New testing and certification program, laboratory will improve the functionality of our national 911 system.
First responders safeguard our communities from threats ranging from unexpected natural disasters to COVID-19 and flu cases to daily emergencies, illnesses, and injuries. According to statistics from the National Emergency Number Association, an estimated 240 million calls are routed to first responders every year via our country’s 911 system. It is critical that responders and operators have access to the best tools and resources available so that they can effectively answer these calls quickly and accurately and keep our communities safe.
The Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is collaborating with several partners to ensure that they not only gain this access, but to also enhance technology for a more seamless communication capability. To do this, S&T joined forces with the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute (CIRI) Center of Excellence, the Department of Transportation, Texas A&M University’s Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC), and other government and private stakeholders to develop and implement a Next Generation 911 (NG911) interoperability testing and certification program and laboratory that will focus on improving interoperability testing of solutions accessed across 911 platforms at the state and local levels. The ultimate goal of this resource will be to enhance the efficacy of the national 911 system as it transitions to a digital NG911 system designed to utilize and accommodate newer communications services that are now used by callers, dispatchers, and first responders.
“Each state and county in the U.S. is responsible for managing its own 911 platforms and services,” said program manager David Canty of S&T's Office of University Programs. “As of February 2021, there were 5,748 disparate 911 platforms in the U.S., each operating its own technologies, components, and processes for sending and receiving calls and routing and dispatching emergency medical services. However, most of these platforms utilize analog technologies that aren’t designed to optimally support our increasingly multimedia-driven communications infrastructure and capabilities, like text or photo messaging, internet-based voice and video calling, location sharing, and call forwarding and transferring. All of these are commonly used to relay critical information over our national 911 system.”
The primary goal of this lab is to provide operators, manufacturers, and vendors with a physical and virtual test facility that offers standards, guidelines, and metrics that can be used to test and validate interoperability of their technology solutions.
“End-to-end interoperability of NG911 components and systems is critical for ensuring that all forms of communication—whether voice, text, or video—are quickly relayed from callers to responders,” said CIRI executive director Randall Sandone. “Lives, literally, may depend on it.”
This multi-phase joint effort has been underway since 2020. In the first phase, S&T, CIRI, and ITEC conducted community outreach efforts among various stakeholders and partners in the 911 space (e.g., equipment manufacturers and vendors, industry associations, standards bodies, testing organizations, and first responders) to foster relationships and study the requirements for and feasibility of developing these resources.
“The initial stages of this effort really focused on understanding the concerns of our target audiences and key users; getting their support; and working with them to make sure we accounted for critical technical, business, and safety considerations,” said S&T Program Manager Sridhar Kowdley. “So far, their feedback has been essential to developing the basic framework, protocols, and requirements for both the program and lab; and will help establish a business plan that will make it self-sustaining once it’s been implemented in the field.”
Development of the interoperability testing and certification program and lab is currently in phase two, which is running until late 2023.
This phase focuses on defining which components of a 911 system will need to be tested with vendor solutions along with developing related conformance, compatibility, and interoperability tests and test cases and setting up baselines for determining metrics for success and effectiveness in the field.
Future activities will focus on collecting the data needed to conduct interoperability testing and certification, setting up databases to host relevant testbeds and scripts, setting up the infrastructure and processes that will allow users to connect to the laboratory to conduct testing, and running pilot tests and documenting the results in a final report.
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