Adrian Fenty, a Democrat, was D.C. mayor from 2007 to 2011. He serves on the advisory board of RapidSOS, an emergency technology company.
We have witnessed technology transform our cities and government services through new methods of transportation, networks of connected devices and accessible digital services. These efforts have made our communities healthier and more resilient, but one area remains chronically underserved: emergency response.
The past year saw more innovation and investment for the nation’s 911 system than decades prior. As civic leaders, we can no longer afford to delay adoption of the best emergency technology tools available through the Next Generation 911 framework.
This week, public safety leaders from around the country are convening in the District for the 9-1-1 Goes to Washington conference. I applaud the District for joining cities around the country who are leading the charge to implement state-of-the-art public safety technology. Upgrading the District’s emergency communications helps first responders provide faster, better prepared emergency response, and I commend forward-thinking public-safety agencies nationwide in adopting Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911) solutions that can save lives.
The first 911 call rang in 1968. As the 50th anniversary year draws to an end, we can celebrate that 2018 saw one of the most significant breakthroughs for the 911 system in its history.
Location has been at the heart of the 911 challenge for years. Sources from the Wall Street Journal to John Oliver have highlighted the shortcomings in our emergency response system’s ability to promptly locate and dispatch units to a mobile caller.
This past year, Google and Apple worked to solve the 911 location challenge by sending fast, accurate mobile caller location to public-safety agencies at no cost through a modern NG911 infrastructure. The D.C. Office of Unified Communications was an early adopter of this technology, through which telecommunicators receive emergency data directly from Apple, Google and Uber, allowing dispatchers to provide more efficient, better prepared emergency response for D.C. residents and visitors.
The FCC previously estimated that faster emergency response could prevent thousands of deaths annually, so this represents a significant lifesaving development for our national public-safety system. After years of the public asking, “Why can Uber find me but 911 can’t?,” technology companies answered the call.
Location is the tip of the iceberg for the 911 data challenge. Wireless carriers announced plans to improve location last year, but the root of the issue is 50-year-old infrastructure that is incompatible with modern technology.
For public safety professionals, NG911 capabilities unlock the benefits of the Internet of Things revolution. Connected devices collect countless types of health, demographic and environmental data. Beyond helping 911 locate emergencies more quickly, this contextual information can lead to more efficient and better prepared emergency response.
The legacy 911 infrastructure does not have the capacity to pass more than a limited amount of text characters to public-safety answering points. NG911 platforms open the door to a data connection with devices, ranging from smartphones to wearables to home, car and industrial sensors. Imagine a smart home device sharing room-by-room smoke density with firefighters during a fire or a connected car informing EMS responders about the number of passengers involved in a crash. Formats could expand to include images and videos, which, in controlled environments, can provide valuable context to 911.
Nothing happens overnight. In the past year, however, we have seen dynamic adoption of NG911. More than 60 percent of the U.S. population now has access to NG911 services through their regional public safety authority. But the fragmented nature of the 911 system means there are still thousands of agencies that have not yet adopted the solution put forward by tech companies.
Having worked closely with public-safety leaders, I know how long the community has focused on the 911 location challenge. The milestones of 2018 were years in the making. With the momentum for paradigm-shifting new technology, I am confident more breakthroughs will follow closely.