Last month NENA announced a key milestone for the organization; they are now a certified ANSI Standards Developing Organization (SDO). We are a little surprised this has not received more attention. ANSI certification formally recognizes NENA for the work it has done to implement a transparent standards definition process which is based on consensus, subject to wide review, and responsive to feedback, comment, and appeal.
As systems become more complex, those affected must be confident that related standards are well considered. This need is widely recognized; the list of ANSI certified organizations includes names familiar to Public Safety such as ATIS and APCO, as well as many other standards-reliant organizations from the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).
Great benefit is realized when a standard development process provides all parties with equal say, and encourages input and discussion. Today’s universal adoption of Wi-Fi was facilitated by the IEEE processes used to cast the 802.11 standard. This standard is so successful that a world traveler can expect to connect to any open Wi-Fi network they come across. Try that with your hair dryer!
NENA has been developing and publishing standards for years, so why is ANSI certification important now? Simply put, ushering in NG9-1-1 the old way won’t work – the stakes are too high. The world that witnessed the birth of legacy 9-1-1 technologies was very different from todays, and allowed NENA to successfully publish standards without formally becoming an SDO:
- Pre-existing technology: The legacy 9-1-1 network relied heavily on the same circuit-switched technology used to carry the nation’s non-emergency voice calls. These technologies were designed to a very high level of reliability and interoperability, and could be readily configured to address the unique needs of a local 9-1-1 PSAP.
- Small number of affected parties: Much of the groundwork for 9-1-1 was laid prior to the Breakup of “Ma Bell”. There were a limited number of hardware vendors and phone technologies, all beholden to the requirements of a single network operator.
- Low rate-of-change: Over 45 years, 9-1-1 passed few technical milestones (e.g. Selective Routing and Automatic Location Identification). Adding mobile and VoIP phone location was largely isolated to these new services, and leveraged existing PSAP-facing ALI interfaces.
NG9-1-1 now seeks to introduce new and far ranging technologies. While much of the NG9-1-1 specifications reference existing IP technologies (such as SIP), the entire NG-9-1-1 infrastructure brings a lot of specialization to these technologies. This effort has already consumed 7+ years of design and development, and rollouts are just getting started!
Clearly, NG9-1-1 presents more complex technical problems than those faced by Public Safety over the first 30+ years of 9-1-1. The nation also expects to see benefit faster. This makes implementing NG9-1-1 a riskier proposition for solution vendors and Public Safety Agencies. How does a vendor become confident standards are stable and well-considered? How can PSAP management be confident that various NG9-1-1 solutions (selected from a vast landscape of vendors) will interoperate?
While NENA obtaining ANSI SDO accreditation does not remove all risk from this equation, they should be commended for recognizing this challenge, and implementing the tools and processes needed to steer the industry to the completion of the NG9-1-1 standards. Getting here has taken a lot of work on the part of NENA, and asks more of NENA’s volunteers to comply with new processes. However, this is a necessary step in adoption of NG9-1-1, which will finally provide Public Safety with a network that places their needs FIRST.