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GCN : December 2013
28 GCN DECEMBER 2013 • GCN.COM Alabama has brought seven of the state's 115 public safety answering points onto its new Next Generation Emergency Network (ANGEN) over the last two months, handling wireless 911 calls from one carrier, T-Mobile. Original expectations were that as much as 90 percent of the state's 911 traf c would be handled by the IP network by this time. But 18 months into the multiphase 18-month project, completion is still two to three years off, said Jason Jackson, executive director of the Alabama 911 Board, which is overseeing ANGEN. "It has taken us a lot of time to accomplish Phase 1," Jackson said. "And it's still not done." The problem is not with the technology or the network itself, which is operated by the state's supercomputer authority. It was primarily a matter of overly optimistic scheduling, Jackson said. "We had some carriers who realized they were not ready" to move their 911 traf c to the new system, he said. And building out last-mile connections for some of the PSAPs and providing them with IP switches also took longer than expected. "There are not that many models to follow at this time." That is the drawback of being on the cutting edge of new technology. When complete, ANGEN will be one of the nation's rst statewide IP networks for 911 routing. With the roll-out now underway, Jackson said the primary lesson he has learned from the program is to set realistic goals. "Perception is reality," he said. "Unfortunately that is true." That means grand plans should be broken into a number of small steps with attainable milestones to help ensure success and maintain support as the program progresses." --William Jackson NG911 lessons: The cutting edge can cut both ways calls in Alabama, as much as 70 percent in some places. "We have T-Mobile on now," said Jack- son, and the other major national car- riers, Verizon, AT&T and Sprint, along with the regional carriers, are expected to begin the certification process to vali- date connections and protocols soon. "By the middle of spring we should be close to having most of the wireless traffic on." Phase 2 of the ANGEN transition will begin in early 2014 by bringing in wire- line calls, as well. The first PSAP to tap into the IP net- work was Etowah County in northeastern Alabama on Sept. 30, followed by the city of Dothan in the southeast part of the state two days later. "Once the first two were done the learning curve was dra- matically less, and we are turning them on much more quickly now," Jackson said. The biggest achievement with the IP network to date is that the call takers can't see any difference in the service. "Which is a win for us," Jackson said. As additional PSAPs, carriers and types of digital media are brought online, the system is expected to move beyond parity with the legacy. One of the first advantag- es will be the ability to transfer calls eas- ily from one answering center to another. Presently, only those PSAPs that have mutual agreements can transfer calls if one center is unavailable or a call is mis- directed. With the digital system, "we can transfer a call anywhere in the state with one click," Jackson said. That is a big advantage to a Gulf state that is subject to hurricanes in the south and to tornadoes in the north. During the catastrophic tornado outbreak of April 2011 there were areas of the state that were cut off from outside communica- tions, Jackson said. "It was a good ex- ample of why we need to advance to next gen 911." The ultimate goal of Next Generation 911 is to combine voice, video, text and data on a single emergency communica- tions platform, to let callers use the servic- es they are accustomed to on their smart phones and other devices when making emergency calls, as well as provide addi- tional information to first responders. "With the legacy tandem servers we couldn't take in video or text messages," Jackson said. Technically that would be possible with the new system, but "we don't know how to handle it." He esti- mates it will be about three years before ANGEN is fully implemented, and incor- poration of digital media in 911 services can become a reality. Full implementation of NG911 nation- ally will take even longer, Breault said. "It's a good 10 years away," although there will be pockets of functionality such as Alabama and smaller regions well be- fore then. The digital signaling and routing for 911 is not difficult, he said. "What we are doing now is what has already occurred in the commercial world." But 911 ser- vices are lagging the commercial world by 10 to 15 years. The biggest reason for the lag is that 911 systems are publicly funded. That means money often is tight; budgeting cycles make planning for large-scale projects difficult; and fragmented infrastructure, administration and budgeting complicate large-scale roll-out of new services. But as soon as the plans and budgets are ready, the technology will be available. • CASE STUDY EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS