FirstNet, Next Generation 9-1-1 and Connected Vehicles
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May 13, 2019
The intended purpose of this paper is to define the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (FirstNet), Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1), and connected vehicles and why these emerging technologies are important to the public safety sector, and the public who live, work and travel in the United States.
This paper looks at the history of FirstNet, NG 9-1-1, and connected vehicles and presents an overall picture of where these technologies are today and what the near future holds.
The nation's 9-1-1 system has been a tremendous success for more than 40 years. However, changes in the public's use of technology and the growing market for both wireless and voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP) telephone systems have contributed to greater expectations than the existing 9-1-1 system can deliver. The proliferation of highly mobile, dynamic communication devices requires capabilities that do not exist today for 9-1-1 emergency call centers. When people call for help during emergencies, it is critical that emergency call centers have the ability to:
Most of today's emergency call centers, or 9-1-1 public safety answering points (PSAPs), face challenges that prevent easy transmission of data and critical sharing of information that can enhance the decision-making ability, response, and quality of service provided to emergency callers, as well as provide information that will help keep first responders safe.
These technology challenges include the use of older, analog-based (copper wire) infrastructure and equipment, which does not allow for, and cannot take advantage of, all the information a caller can provide via their smart phone. In addition, most of today's PSAPs cannot efficiently transfer calls from one PSAP to another when the call volume exceeds available resources.
In today's 9-1-1 environment, the public can primarily only make emergency voice calls and teletype calls (by deaf or hearing-impaired persons). Only minimal data is delivered with these calls, such as Automatic Number Identification (ANI), subscriber name, and Automatic Location Identification (ALI), when available.
Recognizing that the growing use of mobile phones would impact emergency communications, national 9-1-1 associations have called for all 9-1-1 call centers to begin upgrading their systems from analog, copper-based wire communications to systems that can integrate with mobile-wireless technology and digital data. The fundamental difference for PSAPs that upgrade to the NG 9-1-1 infrastructure will be a shift away from analog technology to an Internet Protocol (IP) based system, which can interface with today's technology and link PSAPs across the country.
Early work on NG 9-1-1 was done in concert and independently at the national level by organizations such as the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), and the Department of Transportation (DOT), to name a few. These organizations provided the initial vision and framework for how to integrate wireless and digital communications within the 9-1-1 infrastructure.
In the Next Generation 9-1-1 environment, the public will be able to make voice, text, or video emergency calls from any communications device via IP based networks. This will allow for PSAPs to receive and process all of today's technology with a full range of capabilities, such as the acceptance and then sharing of video and pictures from the public with first responders in the field.
NG 9-1-1 PSAPs will also be able to receive data from vehicles and personal safety devices such as Advanced Automatic Collision Notification systems, medical alert systems, and sensors of various types. The new infrastructure of the NG 9-1-1 project will support the national Internet working of 9-1-1 services, as well as the transfer of emergency calls to other PSAPs—including any accompanying data. In addition, the PSAP will be able to issue emergency alerts to wireless devices in an area via voice or text message, and activate highway alert systems.
States, counties, municipalities and regional authorities are building out the NG 9-1-1 infrastructure. These NG 9-1-1 projects are all funded and managed differently. NG 9-11 will be launched in each state according to its own unique circumstances and governance. Due to the need to invest in new technologies and maintain existing legacy 9-1-1 systems, funding will likely be a challenge for many states and localities. In addition, the implementation of NG 9-1-1 may necessitate governance modifications at the state and local level. An important consideration is that NG 9-1-1 may be implemented inconsistently across the country, potentially causing a divide between urban and rural communities as some areas move toward NG 9-1-1 services more quickly than others.
In summary, NG 9-1-1 is a necessary upgrade of the current 9-1-1 systems, in order to adapt to how people communicate today, which is mostly through mobile and digital devices. NG 9-1-1 allows for the public and others to send digital data to PSAPs, including audio and video recordings, live streaming video, photos, and texts. PSAPs will also be able to receive data from other transmitting devices such as wearable medical devices, car computers, and building alarms.
