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Kentucky Homeland Security explains benefits of 911 tech upgrades to lawmakers

Seated person with long hair working at computer with many screens
ICMA Photos
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Flickr
Under the House GOP budget bill, Kentucky's Office of Homeland Security would receive $5 million over each of the next two fiscal years to support the rollout of Next Generation 911, a digital, IP-based system meant to enhance existing 911 services at call centers.

Officials with Kentucky’s Office of Homeland Security told lawmakers about a plan to overhaul the state’s aging, analog 911 emergency communications system this week.

The office’s rollout of this modernized technology system is expected to be supported by appropriations of $5 million over each of the next two fiscal years under the GOP proposed budget. Officials updated lawmakers Tuesday about what that system will do to improve emergency response and communications in Kentucky.

Next Generation 911 is a digital, IP-based system that is meant to enhance existing 911 services. In addition to phone calls, the new system would allow photos, videos and text messages to be sent from the public to the 911 network. Another draw of NG911 is the ability to more accurately pinpoint the origin of an emergency call and direct it to the appropriate agency.

Person seated at long table holds up an analog phone while speaking. Two people among many empty chairs behind him. There is a TV screen with a blue display at the back of the room.
Screenshot via Kentucky LRC
Mike Sunseri, deputy executive director of Kentucky’s Homeland Security Office and the administrator of the state’s 911 Services Board, uses a landline phone resembling a duck to represent the "quantum leap" in technological capabilities from the aging 911 call center infrastructure to the Next Generation 911 system.

Mike Sunseri is the deputy executive director of Kentucky’s Homeland Security Office and the administrator of the state’s 911 Services Board. While speaking to lawmakers at the Capitol, Sunseri held up a wooden phone made to resemble a duck. He compared the leap in technology between the current system and NG911 to switching from the novelty squawking landline to a smartphone.

The Homeland Security official told lawmakers on the Investments in Information Technology Improvement & Modernization Projects Oversight Board that, under current infrastructure, emergency calls from cell phones are more likely to be misrouted than with the new system.

“You make a 911 call from a cell phone, that call is routed to a cell phone tower. And that tower decides what number one call center the call should go to. And that's based on the geometry of vectors. If it hits in this area it goes to county A, if it falls here it goes to county B,” Sunseri said.

“You make a call from one county and get sent to the wrong county, [dispatchers] answer the call and determine where the caller is actually located. Unfortunately, every time that there's a transfer that takes place, that delays first responder response, which can be the difference between life and death in a crisis situation.”

Meanwhile, Sunseri said NG911 will use mapping and geographic information system (GIS) technology to determine where a call originates, and which agency should answer.

“In a Next Gen environment, calls are routed geospatially based on the actual physical location of the device, which is highly accurate down to a matter of inches,” he said. “You take your jurisdictional boundary, which for most folks is your county line, and you carve it up. Any call that falls within that jurisdictional boundary is routed geospatially to exactly the right call center the first time.”

Kentucky Homeland Security Executive Director Josh Keats said the new system would reduce some response times by cutting down on the number of misdirected calls.

“Just think: If you're along the Ohio River and you call 911, there's a great chance that your call is going to be routed to an Indiana 911 call center. And that dispatcher will then take the information and it'll take several minutes now to transfer that call back to where it really needs to be,” he said. “So we're really cutting out minutes where seconds matter.”

Sunseri said that – because GIS is the “cornerstone” of the NG911 system – accurate mapping of the state is required to ensure that calls will be directed where they need to go.

The Kentucky 911 Services Board is taking steps to make statewide mapping data available to all 117 of the Commonwealth’s 911 call centers. While each local call center is responsible for gathering and maintaining their own mapping data, Sunseri said the board’s goal is to put the information from all of the call centers in one database. So far, GIS data from 99 call centers has been aggregated.

Sunseri said the $5 million appropriated to Kentucky’s Homeland Security office in each of the next two fiscal years would be enough to enter contracts with core services providers.

The funding will also enable the state to contract with a provider for an Emergency Services IP Network, or ESInet, which Sunseri said will connect all 117 call centers with built-in cybersecurity, safeguards and 911 services. This network will then serve as the geospatial call routing service for every emergency call that comes into Kentucky, he added.

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