Preparing for Next Generation 911 Now

By Jeff Ledbetter, Michael Baker International, and Kathrine Cargo, Orleans Parish Communication

Sometimes when change comes, it is difficult and confusing.

In 2011, an extension was added to US Highway 90 Alternate on the east side of Houston, Texas. A few days after it opened, an 83-year-old grandmother accidentally entered the extension going eastbound on the westbound side of the highway, with cars coming straight at her at 65 miles per hour.

A Good Samaritan on the eastbound side of the highway saw what was happening and called 911 from his cell phone. He assumed that emergency responders would be able to see his location instantly. But the 911 dispatcher couldn’t find him because the map she was using didn’t have the new highway extension on it. The incident ended in a fiery, head-on collision that caused the grandmother to lose her life. First responders eventually located the site of the crash by overriding the system.

The reason the 911 dispatcher was unable to pinpoint the caller was because the new highway extension hadn’t been added to the GIS data being used, nor had its existence been communicated with the Houston Emergency Center or the Greater Harris County 911 Emergency Network. As a result, the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) software for the 911 center had no indication that a highway extension was even there.

Next Generation 911 (NG911) aims to upgrade emergency response systems so they can keep up with ever-evolving mobile communication and technology. For NG911 to work, features such as street centerlines and address points must be maintained at a higher level of precision than ever before. This should both excite and terrify GIS professionals who work in local and regional government. On one hand, it cements how mission critical a GIS database really is. On the other hand, amplifying existing data to this level and maintaining its accuracy is a huge undertaking.

Currently, NG911 standards are still being finalized. While that is taking place, it is imperative that GIS professionals in local and regional government explore what their role will be in this transition to NG911 and embark on creating a street centerline and addressing database that can service every internal and external partner in an enterprise GIS.

This opinion article was written by Jeff Leadbetter and Kathrine Cargo and appears in

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About the Authors

Jeff Ledbetter, GISP, PMP, is a senior project manager for Esri partner Michael Baker International, where he leads public safety and NG911 GIS projects. Ledbetter has been working in GIS since 1998 and began applying the technology to public safety in 2009. He is a member of the URISA NG911 Task Force, which supports GIS professionals in developing NG911 systems.

Kathrine Cargo, GISP, is the GIS/mapping coordinator for the Orleans Parish Communication District in New Orleans, Louisiana. She is the chair of the URISA NG911 Task Force and is a member of the National Emergency Number Association’s (NENA) GIS Data Stewardship Work Group.


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