NG 9-1-1 is a critical component of a two-part emergency communications system, the other part being FirstNet, discussed below. These emerging technologies will allow the sharing of more data with PSAPs, and in turn with field responders. Upgrading to NG 91-1 will enable faster network communication, seamless integration and call load sharing between PSAPs, a function severely limited or non-existent using today's antiquated systems. In cases of mass casualty incidents or natural disasters, when the local PSAP becomes overwhelmed by calls, an IP-based NG 9-1-1 system will allow the automated transfer and processing of calls at another available PSAP.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, brought to the forefront the many communications challenges that first responders face during emergencies and disasters. These issues were captured in the 9/11 Commission Report, which identified gaps in emergency communications and recommended a nationwide network for law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel communications. The public safety community united to fulfill the 9/11 Commission's recommendation. Public safety organizations and associations advocated before Congress for a dedicated, reliable wireless network for first responders. Their advocacy efforts led to the passage of legislation in 2012 to create the First Responder Network Authority to deploy the FirstNet network in all U.S. states and territories, including rural communities and tribal nations.
FirstNet is an independent authority within the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). FirstNet's mission is to ensure the building, deployment, and operation of a nationwide broadband network that will equip first responders to save lives and protect U.S. communities. In March 2017, The Department of Commerce and FirstNet announced a partnership with AT&T to build and operate the first responder network.
The FirstNet network will ensure first responders have access to fast, highly secure and reliable communications when they need them. This will help first responders stay safe when they are deployed to help others, not only during day-to-day operations and disaster response and recovery, but also when securing large events.
Public safety officials have been, and continue to work closely with the First Responder Network Authority to ensure the network is meeting first responders' needs today and into the future. The First Responder Network Authority has consulted extensively with points of contacts in each of the 50 U.S. states, 5 territories, and the District of Columbia, as well as local, municipal, tribal and federal public safety leaders. It coordinates with public safety through the Public Safety Advisory Committee (PSAC), which provides guidance and subject matter expertise from a first responder perspective. Public safety leaders at the national, state, and local levels continue to advocate for and support deployment of the FirstNet network.
New applications for the network are also being developed, which will allow first responders to reliably share photos, video and text messages in close to real-time speeds during emergencies and large-scale events. They will also provide for improved location services to assist with mapping capabilities during events. The FirstNet App Catalog is compiling FirstNet-approved mobile apps that are optimized for public safety use over the network. At the same time, public safety has access to a growing selection of devices and accessories compatible with the network through the FirstNet Device Ecosystem. The First Responder Network Authority works through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to publish a list of certified devices for use on FirstNet, with devices being added regularly.
In summary, all 50 states, five U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have opted into FirstNet, meaning each has accepted its individual state plan detailing how the network will be deployed in their state or territory. Once deployed, agencies would pay a monthly subscription fee to be a part of the network, similar to how they subscribe to their current wireless carrier today.
Next Generation 9-1-1 and FirstNet are being funded and built as separate projects. FirstNet is being coordinated at the federal level through a public private partnership with AT&T. The development and implementation of NG 9-1-1 is left to individual states, counties and cities to fund and build; however, there are numerous grants available to assist with the implementation of both of these programs.
Figure 1 shows the current progress of NG 9-1-1 implementation across the United States and its territories.
Figure 1: NG 9-1-1 implementation today (9.1.1.gov)
As of January 2019, FirstNet reports there are 5,250 agencies using their network, which is a 60% increase from the end of October 2018.
In the late 1990s, cars began to be connected wirelessly to other sources, primarily for safety. Today, connected vehicles are vehicles that use any of a number of different communication technologies to communicate with the driver, other cars on the road (vehicle-to-vehicle - V2V), roadside infrastructure (vehicle-to-infrastructure - V2I), and the Cloud (vehicle-to-cloud - V2C). This technology can be used to not only improve vehicle safety, but also improve vehicle efficiency and commute times.
