Geospatial Technology: Next generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) to be next big thing!

June 26, 2020

Few initiatives illustrate the opportunities and challenges inherent in the use of geospatial data as well as the move to next generation 9-1-1 services (NG9-1-1). As emergency response systems transition from switched network landline infrastructure to Internet Protocol communications, the organizations tasked with managing emergency response systems are envisioning a blank canvas to be filled by entirely new categories of rich data, where (almost) anything is possible. Anyone designing an emergency response system from scratch in 2020 would have a common set of basic requirements: First, precisely determining the location of the emergency – not just as a point on a map, but complete with sub-address data including location within a structure, the nature of that structure and the nature of the surrounding topography that might affect the ability of first responders to act effectively. Then, calculating that location relative to the various 9-1-1 call centers to which telcos route emergency calls – and then the optimal routing for first responders, taking into account the ground truth of each potential route.

The underlying opportunities inherent in those system requirements: over time, provide first responders with an incredibly rich data set that could include a 3D model of house on fire – complete with any barriers, access points, bedroom locations, and building materials – optimal routing to the destination and even live updates. The challenges: developing and/or gaining access to the geospatial imagery (complete with annotation) and integrating that data within the NG9-1-1 infrastructure. And doing so with a common metadata structure that can be implemented across multiple constituencies, services areas and first responder organizations. That dual set of challenges and opportunities also creates an opening for public and private sector organizations that already collect, annotate, and organize geospatial data for other purposes. NG9-1-1 infrastructure developers are already eying ways to integrate annotated imagery in call response centers – but gaining access to that data is a significant challenge and will likely remain the case for the next few years at least. This will be a walk first and then run transition.

“We’re preparing for the impact of GIS on (next generation) 9-1-1,” says Robert Darts, Senior Service Delivery Manager, Fire Technology and GIS, at E-Comm 911, the emergency services center operator for much of British Columbia, Canada. Darts, who co-chairs two of the Canadian standardization bodies for NG9-1-1, notes that much if not all of the Canadian standards related to GIS will likely closely match the work already in progress under the auspices of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), the US standards setting body for emergency response infrastructure. The new NENA Standard for NG9-1-1 GIS Data Model specifies three types of spatial data for its initial implementation:

  • Points – Discrete locations such as address points, premise locations, and hydrants.
  • Lines – Linear features, such as roads, rivers, and railways.
  • Polygons – Geographic coverage areas such as (public safety answering points i.e.- 9-1-1 call center) boundaries, Emergency Service Boundaries, and cities.

Just as importantly, it establishes a common set of metadata attributes for the exchange and use of GIS data, as well as a roadmap for rich data sets based on multiple GIS data file formats. The standard also leverages existing GIS data specifications, including the World Geodetic System 1984 (WGS84) as well as the geodetic parameters specified by the European Petroleum Survey Group for both 2D and 3D geometries. The planned transition, expected to take several more years, will include coordination with local and regional governments in the US and Canada, including what amounts to a gap analysis of available GIS data. As Darts notes, local and/or state/provincial governments will need to aggregate entire libraries of new data for emergency response systems. “Some smaller governments might not have all the data,” he says. Regardless, the days of emergency response call centers relying solely on raw Google Map and Earth data are numbered.