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CalOES Insider Touts Progress With Next-Gen 9-1-1

In this excerpt from an online essay, the 9-1-1 branch manager for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services explains how the state and its vendor partners are making progress in linking communications needed for emergency response.

Following is an excerpt from an essay by Budge Currier, the 9-1-1 branch manager for the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) and California’s statewide interoperability coordinator. 

It’s been drilled into us since we were kids: When there’s an emergency, grab a phone and dial 9-1-1. Those three magic numbers ensure that first responders — including police officers, firefighters and paramedics — come to our rescue.

Unfortunately, most 9-1-1 networks across the country use decades-old infrastructure that relies on the circuit-switching, analog technology that does not support today’s needs. They’re simply not equipped for today’s mobile and digital communications tools, and that means a lot of people may not get help as quickly as they need it. 

A Much-Needed Upgrade

California’s 9-1-1 infrastructure has needed an upgrade for years. The state put together a framework to transition to the Next-Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) standard in 2017, but the funding, regulations and contracts to do so were not in place. We began to work with the California Legislature, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the California Department of Technology (CDT) and the vendor community to build out NG9-1-1 in California. 

Meanwhile, the situation was getting desperate. Our statewide 9-1-1 system experienced 10,000 to 20,000 minutes of downtime a month, stemming from two types of outages. The first is what we call community isolation. That’s when 9-1-1 is up and running, but the local phone system, such as landlines, cell towers or a VoIP provider, can’t connect to it. The other type of outage is when the local phone system has the ability to make the call but can’t connect to the local PSAP (public safety answering point). Add the dramatic rise in natural disasters, including California’s recent wildfires, and it was clear that we needed to act.

We also had limited fallback capability. When a local PSAP fails, we can route calls to another nearby answer location. But if the outage also impacts the alternative answer location, then the call can’t be routed properly unless someone manually reroutes the call. In the instance that a central office or router that controlled the original and fallback PSAPs is offline, there is no way to redirect the call. These points of failure posed a problem because there was no mitigation strategy. The 9-1-1 call couldn’t go through, putting Californians at great risk. 

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