Next generation 911 adds reliability and features

Next generation 911 adds reliability and features

MARQUETTE — A new 911 infrastructure is already routing calls around the Upper Peninsula, having replaced some nearly 30 year old technology.

“This is very possibly the most advanced 911 system deployed anywhere in the country, and we managed to do it in the U.P. We’re really excited about that,” said Thom Sumbler, who specializes in Sales and Business Development for Peninsula Fiber Network, LLC.

The 911 service is key to getting law enforcement, fire fighters, and ambulances where they need to be in the shortest amount of time possible when emergencies strike. A Next Generation 911 Call Management System was recently implemented across the Upper Peninsula after a 6 year long collaborative process between the 15 U.P. counties, the Upper Peninsula 911 Authority, and Peninsula Fiber Network of Marquette. The new system, in addition to being designed to fulfill stringent FCC requirements for redundancy, resiliency, and reliability, allows Public Service Answering Points, or PSAPs, to seamlessly share incoming call loads.

“It allows a PSAP to be able to not be overrun by calls that are coming into it,” Sumbler added. “If there’s a catastrophe or something and several calls hit at one time, they can now share the coverage of those calls through multiple PSAPs.”

“A prime example would be if a really bad thunderstorm or a tornado comes through and hits Marquette County and Alger County both. Well, it doesn’t make sense for Alger and Marquette to be sharing calls, because we’re both going to be busy. We can now distribute those calls to centers that aren’t affected by the storm that can help us out,” said Gary Johnson, Manager of Marquette County Central Dispatch.

The secure network eliminates the single points of failure found in the old system. It consists of buried fiber optic cable and state–of–the–art equipment and software linking the U.P.’s 8 PSAPs via Internet Protocol or IP.

“When we talk about IP, we’re not talking about over the public Internet,” said PFN General Manager David McCartney. “This is (a) private network. This is completely standalone, and firewalls are at each one of the locations. That was one of the issues – none of the PSAPs are allowed to have an Internet connection directly to their equipment.”

Contacting 911 via text is another capability of the system that will be enabled over the coming months.

“It would never dawn on me at my age to text to 911, or probably wouldn’t, but our kids definitely will,” Sumbler added. “Kids were raised with texting, and so they’re going to think about that. There are times when you can’t make a call, and a text is the most practical way of communicating. If there’s an intruder or something of that nature, you’re going to want to be able to text so that you’re not talking.”

“I think where that really is a benefit in a lot of areas where you have a very low signal, where you can’t get a voice call out, you probably will be able to get a text message out,” said Johnson.

Text capability also allows for another interesting side–effect: mobile users will be able to forward media from their devices to dispatchers, providing responders with additional information about the situation at hand.

“For instance, somebody witnesses, say, a robbery at a bank, and they snap a cell phone picture of the car leaving the scene, we’ll be able to get that picture right out into the field in real time,” Johnson added.

Despite all of the new technology being added to the 911 service, dialing 911 from a traditional phone will work as always.