The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) published a solicitation for collaboration efforts on the design, implementation, and operation of a nationwide geographic information system (GIS) data store as a means to create and adopt technical and operational requirements for a national interconnected 911 landscape.

GIS data is a core element of the modernization initiative to move U.S. dial-in service for emergencies from legacy systems to Next Generation 911 (NG911). NG911 utilizes GIS data for 911 emergency call routing functions and location validation functions. Using NG911 technology, the 911 call “finds” the appropriate public safety answering point (PSAP), and does that faster than the legacy systems.

To date, thousands of 911 call centers in the United States do not connect via a nationally uniform and consistent GIS system and generally lack a mechanism for sharing crucial GIS data. According to NHTSA’s solicitation, as 911 call centers continue to deploy NG911, the lack of GIS consistency poses multiple inter-operational problems for 911 call takers and emergency responders.

The existing system performs three main functions that have remained mostly unchanged; validation of a caller’s location through a master location guide, assignment of emergency service for call routing and selective call transfers, and automatic location information delivery associated with the caller. In this legacy system, the 911 PSAP receives calls and must locate the 911 caller using these technologies.

Utilizing GIS capabilities enables more accurate call routing than traditional 911 systems. It can reduce the number of call transfers due to misrouted calls, and in turn, can help reduce emergency response times and save more lives and property. In addition to being used when routing 911 calls, NG911 systems use GIS data before a 911 call is placed to see if the address is valid for 911. The 911 service of the future will allow the transmission of voice, photos, videos, and text messages directly from the public to the response network.

Several companies currently provide services to support 911 systems, and more than one national GIS organization exists, with differing perspectives on GIS deployment. The NHTSA said it intends to partner with a contractor that can “produce a document that includes the current status of GIS within the national 911 community, challenges to national uniformity and 911 GIS data sharing, and strategies to achieve truly interoperable GIS data sharing nationwide.”

The agency wants all responses to its solicitation by July 19.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk State and Local Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.