Holly Barkwell is the President and CEO of Barkwell Holland Group Inc. She serves as the current National Emergency Number Association (NENA) Canadian Region Director and is an active participant in multiple industry associations including APCO, and the Emergency Services Working Group (ESWG); a committed group of Telecommunication Service Providers, Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs), and 911 Industry specialists working hard on the national plan to transition to NG9-1-1. She has a wide-ranging emergency communications background, working with multiple provincial and local governments across Canada and the U.S. Over the last two and a half decades she has worked with multiple public safety agencies, delivering comprehensive time-tested proven solutions to their operational and technical challenges. Through her international involvement with innovative interoperability projects (including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) Holly has demonstrated that interoperability is achievable without requiring massive capital expenditures.
Netagen caught up with Holly to learn more about the implementation of NG9-1-1, and the need for PSAPs to find a trusted provider to start the migration process.
Table of contents
Q1. Your website contains some of the very best information related to NG9-1-1, can you please tell us how you got involved in this industry?
Quite by accident actually. I worked in mining after graduation (my background is in technology and process control systems) and I was downsized in the early ‘90s during a market downturn. I moved to southern Ontario looking for work and ended up with a small company that wrote CAD dispatch software for PSAPs (fire, police, EMS). That was 1994. I fell in love with the industry and have been working in this space ever since. The more I learned, the more I realized that public safety works because of the people. I often joke that public safety works in spite of the technology because of the people.
Q2. Given the complexity of NG9-1-1 transition can be overwhelming, what is the very first thing a PSAP should do to get started?
That is a loaded question. There are a hundred first things. However, the very first thing a PSAP should do is recognize that this is not an off the corner of the desk project. The risks are high due to numerous points of intersection with various systems and services within the PSAP and emergency communications. NG911 is not “JUST” about call handling. It touches event & data recording, CAD, RMS, radio, field data, & MIS. Not to mention network resilience, robustness and Cybersecurity.
PSAPs must recognize they may not have the skills in house to pull this off and there is no time for mistakes or do overs. The CRTC deadline for conversion is Mar 4, 2025. Call a professional to help you identify what needs to be done, when, and how much it will cost. They will save you precious time and money in the long run.
Q3. What’s the major difference between the CAN and US NG9-1-1 requirements?
From a standards perspective there are no differences. The NENA i3 standard is the basis for implementation in the US and the CRTC in Canada has in fact mandated the NENA i3 standard as the basis for implementation in Canada. However, it’s important to understand that a standard is a framework for implementation, much like the frame for a house. The bones of the structure may be the same, but how vendors choose to interpret the design requirements can be very different.
Having said that, Canada has adopted a unified national approach for implementation whereas the US has not. And... in fact Canada recently turned up the very first national Emergency Services IP network or ESInet in the world. We should all be very proud of that.
Q4. Is there any difference in NG9-1-1 standards between different provinces?
No. The NENA i3 standards suite is the same across Canada and internationally. The NENA i3 standard suite was developed by and with participation from public safety experts globally, and in fact many Canadian experts participated in working groups that developed the standards.
Q5. Is there any difference in NG9-1-1 requirements for Police, Ambulance, Firefighters and other PSAPs?
No. NG9-1-1 requirements apply to every PSAP regardless of the agency type (police, fire, ambulance), whether it is a primary or secondary PSAP, or public or private entity.
Q6. What’s the best advice you can give to PSAPs that still haven’t started the migration process?
The time for indecision is over. Mar 4, 2025 may seem like a long way off, but in fact there is a short window of approximately 35 months to complete approximately 44 months’ worth of work.
If you have questions, please call me or another advisor that you trust. I am happy to answer questions and help you get started.
Q7. What are the common challenges when moving from the current E911 system to a next generation SIP/IP based system?
The most common challenges include funding (of course) and change management. Educating policy / decision makers is time consuming and an ongoing challenge but necessary to secure capital and operational long-term funding.
Change management is about the people. This industry has been doing the same things in the same manner for a very very long time. Change is scary, and the simple truth is that people will make or break any project regardless of how shiny or sparkly the new technology is. You have to make people understand how the technology can help them do their job more effectively. It isn’t going to replace them.
You (as an agency) NEED to put the tools in place to train and support them through the transition. If they don’t feel valued and included, the project will fail... That’s the long and short of it.
Q8. Are there any areas you think PSAPs may accidentally overlook when migrating their current 911 system to NG9-1-1?
Absolutely. Project Management. As I mentioned earlier the transition to NG9-1-1 is a major project. PSAPs need a full-time resource allocated to manage the process. Cost is another. Hard costs are one thing, but the other associated costs are often overlooked such as Business advisor or consulting services, external PM resources, contractors, software licensing and support, and skills development for operations and technical staff. Network management & administration, and Cybersecurity are completely different specialties yet often get lumped together. This is not a project for the IT “guy.”
You need skilled, professional help. You need annual network penetration testing, cyber security, and active monitoring programs. You will need to perform network upgrades... among a hundred other things such as performing a GIS audit.
