NG911 and FirstNet

Bringing 911 into the Digital Age

Table of Contents Bringing 911 Into Digital Age
Next Generation 911: Adapting for a Digital World
A More Robust System that Offers Better Information for Responders
NG911 & Law Enforcement
First Response with NG911
Medical Emergencies & NG911
NG911: A Game Changer


The future of 911 is when your grandmother’s implanted heart monitor detects an arrhythmia and summons paramedics to her house before she even knows there is a problem. It’s when a car relies on its computerized telemetry system to communicate data about a car crash after a teenage driver hits a tree in the middle of the night. The data generated by the car crash suggests a high likelihood of severe injury, so a helicopter is automatically dispatched along with ground-based EMS for faster transport to the nearest trauma center.

In the future, 911 will receive photos and videos directly from a home security system during a home invasion and provide those images to the smartphone of the police officer responding to the scene.

These examples illustrate the current and future capabilities of the mobileand digital-adapted, internet protocol (IP)-based 911 system now being built, called Next Generation 911 (NG911).

Next Generation 911: Adapting for a Digital World
Bringing 911 Into Digital AgeThe NG911 system will allow 911 callers to share videos, images, and texts with dispatchers. NG911 will be able to take in data and notifications from digitally connected devices such as car computers, computerized home alarms, building sensors and wearable monitors, which are all part of the Internet of Things (IoT). This information will be routed through NG911 from callers to public safety answering points (PSAPs). Once standards and interfaces are developed, a variety of applications and software will allow the flow of data from NG911 to first responders through FirstNet - the wireless broadband network used by public safety responders.

A More Robust System that Offers Better Information for Responders
NG911 systems will replace the nation’s current 911 infrastructure, which is largely comprised of old, less flexible and soon-to-be-obsolete technology. NG911 offers a more robust, interconnected and reliable infrastructure, and faster, digital transfer of calls between PSAPs. In cases of natural disaster, for example, calls can easily be transferred from one PSAP to another if a PSAP is physically damaged. The digital system makes it easier to load-share between PSAPs, which is critical to a 911 system’s responsiveness and the need to coordinate multiple agencies. Not only does this make the 911 system more resilient, it also ensures access to more real-time information for 911 dispatchers, law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical services.

NG911 & Law Enforcement
Real-time data such as livestreaming video could help many kinds of emergency responders, including law enforcement officers. Eddie Reyes, Senior Law Enforcement Project Manager at The Police Foundation, and retired deputy police chief of the Alexandria Police Department in Virginia, points out that NG911 could help in a child abduction case, for example.

“When a child goes missing, a photo of that child and the suspected abductor could be circulated to the computer in the squad car or the smartphone of every officer in the area,” Reyes says. “With NG911 and FirstNet in place, there may be faster apprehension of the suspect.”

Reyes suggests NG911 can also better protect crime victims. When a caller cannot safely talk on the phone, for example with a domestic violence incident, the victim might be able to text a 911 request instead. In these cases, text to 911 could help summon law enforcement sooner, while helping to keep the person safe. Texting is also available in some non-NG911 environments, but it is native to an NG911 system.

NG911’s capabilities can also enhance legal investigations conducted after a crime or an emergency.

“Once citizens become aware that NG911 allows them to send data, they can send photos and videos to law enforcement that will assist with an investigation,” Reyes says.

Fire Response with NG911
Bringing 911 Into Digital AgeFor fire professionals, NG911 will also have wide reaching applications. In the last century, firefighting has changed dramatically through a concerted focus on fire prevention and enforcing more stringent building codes. Now, as modern building construction moves towards the standard inclusion of digitally connected alarms, sensors and video monitors, these networked devices can transmit valuable information to PSAPs collecting information about a scene where evidence of a fire has been detected. These connected devices can collect information such as real-time temperature, sprinkler use, blocked exits, carbon monoxide levels or other hazards. This information can then be transmitted to responders, helping them to make more informed decisions at the scene.

Fire protection engineers like Casey Grant, the Executive Director of the Fire Protection Research Foundation, welcomes NG911’s data-rich features as key informants for the often dangerous job of firefighting.

“During an emergency event, seconds matter,” Grant says. “You have to make correct decisions with the right amount and quality of data.”

In emergency response, the safety of first responders is paramount. The information supplied through NG911’s infrastructure contributes to increased situational awareness. Grant suggests that the data from NG911 is not just useful for active incidents. It is also important for preplanning and for post-incident investigations.

“We can harvest this data and sculpt it into wisdom for greater safety on future applications,” Grant says.

Medical Emergencies & NG911
Bringing 911 Into Digital AgeThe information available through NG911 will also help drive better patient care in emergencies in a variety of circumstances, including car crashes, which are responsible for more than 32,000 deaths in United States every year. In newer cars that are equipped with computerized telemetry systems, NG911 will be able to receive notifications and data from the car’s computer, which could include information such as speed at impact, direction of impact, number of occupants, air bag deployment, etc. Using an algorithm to analyze this data, researchers have been able to accurately predict when an occupant is likely to have severe injuries and require specialized equipment to be dispatched to the scene and then transported to a trauma center.

“Internal injuries that a crash victim may suffer are not always visible to the first responders on the scene,” says Dr. Paul Stiegler, medical director for OnStar. “Injuries might be missed or underestimated.”

The communication of information between the car’s computer system and a PSAP, and then out to first responders is an example of how NG911 can enable faster dispatch of more effective resources.

NG911 also has application in other situations: patients who call 911 with non-emergent concerns. Across the country, many EMS services have launched community paramedic programs to respond and triage patients who call 911 but aren’t in need of transport to an emergency department. These community paramedics are tasked with navigating patients to urgent care clinics, consultation with primary care providers or medical management in the home.

Jonathan Washko, Assistant Vice President of Operations at Northwell Health EMS in Syosset, New York, is a big proponent of NG911’s potential video capabilities, which will allow first responders to use telehealth applications to connect with 911 callers. Community paramedics on Washko’s team are currently using high-fidelity video and sound to create telemedicine connections in patients’ homes, and transmit real-time vital signs and other health data to a physician. Washko, refers to these EMS providers as “physician extenders,” and points out that with the help of telemedicine connections, they can help navigate patients to the appropriate care, which results in better medical outcomes and use of resources.

“We are able to keep these patients in their homes when they do not need a hospital visit,” he says. “We’ve had 98% customer satisfaction, and we’ve saved $7,900 per patient per visit.”

Triaging 911 callers who have non-emergent medical concerns using telemedicine is just one potential application of NG911 and video. Washko takes it even further, envisioning a future in which PSAPs will deploy drones to mass casualty incidents or active shooter events and use NG911 to provide live video of the incident to the authorities.

NG911: A Game Changer
Although all the uses and applications of NG911 are not yet known, it is clear that this more robust, mobile- and digitally-adapted system will revolutionize how the public can communicate in emergencies, by allowing them to share texts, videos, audio recordings, and pictures with call-takers and dispatchers. Increasingly, NG911 will also be able interface with the myriad of smart sensors and devices, including wearables, alarms, building sensors, car computers, home monitoring systems, etc. In turn, this richer and potentially real-time information can be shared with first responders across the FirstNet network, a critical improvement which will help them to be better informed and operate more safely.◆