Kansas NG9-1-1 Vision Realized

Public safety in the state of Kansas reached a new milestone last month when the Hutchinson/Reno County Emergency Communications – E911 cut over to their new VESTA® 9-1-1 system from Airbus DS Communications. This upgrade is not only enhancing the technical capabilities of the county’s communication center, but also breaking down borders with neighboring Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) and beyond. In simple terms, Kansas is taking 9-1-1 statewide and, in the process, moving to Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1).

According to Dick Heitschmidt, Hutchinson’s Chief of Police and Chairman of the state’s 9-1-1 Coordinating Council,

“The vision is to enhance public safety within Kansas by developing a reliable statewide 9-1-1 system for our citizens and emergency services by using Next Generation 9-1-1 services.”

And that’s what the state has done.

The council’s NG9-1-1 Administrator, Scott Ekberg, added,

“By its nature, NG9-1-1 is most effective when systems are shared. This is true both from a cost perspective, and a technical standpoint. PSAPs on the new system’s Internet Protocol based network will now be able to share data, as well as have access to statewide mapping and aerial imaging. Currently, most of our PSAPs have map data for their own jurisdiction, which means that if a wireless 9-1-1 call is misrouted, dispatchers can’t see where the caller is located. Statewide imagery will ensure that no matter where a call originates, the location will be displayed on the map. This is a huge improvement to public safety for Kansas residents.”

Hutchinson/Reno County Emergency Communications – E911’s director, Michele Abbott, agrees that the mapping capabilities are among the new system’s greatest benefits.

“Before, we had a county map. If I was traveling, I lost access. Having a statewide map is great, and having the layers incorporated is amazing as well. It’s been easy to use, and the training we received from Airbus DS Communications was excellent. I’m excited to have the extra layers and additional features.”

Michele also remarked on her excitement regarding the statewide initiative:

“As a 9-1-1 administrator, one hosted solution for all PSAPs makes good fiscal sense. It allows us to share costs, while eliminating the need for backroom equipment at every PSAP. This also saves in maintenance and replacement costs. From a functionality standpoint, I can’t say enough about our ability to help one another during a surge in calls or in an outage just by being on the same platform.”

In regard to implementation, Chief Heitschmidt emphasized that one of the main focuses of the 9-1-1 Coordinating Council is improved call routing:

“In having a solution hosted at the state level, every PSAP that signs on will be on the same network. If one of our PSAPs becomes inoperable for any reason, it’s a very simple process to start taking that PSAP’s calls. Dispatchers can relocate, and the whole thing will be seamless.”

Michele added,

“Because of the way the VESTA 9-1-1 system is built, our citizens who are rerouted would never know there was an issue. It works that seamlessly.”

Kansas, home to 2.9 million residents, has 117 PSAPs that field emergency and admin calls, and over half have indicated their interest in participating in the new statewide system. Scott explained,

“Participation is totally voluntary. The first step for a PSAP to join is to contact me. Once I have their information, the PSAP is placed in a queue based on their level of need. For example, those without manufacturer support are placed higher in the queue to mitigate risk for their dispatchers and citizens.”

The needs of all of Kansas PSAPs were top-of-mind when considering functionality for the new statewide NG9-1-1 system. Michele, who serves as the Operations Chairperson for the 9-1-1 Coordinating Council, stated,

“The Council is made up of PSAPs of all sizes, and we really tried to understand the individual needs of each PSAP, no matter their size or processes.”

Scott added that the process was “lengthy and comprehensive.”

“The council spent over eight months developing a request for proposal, followed by over 50 review meetings and six months of intensive evaluation. The decision to go with Airbus DS Communications and AT&T was due to technical requirements, long-standing reputation in the industry, and affordability.”

With two counties online with the system and another PSAP in the process, the Council is keeping the momentum towards NG9-1-1. Scott said,

“The next step is adding text-to-9-1-1 functionality, and we’re currently working towards implementation of geospatial call routing. Other NG9-1-1 functionality, such as picture and video messaging, will follow as standards are developed, so that we can continue to improve response, and provide enhanced public safety to responders and residents.”

According to Michele,

“It’s important to adapt to the technology available to citizens so they can contact 9-1-1 by whatever means they need. It’s especially important for deaf and hearing-impaired individuals who need to be able to reach us immediately, without going to an interpreter. It’s the next step for us, and we’re excited to be able to connect with our citizens in these new ways.”