Chris Carver: Thoughts from NENA 2021

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) welcomed public safety industry experts, exhibitors and attendees to this year’s conference and expo, NENA 2021, in late July in Columbus, Ohio. Of the many noteworthy topics discussed, there was a great deal of energy around mental health of public safety professionals, celebrating and acknowledging women in public safety and the ever-increasing concerns about resiliency and redundancy inside 911 – ensuring that public safety communications can continue and function no matter what is happening.

Breaking down Next Generation 911 (NG911)

One topic generating excitement and engagement was NG911, particularly around the latest version of the i3 standard, the “technical bible” of NG911, which was just released.

NG911 is one of the most important things that’s ever happened with public safety communications in the U.S. or in public safety technology. In a nutshell, a smartphone has a phone component and a data component. The 911 piece still works on the phone part; everything else works on the smart part (apps, location services, email, etc.). All those things are able to leverage the technology behind the scenes in cellular communications that allows enhanced location and data to be shared, from text messages, to video, to information that’s contained within apps.

NG911 is a now 14-year effort to move 911 away from its old-fashioned legacy telephone technology into a world where it can leverage the same digital IP information-based networking that everything else does on your smartphone. That means 911 will automatically be able to leverage improved location technology and be able to share, process and send out data, such as video and text to 911. It will also be easier to establish redundant 911 centers to receive emergency calls when primary locations are impacted by weather or other emergencies.

NG911 is that and so much more; it is the modernization of America’s 911 infrastructure.

More than a phone number

I think the COVID-19 pandemic led to the recognition that there are many disparate organizations touched by 911; it’s not just the people on the other end of the phone. Whether it’s a police car, a fire engine, an ambulance, emergency management or even records management reporting out and analyzing law enforcement events, the one point where it’s all connected is in the emergency communications center or public safety answering point (PSAP). Modernizing those places is unbelievably important – they’re the first place to know about the tornado coming through town or the big auto accident on the highway.

There is a developing realization of just how important 911 is. People really are starting to grasp in an entirely new way that 911 is more than a phone number and does much more than answer a phone call. And that the people who work in those 911 centers are not just people answering a phone – they are coordinating, managing and deploying the emergency resources of a community.

The 911 center is the essential emergency hub of a community. That’s what so great about events like NENA. They bring people together who are sharing information and technology and challenge them to think about how they’re going to adapt to the future and enhance their services even more.

Part of something bigger

I don’t really hear a lot that’s new at these conferences, but in a way, I find that unbelievably reassuring, because each new generation has so much connection back to the past. It provides a thread of connection and continuity and reminds us that we are part of something so much bigger, something that has been around a long time before and will be around a long time to come, even if the faces and the technology change.

One of the great things about a conference is that you start to see people gain an understanding that, number one, they’re not alone. Because 911 is the newest of the public safety professions, they’re still the “forgotten stepchildren” in some ways. Many times, the 911 center is in the literal and figurative basement of the public safety world. A lot of times they don’t feel appreciated, they don’t feel understood and they don’t feel as though they’re valued.

When you see folks go to a conference for the first time, you can just tell, because they’ve got this brightness to them, that they realize that they are part of something so much bigger and there are other folks experiencing things similar to them. They may not have the same stories, but they certainly rhyme.

Watching that happen is one of the most beautiful gifts you get in your profession.

In case you missed us

I hope you got a chance to stop by our booth at NENA 2021, where we featured our HxGN OnCall public safety portfolio, our next-gen solutions that leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and our newest offering, HxGN Connect. If not, learn more here.

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