The U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Connected Vehicle program is working with state and local transportation agencies, vehicle and device makers, and the public to test and evaluate technology that will enable cars, buses, trucks, trains, roads, and other infrastructure, as well as smart phones and other devices to 'talk' to one another. Cars on the highway, for example, could use short-range radio signals to communicate with each other so every vehicle on the road is aware of where nearby vehicles are and how they are behaving. Drivers would receive notifications and alerts to dangerous situations, such as someone about to run a red light as they are nearing an intersection, or an oncoming car which is out of sight beyond a curve, swerving into their lane to avoid an object on the road.
The USDOT estimates the number of lives that could be saved by deploying just two of the connected vehicle safety applications being developed by them is 1,083 annually1. Connected vehicles will dramatically reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries caused by accidents on our roads and highways. While the number of people surviving crashes has increased significantly thanks to airbags, anti-lock brakes, and other technology, the USDOT is shifting its focus from helping people survive crashes to preventing crashes from happening in the first place.
In 2017, there were an estimated 6,452,000 motor vehicle crashes in the United States, resulting in 37,133 fatalities and 2,746,000 people injured, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA2). In fact, the leading cause of death among young adults is vehicle crashes, according to the Centers for Disease Control3.
Connected vehicle technology will enable cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles to 'talk' to each other with in-vehicle or aftermarket devices that continuously share important safety and mobility information.
Figure 2: An example of how connected vehicles would make highway incident scene management safer. (Photo: USDOT)
Connected vehicles have significant advantages over new technologies now appearing in high-end vehicles, such as radar, lidar, cameras, and other sensors. Connected vehicle technologies and applications have a greater range than on-board vehicle equipment, which will allow drivers to receive alerts of hazardous situations much earlier, providing more time to react and prevent an accident. Connected vehicle technology doesn't depend on line of sight communications to be effective, unlike radar, so if a car ahead is braking hard on the other side of a hill due to an obstruction, a following driver would receive notification even though the driver cannot see and is not aware of the dangerous situation developing. Connected vehicle technology is also less expensive to install than radar and camera equipment in vehicles, allowing it to become standard equipment in the future on practically all vehicles, not just luxury cars.
According to the USDOT4, a NHTSA study of connected vehicle technologies has shown that they have the potential to reduce up to 80 percent of crashes where drivers are not impaired which would save a significant number of lives and prevent millions of crash-related injuries every year.
In addition to the tremendous safety potential of connected vehicles, they also promise to increase transportation options and reduce travel times. Traffic managers will be able to control the flow of traffic more easily with the advanced communications data available and prevent or decrease developing congestion. This could have a significant impact on the environment by helping to cut fuel consumption and reduce emissions.
The implementation across the country of FirstNet, Next Generation 9-1-1, and the advancement in connected vehicle technology is improving the way first responders are able to mitigate and respond to emergencies. Not only is the public already benefiting from these emerging technologies, first responders are also safer as a result. It is important for all stakeholders to continue pushing for the build-out of the necessary infrastructure to support the FirstNet network and for the upgrade of all of our country's 9-1-1 call centers to Next Generation 9-1-1 call centers.
The links below will assist in finding more information and current data related to these topics:
Next Generation 9-1-1 https://www.9-1-1.gov
Connected Vehicles https://www.its.dot.gov/cv basics/index.htm
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, National 911 Program, https://www.9-1-1.gov/issue nextgeneration9-1-1.html
US Department of Transportation ITS Joint Program Office, https://www.its.dot.gov/about.htm
All Things FirstNet https://allthingsfirstnet.com/history/
US Department of Transportation ITS Joint Program Office, Success Stories Next-Generation 9-1-1
1NHTSA preliminary estimates of safety benefits show that two safety applications—Left Turn Assist (LTA) and Intersection Movement Assist (IMA)—could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save 1,083 lives saved per year. https://www.its.dot.gov/cv_basics/cv_basics_20qs.htm