Senior GIS specialist speaks at KACo regarding NextGen 9-1-1

How does Next Generation 9-1-1 differ from our current Enhanced 9-1-1? Why do we need to understand the difference? These questions are what NKAPC staff member Tom East was asked to explain to the 39th Annual Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo) Conference held last month at the Galt House in Louisville.

East, a senior GIS specialist, was invited to present to because of his GIS experience, his history of developing address point databases and road centerline layers for LINK-GIS partner organizations, and his understanding of the steps necessary to prepare for the transition to the new technology.

“Explosive growth of cell phone usage and the concurrent decline in land lines is driving this change,” said East. “Enhanced 9-1-1 was designed to work with land lines and callers with fixed locations. The cell phone has completely changed the rules of the game. Add to that the additional capabilities of smartphones—texting, messaging, cameras, video and internet connectivity—and the limits of Enhanced 9-1-1 are quickly exposed. Younger generations in particular expect dispatchers to be able to use these new technologies.”

East continues, “The decline in land lines is reducing the funding stream for dispatch centers, while county and city general funds have been pressured for several years by the state of the economy. All these factors have come together, feeding the ‘perfect storm’ that is driving the change.”

East explained to the attendees that Next Generation 9-1-1 has been designed to handle the new technologies and capabilities while also solving some of the problems Enhanced 9-1-1 cannot.

“Next Generation 9-1-1 is designed with GIS, or computerized maps, at its core. It won’t function without this map which must include roads, dispatch service areas, cell tower locations and address databases. Fortunately, a great deal of this information is already available, but the electronic infrastructure required still needs to be developed and built, along with a solution for the funding issues.”

East participates in a National Emergency Numbering Association (NENA) work group developing recommendations for the creation of address point databases to be used in emergency dispatch systems. Last month he co-chaired the national “Locating the Future” Conference, sponsored by the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) and NENA in St. Louis.