Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mobile Apps and 9-1-1

While apps hold great promise for improving public safety and emergency response, much work remains to ensure apps intended to replace or augment a voice call to 9-1-1 are as secure and reliable as the public has come to expect from our nation's 9-1-1 system. These issues are being addressed, but placing a voice call to 9-1-1 is still the best way to get help for the foreseeable future.

  • The 9-1-1 network is trusted, reliable, and secure. It's the product of years of careful design to ensure callers are connected with the appropriate 9-1-1 center (known as "public safety answering point" or "PSAP").
  • It's separate from the networks that handle ordinary calls and other smart phone communications (such as texts, apps, social media, internet access, etc.)
  • When you dial 9-1-1, your service provider hands off your emergency call to this separate network, which is designed to handle communications involving the safety of life and property.
  • It's closely regulated and monitored at the federal, state, and local levels, with rules that vary by jurisdiction.
  • The most reliable way to request emergency services is through a voice call to 9-1-1. At present, the 9-1-1 network is not capable of handling more than voice calls, or in some cases, basic text messages.
  • The 9-1-1 network is gradually transitioning to advanced, IP-based networks. These Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) networks will enable the use of text, video, and other data over reliable 9-1-1 networks.
  • Mobile apps are being developed that attempt to provide advanced capabilities before NG9-1-1 arrives, BUT: apps use the public internet, as opposed to the safe and reliable 9-1-1 network.
  • Many 9-1-1 centers do not have internet access. Those that do, closely control it in the interest of security.
  • Standards must be completed to ensure that these apps work nationwide and are effective for emergency response.
  • These apps often make dangerously misleading claims that they can replace a voice call to 9-1-1.
The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) is the world's largest association of public safety communications professionals. APCO recognizes that apps hold great potential and has taken steps to address several of these issues and remains committed to ensuring all public safety apps, not just those that contact 9-1-1 centers, are as effective as possible.

Bottom line? Continue making voice calls.