Because most 911 systems were originally built using analog rather than digital technologies, Public Safety Answering Points, PSAPs (dispatch centers) across the country need to be upgraded to a digital or Internet Protocol (IP)-based 911 system, commonly referred to as Next Generation 911 (NG911).
NG911 enhances dispatch services to create a faster, more resilient system that allows voice, photos, videos and text messages to flow seamlessly from the public to the 911 network. NG911 will also help dispatch services manage call overload, natural disasters, and transferring of 911 calls based on location tracking. For example, if there's an accident on a highway, NG911 can divert repetitive 9-1-1 calls to a message indicating that Public Safety dispatch has been notified of the particular incident, and redirect duplicate calls to a queue where additional info like photos or videos may be submitted. This frees up dispatchers to handle other emergency calls more quickly.
The transition to NG911 involves much more than just new computer hardware and software. Implementing NG911 in states and counties nationwide requires coordination of a variety of emergency communication, public safety, legislative and governing entities.
With NG911, dispatch applications will be totally reliant on GIS mapping so the first step is to evaluate and "tune" GIS databases. In 2017, the Montana State Library GIS team contracted a statewide study whereby GIS Departments from each county submitted their mapped address points, road lines, and ESZs (Emergency Service Zones that dictate what agencies respond where). The MSAG (master street address guide), and phone customer list were also cross-referenced to determine where there are discrepancies between the datasets. Not only was this an efficient way to "scrub" the data and make necessary edits, but to provide a level-of-readiness assessment.
Once fully implemented, not only will Montana PSAPs be interconnected, but NG911 will achieve a nationwide NG911 "system of systems." This will ensure better management of 911-call traffic and support for emergencies where mutual aid is required, such as with wildfires.