Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"911" in an IP world - gotta start NOW

I know people are talking about the next generation of emergency services and how to accomplish it - but I don't think enough is being actively done with it. We seem to be too caught up in VoIP and its adherence to existing 911 services. Its really no fault if the IP folks, the FCC has made it very difficult and it takes valuable time away from the next generation solution that really needs some movement - now!

First things first - we need a consistent model for all devices and connectivity, and we have to abandon old thinking. We can no longer rely on infrastructure devices to locate someone. A POTS line (how its done today), switch port, DSLAM port, etc. - none of them will work for us. Wireless renders all that irrelevant, and, again, we need a consistent method for ALL devices and connectivity options. This means that whatever is required for wireless had better be the same method used for 'wired' devices.

This all leads to the very obvious solution (to me anyway) - GPS. This has been driving me crazy for over a year now - no one has been talking about it. At least not very much - I did see an article last month where the writer said GPS was the way to go - one article, finally! But other than that - not much to highlight it. Why is this? Is there really another solution that maintains consistency between ALL devices and connectivity options? I don't see one.

We can use GPS lat, long, and alt to pinpoint a persons location. This information can be placed into the call (or other emergency packet - doesn't have to be a voice call) - all the traffic and/or voice carriers have to do then is route that call to the proper PSAP based upon the lat/long info. The servicing PSAP would feed that call information into a mapping database to establish the persons location for emergency services personnel and law enforcement. Heck, EMS personnel could even have GPS in their vehicles; knowing its location and being fed the callers location, it could give them directions right to the person in distress. Seconds, even minutes potentially, saved makes a difference - ask any EMT or Paramedic.

Altitude hasn't been mentioned much, if at all, but I think it valuable for multi-floor buildings. Go beyond an address and give EMS personnel the floor and wing of a building as well - even an office number if the mapping software is accurate enough.

Now, this all does re-introduce the problem of "Hi, I'm Prince Albert - please let me outta this fridge!" type of pranks. Someone could obviously spoof GPS data and send EMS all over the place chasing their tails - very bad things indeed. I don't have all the integrity and security answers, but I do not believe they have been addressed by other IP solutions either. Again, we must start now to solve these problems.

Another problem - we still have loads of old analog phones out there. Obviously we can continue to leverage the existing 911 system for such lines, but when those phones are plugged into an ATA for broadband use and are wireless themselves - where is that person? Perhaps its enough to have the ATA mine the information (seems acceptable to me, we live with it today), but my phones can reach three houses down my street - how about yours?

What to do:

  1. Get consensus on the method - not the details, just the method. GPS seems obvious enough to me, but I'm sure there are detractors - people that think it too expensive to put GPS chips into wired phones (a tiny price to pay for REAL location information for emergency services IMO).
  2. Once consensus is built, we have to get the government to ensure that all new phones (and ATAs) have GPS built into them. ALL phones. And we have to start NOW, or it will never get done. Look to HDTV signaling for all TV as a model we do NOT want to follow.
  3. Use the phone 'seed-time' to polish the details on the communications and update the PSAPs.

But, again, we must start now. Full migration to this model will take long enough without complacency and foolish FCC distractions slowing it down.