As the Public Safety GIS manager for the state of Tennessee, I found the NENA conference, held between February 5th and February 8th in Orlando, Florida, to be an enlightening experience. I continue to be amazed by the role of GIS in the Next Generation 9-1-1 systems. The role GIS will play in Next Generation 9-1-1 is as crucial as any of the hardware equipment in a public safety access point (PSAP).
One-sixth of the tracks at the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) development conference were dedicated to GIS and the role it will play in Next Generation 9-1-1. On opening day of the conference, the GIS theme was so widely embraced it became necessary to move the track to a larger room in order to accommodate the audience. Given the importance GIS will have in Next Generation 9-1-1 it was fantastic to see such a large portion of the development conference dedicated to it. The current process for delivering a 9-1-1 call uses a tabular look-up at the trunk level to direct the call to the PSAP. If a 9-1-1 center receives notification of a new street in the district it currently has to update the Master Street Address Guide (MSAG) and provide the update to the phone company. In the Next Generation 9-1-1 process the 9-1-1 district will be required to add that street to its GIS data, which then would get pushed up to the emergency call routing function/location validation function (ECRF/LVF) through a designated process. This process has to contain quality controls for the data as they get loaded in to ensure the data meet the stringent GIS quality requirements that will be imperative for the Next Generation 9-1-1 system to operate effectively.
Other items discussed during the GIS track included additional data layers that could be developed and utilized in the PSAPs to assist the dispatchers with locating a call more efficiently. Those features included, but were not limited to, trail markers, railroad tracks, gas pipelines, and landmarks that the caller might be able to reference in cases of emergency.
The final session on Tuesday broached the subject of site/structure location placement or the placement options of address points and how the placement of the address point in different locations can impact the view of data by the dispatchers. For example, having the address point as a parcel centroid is not advisable because the house from which the 9-1-1 call originated may be a significant distance away from the center of the parcel. This is a common situation in rural areas where parcel tracts are typically larger due to forest land or farmland. This discussion led to debate on whether or not NENA should create a working group to develop documentation for this topic.
Throughout the entire conference what stood out to me was that it seemed like many in the 9-1-1 community may not understand the role GIS will play in the future of the industry. It also seemed that some of the attendees in the GIS track may not have understood the vast variances in expertise that exist in the 9-1-1 districts. Some of the requirements for the GIS and the quality levels required are going to be extremely difficult for many districts to achieve. Not all districts are going to have the resources available to them to build out the data required or even to help them understand the true role that the GIS is playing and why it is a benefit over the current system. The message needs to be conveyed to the 9-1-1 community that implementation of a successful GIS system is critical to the success of Next Generation 9-1-1. This message must be conveyed sooner rather than later to all 9-1-1 districts to ensure they are working on their GIS systems, and that they will be functional and compliant with Next Generation 9-1-1.