There is a lot of discussion these days about what FirstNet means to the Public Safety Communications Center and how FirstNet might impact them. More specifically, the question is how does FirstNet and ESInet interconnect. These are all very real concerns and also very complicated in that they have many and various touchpoints.
To be clear ESInet and FirstNet networks don’t or can’t directly connect with each other. FirstNet is a wireless broadband network for first responders. The operative word here is “wireless”. Communications centers typically connect via wireline connections for data service. What is missing in my view is the direct, secure, dedicated connections from the communications center (or the public safety agency) to the secure FirstNet cloud. If you think of call flow today, the caller (voice, text, someday video) comes into the public safety agency via a dedicated network that terminates at your call handling equipment. Data is then taken out of the call flow and routed into your computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. From there it is processed, analyzed, routed and stored. That information is then sent by voice to the responding units or to computer terminals (CAD Client) in the responding vehicles. The data side is usually a virtual private network that connects the CAD system to the CAD client. If there is an analogy to be made, your connection point from 911 / ESInet is your CAD system.
Someday in some fashion there may be a seamless connection. It is entirely possible that in the future for most 911 calls and events there is some form of artificial intelligence (A.I.) that can make that happen. One example might be that instead of dialing 911, (because instead of dialing a phone you just tap on a name or picture or you tell it to connect with the person) you click on the red emergency icon, it automatically activates voice, text and video all at the same time. The A.I. sees the fire, interprets the sounds and knows to send a fire response. The A.I. has determined the location, building size, occupancy by time of day, and contents to determine if it is a three-alarm fire. The A.I. then knows what stations, engines, law enforcement units and other resources are available and dispatches them. The Multimedia Telecommunicator (Supply vs Demand by Presidential Partners http://www.presidential-partners.com/resources/) at the console watches for accuracy and intervenes when required. Sounds very high tech, but definitely doable today. There are vendors designing systems today that will be able to do all that and more.
Today, we have agencies with many different types of technology, different policies and different agencies they serve. Not everyone has an ESInet and if they do, it still doesn’t connect directly to the field units or FirstNet. All this information today that comes from the 911 systems, connects to the communications center at multiple points. The two most significant connection points for 911 networks are the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) systems and the call handling equipment. ESInet and 911 networks is in the most basic terms, the pipe connecting the caller, their information and the communications center.
FirstNet is the public safety wireless broadband network. The primary focus is to connect first responders wirelessly via a secure, robust, affordable wireless network to the data they need in order to do their jobs. In today’s world, public safety has relied on commercial networks that don’t provide the level of service that first responders need and deserve to effectively do their jobs. Our intent is to not get deep into the issue of why FirstNet is only the wireless side, only to say FirstNet is the pipe that connects the people, units and resources in the field “wirelessly” to the communications center.
I will leave most of the detail for this next statement for another time. Communications Centers will pass data to the wireless FirstNet users just as they do today. Those agencies that connect to in-car technology have several ways to pass that traffic which won’t change. It is my belief that at some point the communications center will need a secure physical connection / pipe to the FirstNet cloud. What has changed is that public safety fought for and now has access to a “wireless,” secure, highspeed data network that has priority and preemption to guarantee them access when they use it.
As you can see there is no direct connection between ESInet and FirstNet. Those of you who work in the agencies or provide these services to agencies can see where I’m going. The connecting point, meet point or gateway is the CAD system. The CAD system is the core of connecting both sides. This is not to say you are required to have a CAD system to get value from FirstNet. To the contrary. There will be a number of applications, resources and tools available that won’t connect to a CAD system (not discussed today). One example of value outside of a CAD system would be unit location. In most cases you get that information from CAD. Today, there are apps that you can use to share unit location information. FirstNet will have its own “app store” where you will be able to get these types of apps and many others. The additional value from the FirstNet app store is that the apps are tested and vetted to include testing for security and stability. So, as you can see everyone gains with a FirstNet connection.
This in many ways is the heart of the public safety information network. It becomes the meet point of information. This is where the documentation for many incidents start. It connects to other crucial systems such as agency records, jail records, incident tracking, resource usage and the list goes on.
This system will become more critical over time. The question has not yet been answered as to where all the information public safety receives from these applications gets recorded and stored. If a medic uses a drug dosage application and makes a decision based on that information where was that transaction stored? This issue of information documentation and storage not only becomes critical to medical records, it is also critical to criminal case files, reports and tracking information on which public safety is required to keep records.
Another area of concern that has been addressed by many and not solved is data interoperability. It will be critical that standards are set for the exchange of information between agencies. Does one agency incident field match up to another agency’s incident when they need to call for mutual aid resources? Can the location of an incident and all the units responding be passed to