Thanks to Warwick Senator Michael McCaffrey, the conversation about updating Rhode Island’s 9-1-1 system has picked up speed; McCaffrey introduced legislation to look at the implications, cost and more related to bringing Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) to the state.
NG911 is an Internet Protocol-based (IP-based) emergency response system that would allow for a better flow of information from callers to first responders. It also allows for the use of text messaging, picture messaging and video calling to 9-1-1 operators.
McCaffrey’s bill (S-2576) would have the E-911 Uniform Emergency Telephone System division fund and conduct a study on this potential upgrade.
In a press release, McCaffrey said, “Our system, as is, most certainly warrants consideration for an upgrade. It’s not a matter of our current system being unsafe. It’s a matter of making the system more efficient and in line with technological advances. The people who created the 9-1-1 system in the 1960s did not foresee the emergence of the digital technology we have today. Using text messages and video could absolutely save more lives, especially in situations where a victim is afraid to alert a perpetrator to his or her presence.”
The study would look at how to best implement the system in the most cost-effective manner.
In a recent phone interview, McCaffrey said he was alerted to this issue when a constituent asked if he was aware that 9-1-1 could not receive texts, a daily form of communication.
McCaffrey had research done, and also learned that if a victim is calling 9-1-1 from a cell phone, it is not known where the call is originating.
McCaffrey explained that when calling from a landline, the number is connected to the address so even if the caller is unable to tell the operator where they are, the location of the call is provided. When calling from a cell phone, if the caller can’t give a location, responders don’t have a location.
“The capabilities are out there,” said McCaffrey, who admits he is not an expert in emergency response. “That’s the reason I filed it.”
In his legislation, McCaffrey requests a final report be complete by Dec. 31, 2016 to examine a variety of issues, including framework for the management and funding of E-911 in Rhode Island, assessment of the current system, FCC open rule-making regarding NG911, current NG911 initiatives in Rhode Island and other states, and estimated cost.
According to the release, if the system is implemented, there are federal grants available to assist with cost; 29 states and territories have received such grants.
Cranston Fire Chief William McKenna explained that Cranston’s department is one of only two in the state to already have this system; the other is Westerly.
“We have this system; we’ll be rolling it out in the next week or so,” said McKenna. “It’s going to give us the ability to have the street map given to use through the [GPS system].”
McKenna explained that having every emergency response department on the same system could only be helpful in the long run. When responding to calls in other areas that the responders might not know as well, they would be able to distinguish exactly where the emergency is.
“If they have a community with similar sounding streets or the same street as another community or one’s a street and one’s an avenue, we’d be able to distinguish that easier,” said McKenna.
The new system also allows for updated building plans and to track where the apparatus is on the road from the department.
“I’m 100 percent behind it,” said McKenna. “We’re excited to have it here.”
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian was also supportive of the possibility of bringing the updated system to the state.
“With the rise of technology, this legislation will allow for multiple options for people to contact first responders. It should be a win-win situation for residents and for public safety professionals as well,” said Avedisian in an email.
The Next Generation 9-1-1 initiative is listed as a “Research Success Story” on the website for United States Department of Transportation Research and Innovative Technology Administration. The initial study of this upgrade was completed in September 2006, but the overview does say there are a number of challenges and barriers to nationwide implementation such as out-dated technology and funding.
According to the page, “the NG 9-1-1 system is envisioned as an interconnected system of local and regional emergency service networks [‘system of systems’],” and that the public use of wireless phones and Internet call services such as Skype or Vonage have led to higher expectations for a system designed around the home telephone.
The site lists numerous capabilities the NG911 system has when implemented, including text, photo and video capabilities, call access, transfer and backup among and between public safety answering points, the ability to receive auto crash data such as crash velocity and roll-over status from services such as On-Star, and the ability to forward relevant photos and data on to emergency responders such as medical teams.
A hearing on McCaffrey’s bill was held on March 20 in the Senate; it was held for further study, however McCaffrey feels the response was very positive. One senator even suggested shortening the study period before technology changes again. According to a video about NG911, it takes into account changing technology and is prepared to accommodate emerging technologies as they come. For more information, visit www.911.gov/ng911video/test/index.html.