The Future of 9-1-1

Archive for July, 2008

Heck, the IRS did it.

Posted by sip911 on July 28, 2008

Don't be scared of the internet

We should not be scared of the internet

Update 1 is below

When I hear about the challenges of moving 9-1-1 into the future, privacy and security are at the forefront. My question is this: are the unique demands of securing 9-1-1 information so different than our other personal information, like our financial information? Should we apply a higher, more stringent standard for safeguarding customer location information? Why?

I paid my taxes on line this year. Every single step, from submission of my W-2s, to my deductions, to my signature was entirely electronic. I was able to link to my records and even submit my payments to the IRS. Financial information used to be so private and the internet so scary that many thought we’d never get to the point where we’d make such a transaction on line. In addition, the IRS is regularly knocked as an unchanging behemoth that moves too slow.

We trust the internet more than ever before. We do our banking online. We can buy just about anything online. We post our families pictures, videos, blogs, and other personal information out there in record numbers.

Ok, sure, in this age of electronic commerce we do face more risk of identity theft. It’s a problem. But is it one that should limit us in providing the highest level of emergency services? One study from the FTC reports that 3.7% of the population surveyed, equivalent to 8.3 million people experienced identity theft in 2006. That compares to measures of 4.7% in 2003. However, the 2006 study emphasizes that the difference is not statistically significant and surveying methods could explain the decrease. In any case, it is accurate to say that identity theft did not increase from 2003 to 2006. We’ve become more aware of it and more protective of our information. In addition, suppliers of services have put in place more tools to safeguard our information.

More interestingly, a recent story in the Washington Post tells of a study by the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Strategy and Research, a consulting firm for the financial services industry shows that the internet is not where most of the theft is occurring!

…most of the compromised data is not taken through the Internet. In fact, the traditional offline channels, such as lost or stolen wallets, checkbooks or credit cards, continue to be the primary source of ID theft. What’s more, almost half of all identity theft is perpetrated by someone the victim knows: friends, neighbors, family members, in-home employees, etc. And with nearly 70 percent of consumers shredding documents, trash also is not a great source of compromised data, the survey says.

Are Americans willing to give up the conveniences of the web because of this increase in identity crimes? It does not seem so. In fact, we are sharing more. Based on the continued increase every day in on line usage and recent trends to share more about themselves, it sure seems like we are not afraid. Hundreds of millions of users (at least 350M+ according to Morgan Stanley) publish more and more about themselves in places like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIN, etc. That doesn’t even touch the millions that blog. The internet empowers us to make connections and share information in ways never imagined before.

My challenge to the trendsetters in the 9-1-1 community is to challenge positions or policies that the internet has no place in the future of 9-1-1. It sure seems that we are at a place where it can’t be dismissed out of fear or history. There are tremendous technological and economic benefits to embracing the advances of the web from cutting-edge software development to rapidly-advancing security options. In addition, the web provides unlimited tools to help make critical information available to call takers when they need it and offers callers a way to make their personal information available to responders.



Just to clarify, current thinking in 9-1-1 is that we utilize an Emergency Services Network, or ESINet, to keep traffic and information secure.   I’m not necessarily advocating going away from this concept to use the Internet instead.  It does make sense, though, to consider what level of engineering and security is required for the ESINet given the relative success some have had in using the internet for secure, private transactions.  And, if you want to make the leap to discuss using the internet for 9-1-1, that would make a real interesting discussion.


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9-1-1 + innovation = opportunity. Is anyone grabbing it?

Posted by sip911 on July 16, 2008

Not so long ago....

E9-1-1 has never been a place for innovation. This is for a variety of reasons: lack of capital, lack of funding, lack of motivation, or lack of demand. Advances in Public Safety Communications have been forced by changes in consumer technology and not innovation by service providers. (Some basic history and background is here and here.) The system served its needs to locate fixed-location callers but did not advance at the pace of other technologies. The first new demands on the system started with the Telecom Act of 1996, which opened up the industry to greater competition and the number of CLEC service providers exploded (and later imploded). Side note: I remember being a part of the initial efforts to connect CLECs to the exisiting 9-1-1 update process and having to explain why MSAG files were being provided on magnetic tape. The CLECs were flush with cash, new technology and tons of bravado and had to spend money to send files over a dial-up modem? I remember a CEO or two shaking their heads.

In addition, new breakthroughs in cellular technology has made the cell phone ubiquitious. Unfortunately those darn callers moved. Adding support to mobile callers dramatically impacted the 9-1-1 system creating opportunities and challenges for industry leaders like Intrado and TCS. Solutions were created, adding more capabilities on top of the existing 9-1-1 system, leading to diagrams that look like this (click on image if you really want to read it, although I don’t recommend it):

Not pretty

Not pretty

It worked. It gave cellular 9-1-1 callers a level of service and we moved on. However, with the continued advancement of mobile phones, VoIP plus new challenges like the popularity of SMS text messages. E9-1-1 systems are at a breaking point. Don’t take my word for it. The 9-1-1 Alliance put out a report on the health of the 9-1-1 system and very first finding is “Consumer technology has surpassed that of the 9-1-1 System,” It goes on to say:

Most agree with me that we can’t keep layering more one-offs on top of the existing system (besides, there’s no more room on the diagram.) We, therefore, (a) have a problem, (b) can solve the problem with new, existing technologies AND (c) these new technologies can make things better for emergency responders. That, if I recall my B-school market strategy classes, is called an opportunity (ding, ding ding! – 10 points for me) So where’s the flood of energy and money and technology to take advantage of this opportunity? Where are the major announcements of breakthroughs? Whose beating who in raising gazillions of dollars from Venture Capitalists?

Um, well, I’m looking for it. I’ll be writing about it here in a weekly series.

One place to check out is Emergent Communications, my employer and creator of this blog. We’re pretty biased, but we think we got something pretty cool here.

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9-1-1 as critical infrastructure

Posted by sip911 on July 8, 2008

Improving our “Infrastructure” has been a low, steady drumbeat by some in the local, state, and national press lately. Many aspects of life we take for granted are badly in need of repair like roads, bridges, and schools . The recent flooding in Iowa and before that in New Orleans reminds us of how important preventive systems are and how much we rely on emergency response when crises occur. 9-1-1 is infrastructure too. And this infrastructure can’t fail. It’s imperative that we become part of this conversation.

I’ll write more on this in the future.


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