. For example, does the law allow a state or region to build an ESInet in the way it is defined nationally? NG9-1-1 is a service on a shared, multipurpose network; but state law may dictate that 9-1-1 networks must be single-purpose, closed systems and that only 9-1-1 calls can be transmitted on them. Statute may also provide that only the incumbent telephone company can provide 9-1-1 service. In these cases, an ESInet would be illegal and the statutes would need to be refreshed to permit a shared backbone.
- How will NG9-1-1 be funded? Traditional 9-1-1 systems are funded through a surcharge or tax on phone service. That fee applies only to 9-1-1 system components—such as the network, database and terminal equipment—and (typically) not to radio dispatch and other elements of an integrated NG9-1-1 network. In a shared ESInet for NG9-1-1, a number of stakeholders use the backbone, and a method must be developed to determine how each pays its fair share. Agreements and a governance structure must be set in place, and this can become a complicated matter.
Therefore, the first step in organizing the operational structure of NG9-1-1 is to look at the legal and regulatory framework existing in each individual state. It’s essential to understand the scope of authority that exists for those who operate 9-1-1 systems and what it needs to be to operate in an NG9-1-1 environment.
Regional or State ESInets
Because of the interconnected nature of NG9-1-1, it can’t be administered on a county-by-county basis as previous 9-1-1 operations have been. PSAPs are no longer islands. While it is possible and in most instances desirable that multiple counties band together to form a regional ESInet and thereby leverage the economies of scale that NG9-1-1 makes possible, someone has to ensure that those regional ESInets are interconnected to provide seamless statewide and interstate coverage. That is best done at the state level. That requirement raises two more questions regarding governance:
- Is the state organized with a 9-1-1 authority at the state level?
- What is the scope of that entity’s statutory responsibilities? If it has no authority to coordinate or implement NG9-1-1 or set and enforce standards, then there exists a serious barrier to compatible, interoperable NG9-1-1 communications.
Beyond the organization of an NG 9-1-1 structure, special attention must be directed toward confidentiality. The NG9-1-1 network carries calls, messages, documents and other data from multiple organizations. State legislation may define what information can and cannot be shared among safety agencies, made public or used outside the actual response to an emergency. Provisions relating to disclosure, data retention and confidentiality must be incorporated into policies and governance. Liability issues need to be addressed as well. The new provider of NG9-1-1 service needs the same immunity that traditionally has been granted to telephone companies. If players with data vital to the NG9-1-1 network feel they are not protected from liability, they won’t join the game.
Strategic and Transition Planning
Once a state-level authority is in place, with all the legal provisions it needs to build and direct an NG9-1-1 network, safety agencies can take the next step, toward strategic and transition planning. The agency should develop policies regarding the use and operation of the network and identify how it will roll out procurement of the necessary hardware, software and integration services. Will the agency handle this step with its own staff, or will it need expert advice from a managed-services organization?
Some additional, basic questions remain to be resolved:
- How the system will be run? Will it be a statewide network, or will the state simply facilitate interconnections among regional systems?
- Will there be a geographical structure to the rollout?
- How will statewide coverage be achieved?
- Is a state-level entity in place to manage the NG9-1-1 system, or must a separate governance structure be created? State law may require a new layer of governance that includes individuals from the state, each region, responders and other stakeholders who share the backbone network.
- How will the agency ensure that 9-1-1 traffic maintains top priority within the IP network if it is shared with other government functions?
It’s vital to get the planning process started early, with all stakeholders at the table, so the desired environment can be defined and it can be determined what governance structure is needed and what authority it needs to make effective decisions about these and other operational policies and procedures.
With the advent of NG9-1-1, the 24×7 managed (outsourced) services become especially important. This is primarily due to the increasing number of systems public safety agencies have to deal with, increased technical complexity, and reduced budgets/staffing. These factors intersect to create a definitive need for managed services in a NG9-1-1 environment. For NG9-1-1, managed services can include such tasks as:
- Network monitoring and maintenance
- Technical support for work stations and servers
- Providing a new breed of security services for telecommunications, including antivirus software, software updates, patch management, and backup and recovery of files
- Management of 9-1-1 authoritative databases, including scrubbing and updating GIS addressing data
Many PSAPs have small staff, with few full-time IT or security personnel who can do all that is required from an NG9-1-1 technology standpoint. At the same time, budgets are shrinking while demands increase. Public safety agencies can save money and gain the insights of NG9-1-1 experts by outsourcing different aspects of their IT maintenance and support, security, or database management thereby allowing internal staff members to focus on their primary mission—answering and dispatching calls for assistance.
A managed services organization can provide other technology services, as well. For example, counties can host their Web sites on the servers of a company offering managed services. This option allows the county to avoid spending for servers, bandwidth, operating-system updates, new licensing and IT staff.
In considering a managed services firm, agencies should above all else review the company’s experience and history in 9-1-1 development. They should also ensure that the provider offers a pricing model with maximum flexibility and minimum complexity.
For a fraction of the cost of employing staff to manage all these technology needs, a public safety agency can outsource them to a managed services organization and remain focused on lives instead of lines.
The next generation of 9-1-1 technology and operations will certainly revolutionize emergency services in the same way that the Internet transformed the operations of businesses, schools and governments. NG9-1-1 will improve the analysis of emergency situations, response times and response accuracy, thereby saving lives. While integrating all the aspects of this new environment may be complex, firms with a high level of 9-1-1 experience, such as FE/Kimball, are ready to offer guidance and assurance as regional and state agencies make their next moves in responding to the call for Next Generation 9-1-1.