Interoperability of public safety answering points (PSAPs) is not a new concept. In some areas, it has worked quite well for a long time. While there are models of success, there is no one-size-fits-all model for interoperability, regionalization, or consolidation. Every agency and jurisdiction will determine a model based on its location, population, and governance.
Recently, I had a conversation with George Rice, the executive director of iCERT, and Steve Ambrosini, executive director at the IJIS Institute, to get a brief understanding of how today’s technology, trends, and policymakers are changing – and challenging – the way that PSAPs work together to serve multiple jurisdictions.
What benefits do partner agencies experience when working together to plan, implement, operate, and maintain joint systems?
Collaborative efforts across agencies and jurisdictions have led to the onset of a sharing economy in public safety communications. Agencies can often times enhance their technological capacities in a shared environment. Distribution and reuse of capacity provides for expanded access to cutting edge technologies, as well as new operational and technical synergies. Sharing of these resources offer numerous benefits that can lead to reduced costs and efficient services.
How are societal trends (e.g. mobile, social media, etc.) putting pressure on dispatch centers to implement Next Generation 911 (NG911) technology? Can implementation costs prompt PSAPs to work together towards interoperability or regionalization?
Technologies that are commonly available to the general public, such as smartphones and online collaboration tools, have inexorably raised expectations among the public that these capabilities are, or should be, readily available as citizens, residents, and visitors to America look to access emergency services. Many technical, policy-based, financial, and organizational considerations will affect how entities proceed with a resource-sharing design, and even how they can examine the prospect of doing so. Further, the consolidation of radio and dispatch systems offers a high-level of interoperability with first responders on the same system within a certain geographic area.
How are local or state policymakers advocating for command and control centers to work together to employ the latest technology and implement interoperability?
We can look to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for an example of a statewide collaborative effort to foster regionalization and a sharing economy in emergency communications. State and County leaders worked together to pass legislation that established a new funding program for PSAPs across the Commonwealth. The program includes a uniform 911 surcharge fee of $1.65, a uniform 911 fund for collecting surcharges, and updated procedures related to remitting and distributing surcharge revenues to counties and in-state regions. The act, passed in 2015, also requires the development of a statewide 911 plan that includes plans for NG911 technology, while establishing a 911 board to advise on matters related to the administration and operation of 911 systems, including measures to promote NG911 technology, cost-saving measures, and training standards for dispatchers.
Will PSAP interoperability agreements help jurisdictions that do not have the budget or legislative backing for a large consolidation or regionalization undertaking?
Last year, iCERT and IJIS produced a report, titled the Sharing Economy in Public Safety, which examines a series of demographic, technical, policy, financial, and organizational considerations associated with shared services in critical communications. It also provides an audit of existing consolidation efforts. The report shows, among other items, that distribution and reuse of capacity provides for expanded access to cutting edge technologies, as well as new operational and technical synergies. Such sharing can foster uniform capacity across a region, bringing lower-resourced areas up to the level of technical functionality of a nearby higher-resourced area.
What does future funding look like for PSAPs? Are there innovative approaches and efficiencies that can maximize the expenditures made?
A number of prospective funding structures are under consideration across the country to augment the current surcharge model—including the addition of fees on prepaid wireless and VoIP services, as well as expanding the surcharge scope to assess a service fee related to access to 911 from any device capable of doing so. Other proposed options under consideration include a sales tax, property taxes, fees on health insurance, or use of state universal service fees.
Our nation's public safety professionals make technology investment decisions every day. Available funding resources help guide these decisions as agencies look to improve their systems and ensure effective deployment of emergency services. Absent the requisite resources, no emergency communications agency, center, program, or plan can reach its potential or position itself effectively for the future, or even manage optimally in the present.
To explore this topic more, register today for our March 21 webinar, Understanding How PSAP Interoperability is Advancing Command & Control.
Beth Harte is a senior marketing specialist focused on public safety and security.