By Matt Serra, ENP - December 30, 2020
Many people have heard of both Smart911 and Next Generation 9-1-1; and, because both systems use advanced technologies to accelerate emergency responses, they can sometimes be confused. In this blog, we explain what the Smart911 and Next Generation 9-1-1 systems are and highlight the difference between the two systems to help eliminate any confusion.
Of the two systems, Smart911 is the system more people will be familiar with because it is currently used by more than 45 million individuals, families, and businesses to create safety profiles. The safety profiles provide key information to call dispatchers when a 9-1-1 call is made from any mobile or landline phone registered to the safety profile and this information can be forwarded onto first responders to accelerate emergency responses and contribute towards better outcomes.
The amount of information available to call dispatchers and first responders is controlled by the person creating the safety profile. Therefore, one family may wish to just list the usual occupants of a household along with their mobile phone numbers so that each member of the family can be accounted for in the event of a fire. However, their neighbors may have a family member with mobility issues or a medical condition that first responders will need to know about in a fire rescue.
There is no limit to how much information can be provided in a Smart911 safety profile. People living alone can – for example - include emergency contact numbers, families can list their pets or animals that may be a hazard during an emergency rescue, and businesses can upload floor plans, door codes, access routes, and the location of AEDs and other emergency equipment. The service is free to use; but, because it is paid for by public agencies, it is not yet available in every jurisdiction.
Next Generation 9-1-1 – sometimes called Next-Gen 9-1-1 or abbreviated to NG9-1-1 – is an ongoing upgrade to the existing 9-1-1 system to take advantage of Internet-based technology. The benefits of moving the existing system to Internet-based technology include better caller location data, the option for callers to send images and videos to 9-1-1 call dispatchers, and the ability for call dispatchers to transfer calls to other Public Safety Answering Points without losing caller data.
Compared to the existing system, Next Gen 9-1-1 will be able to locate callers' mobile phones using geolocation technology (rather than triangulating the caller´s location between cellphone towers), will support ongoing situational awareness via video streaming technology, and will eliminate the need for 9-1-1 call dispatchers to repeat the nature and location of an emergency when calls are transferred to other Public Safety Answering Points – thus accelerating emergency response.
Unfortunately, due to advances in Internet-based technologies, the need to standardize what technologies are used, and the cost of running legacy systems and Next Gen 9-1-1 systems in parallel to ensure the safety of communities, few jurisdictions have a usable NG9-1-1 service. In December 2020, the FCC reported eighteen states had connected some or all of their Public Safety Answering Points, but this accounted for just 15% of all Public Safety Answering Points in the country.
To best explain the difference between Smart911 and Next Gen 9-1-1 we´ll look at a couple of emergency scenarios. In the first, a woman is calling 9-1-1 from her mobile phone to report a fire at her home. With a Smart911 safety profile, the call dispatcher will instantly identify the location of the emergency, and fire crews can be dispatched immediately. While the crews are on their way to the woman's home, the call dispatcher can confirm further details on the woman's safety profile.
The difference between Smart911 and Next Gen 9-1-1 in this scenario is that, with Smart911, the location of the emergency is guaranteed to be 100% accurate. The geolocation tracking capabilities of Next Gen 9-1-1 only tell call dispatchers the location of the mobile phone. If, for example, the woman had received a call from a neighbor to inform her the home was on fire, the geolocation tracking capabilities of NG9-1-1 might have directed fire crews to the wrong location.
A second factor to take into consideration is that the woman's safety profile may have revealed she shares her home with young children, pets, or elderly parents with mobility issues. Knowing this key information, the call dispatcher can talk calmly with the woman about the safety of the home's other occupants, rather than – with NG9-1-1 – there being the potential for miscommunication due to the traumatized state of the caller.
In the second scenario, a store is being raided by armed gunmen. If a member of the public makes a 9-1-1 call from their mobile phone to report the emergency, Next Gen 9-1-1 will be able to track the location of the call better than Smart911 – which wouldn't have the store listed as a location associated with the member of the public. Furthermore, the member of the public would be able to capture images and video as the raid continued and send this information to call dispatchers.
However, if the emergency is reported by a member of staff using a phone recorded in the business's facility profile, call dispatchers would not only have the exact location of the emergency, but also floor plans, access routes, door codes, and the contact details of key personnel. Depending on what other security systems the businesses has set up and integrated, first responders might also have access to CCTV footage inside the building for greater situational awareness.
Therefore, although Next Gen 9-1-1 has some benefits for reporting emergencies and accelerating communications between Public Safety Answering Points, Smart911 tends to provide 9-1-1 call dispatchers with a greater depth of key information to accelerate emergency response and better prepare first responders for the situation they will encounter. It is also the case that Smart911 is widely available now, whereas it could take many years for a full rollout of Next Gen 9-1-1.
When individuals, families, and businesses create Smart911 safety profiles, they have a choice of creating and editing their profiles via a PC or the Smart911 app. The advantage of using the app is that, whenever federal, state, and local government public safety agencies send mass alerts warning of severe weather, traffic accidents, or other emergencies, users receive them via the app – extending the reach of the warnings and better protecting communities from the risk of danger.
Matt Serra is the Vice President of Product Strategy at Rave Mobile Safety. Matt has over 25 years of experience in the technology industry and is a certified Emergency Number Professional.
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