RESPONDING TO A PANDEMIC: TECHNOLOGY CONSIDERATIONS FOR PUBLIC SAFETY ANSWERING POINTS


During a pandemic, public safety answering points (PSAPs) around the country must be prepared for reduced onsite staff due to social distancing measures and increased sick and family medical leave. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently interviewed Ed Reuter, Executive Director of the Indiana Statewide 9-1-1 Board, to discuss these solutions and lessons learned. Highlights of the interview are summarized below.

HOW THE STATE OF INDIANA IS PROVIDING INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO ADDRESS PANDEMIC RELATED ISSUES

To address this challenge, the State of Indiana is using Emergency Services Internet Protocol Networks (ESInets) to route calls from their largest PSAP to spread the calls out using an automatic call distributor (ACD) type model. 

Please provide a brief overview of 9-1-1 in Indiana.

Ed Reuter:  In 2014 the Indiana Statewide 9-1-1 Board awarded contracts to INdigital and AT&T® for ESInets.* In 2015 INdigital completed their ESinet buildout. This network handles all of the wireless 9-1-1 calls in the state.  Additional services were added between 2006-2018 such as text-to-9-1-1, an internet protocol based backup 9-1-1 system, interpretation services, as well as inter-state connectivity with Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky.  AT&T® is currently building out an independent ESinet which will be connected at the core with INdigital with the same capabilities. This will allow each system to serve as a backup Service Providers for each other.  AT&T’s buildout was scheduled to be completed by September 2020; however, it was delayed due to social distancing restrictions limiting technicians’ access into PSAPs for final preparations. INdigital, AT&T® and Intrado completed the testing and on June 24, 2020, the first two PSAPs were transitioned to the network-to-network interface (NNI) interconnectivity between the networks. Additional PSAPs have since been added and we anticipate completion of this project by early 2021.

During a pandemic enviroment, centers often shut down temporarily for cleaning. How have you addressed this issue in Indiana?

Ed Reuter: In 2019, INdigital upgraded to the G-19 network. The G-19 upgrades support new standards and technologies available for NG9-1-1 services.  This allows the ESInet, in an overflow situation, to identify the available PSAPs programed into a template and then route 9-1-1 calls accordingly. Think of it as having ACD functionality or smart call distribution, but at the ESInet level.  Should a PSAP ever need to close temporarily for cleaning or become incapacitated due to a catastrophic event their calls would not overwhelm a single ‘partner’ center. Calls are distributed by type or location of the caller.  A predefined distribution plan developed by the PSAPs make the transition of the delivery point of calls seamless to the public. The 9-1-1 director simply contacts INdigtial to activate the system.  Initially as we all learned more about social distancing measures, PSAP directors updated their CO-OP plans. During a pandemic environment, this is critically important since they may have no advance notice of the need to quarantine staff members or evacuate their operation centers for cleaning.

Marion County, which includes the City of Indianapolis, contacted the Indiana Statewide 9-1-1 Board office expressing concerns about the high volume of calls (180 per hour) their center processes to explore other options of alternative call delivery. Indianapolis serves a population of approximately 875,000 and there are no other single PSAPs that could process all of Marion County’s 9-1-1 calls without becoming overwhelmed. Because of the upgrade to the G19 network, INdigital was able to design a template to deliver 9-1-1 calls to five PSAPs surrounding the metropolitan area. PSAPs share many common systems and data exchange to provide a similar level of service to the caller.  In this case one PSAP was designated to receive all 9-1-1 wireline calls while the other four PSAPs would receive 9-1-1 wireless calls using the call distribution models which would send the calls to the least busy PSAP within the group. 

9-1-1 Call 9-1-1 Call Type 9-1-1 Caller Least busy PSAP IN9-1-1 Call Routing Decision Best PSAP PSAP PSAP PSAP

How do you address dispatch in this scenario?

Ed Reuter: One advantage is most of the agencies utilize Project-25 (P-25) radio systems and are on the statewide radio system. This allows agencies to relay information quickly and more efficiently. Also, some of the sites use a common computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. Dis-similar CADs represent the single biggest challenge to PSAPs supporting each other.

Is there interest from other counties in the state to participate in this program?

Ed Reuter: This solution was shared with other large PSAPS as a possible backup option for their centers, which covers almost half of Indiana’s population of 6.7 million citizens.  INdigital provided this solution four days after being notified of Marion County’s concern and worked in collaboration with AT&T and the Statewide 9-1-1 Board for this to become a reality.  This solution is still under consideration by other agencies, however for this to be effective, pre-planning, design, and testing must take place.

Is this option limited to large PSAPS?

Ed Reuter: This is not just limited to large PSAPs we have also discussed this option with intermediate size PSAPs. We have discussed this as an option with some intermediate and small PSAPs should they have a catastrophic event in their jurisdiction.  Indiana is a Home Rule state, we encourage and continually work with local agencies to develop interagency agreements, preferably with an agency that uses a similar CAD and radio system.  Constant training, testing, and preparedness are required to maintain 9-1-1 services no matter the PSAP size.

CISA pandemic guidance for 9-1-1 centers can be found at cisa.gov.

ABOUT ED REUTER

Ed is a native of Evansville, IN and began his career with the ISP serving three years as a dispatcher at the Evansville Post. After graduating from the Indiana State Police Academy he was appointed as Trooper to patrol Bartholomew County. He is also a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Academy in Quantico, Va. Ed served as Squad Sergeant for 8 years and in 1991 he was promoted to Lieutenant to serve as the District Commander for 11 ½ years of the Seymour Post. In 2002, he was appointed to Captain of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division in Indianapolis and in 2004 he was promoted to Major, serving as Commander of that Division where he concluded his 33-year career. 

In February 2007, he became Director of the Bartholomew County 9-1-1 Emergency Operations Center serving 10 years in that capacity prior to joining the Statewide 9-1-1 Board in May of 2017.

Interview Series

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