Q9. What are the top 3 misconceptions of NG9-1-1 that you often see?
- As a secondary PSAP I don’t need to worry about NG9-1-1. My primary PSAP will take care of everything.
No, they won’t. According to CRTC policy decision 2018-188 all PSAPs (primary & secondary) must have the same call handling functionality from a technical perspective to be able to receive and transfer 9-1-1 and emergency calls. All PSAPs must step up and manage their own transition project.
- It’s just a new call handling system. What’s the big deal? The comms manager or director will stick handle this one.
I can’t make this any plainer. If you adopt that approach, you will fail. The risk and complexity of this project are outside anything emergency communications has faced since 9-1-1 was implemented over 50 years ago... including the adoption of mobile technology.
- What’s the rush? I’ve got 3 years. It will take 6 months to implement, and we are done.
Purchasing equipment is only one component of a complex process. The procurement process itself can take 6 – 8 months assuming you have the funds allocated already. Scheduling resources is the biggest challenge. PSAP, vendor, and NG9-1-1 network provider all have to be scheduled for onboarding, testing and commissioning. You can be sure that as the deadlines get closer, resource availability will be more challenging, and the costs will escalate. Then consider training (IT & operations staff) time when you have several upgrades in process at the same time (CAD, event logging/recording, call handling, network, etc.) and SOP & policy changes. You need a solid change management strategy.
Q10. If everything goes well, what does it mean to the average Canadian in 2025 when all PSAPs have successfully migrated to NG9-1-1?
If everything goes according to plan... on Day 1 (Mar 4, 2025), Canadians will notice absolutely nothing. Over time (Day 2) the public will notice changes... for example the introduction of RTT (before Day 1), which will replace SMS texting with 9-1-1, and delivery of additional data to PSAPs such as automatic crash notification.
This means when you have a vehicle collision, PSAPs will receive more detailed and accurate information automatically which translates into a more effective response. As a citizen, over time, you will be able to contact 9-1-1 through a variety of portals, not just calling.
Q11. What further technologies and features do you envision NG9-1-1 will bring over the next few decades?
Emergency responders have been asking for additional data for decades such as medical information, site plans, landmark data for maps, etc. Adding this type of data has been expensive on several fronts. First, custom interfaces to CAD and RMS systems are required and secondly the data gets stale very quickly which makes it expensive and onerous to keep current. NG9-1-1 provides the hooks to integrate innovations we don’t even know about yet.
Smart cities and the internet of things for example have potential to make available vast sources of data to help the emergency response process which brings opportunity for innovation and more effective resource deployment. Wearable devices are becoming more popular with gadgets such as automatic fall detection built into watches and automatic crash notification features in vehicles.
For example, what is the value to a PSAP when triaging a call and determining the appropriate response, in knowing whether a vehicle rolled over, how many passengers are on board, if a car seat was installed, the change in speed at the time of the crash, etc. Situational intelligence is enhanced, and the response becomes more targeted and cost effective.
Q12. When should PSAPs start working with their Carrier to discuss onboarding? And are there any hurdles to accomplish first?
Carriers sent out a survey late last year (2021) asking what year/quarter PSAPs were considering for transition. Regardless of what your answer was, contact your 9-1-1 service manager today! They can explain the process and describe some of the tasks you will need to complete in preparation for migration to NG9-1-1. One of those tasks includes signing a new NG9-1-1 Service Agreement which will replace the existing PERS Agreement.
This Agreement contains net new responsibilities for 9-1-1 authorities and some of these Agreements were last signed in the ‘90s. So PSAPs need to identify who will sign the Agreement and then have the authority review the document. This takes time. Bell will provide the Agreement via your 9-1-1 Service Manager. They will also provide you with important ESInet onboarding documentation which you will need your IT department to review. Complying with new requirements (which are mandated by the CRTC) will likely require network upgrades prior to beginning the onboarding process.
You will also need to discuss how your admin phone system will connect with/talk to your new NG9-1-1 call handling system. Sounds simple but isn’t.
Q13. What else do PSAPs need to consider in this process?
The short answer? Everything...
The migration to NG9-1-1 is not an upgrade. It’s a transformation to a brand-new architecture which will serve public safety for the next couple of decades. NG9-1-1 is the opportunity to question everything about how emergency communications functions. Review every SOP and policy you have starting now.
Question why you do things. What value does this process add to the organization? Can things be done differently or more efficiently? If the answer to why we do something is because we’ve always done it that way, then that is a flag that perhaps we need to dig deeper.
NG9-1-1 call handling is an opportunity to rethink the entire 9-1-1 experience. From the call taker/dispatcher perspective and also from the citizen perspective. We can do better if we take the blinders off. Instead of just replacing what we have with something new that does exactly the same thing, think outside the box. What business needs are not being met? Can we redefine KPIs based on data we never had or knew existed? Can we mine data for more actionable intelligence?
NG9-1-1 also provides the opportunity to leverage information, technology, and cost sharing for better efficiencies. Talk to your neighbors. Perhaps a shared backup centre among multiple agencies using the same CAD and phone system makes sense versus separate backup centres (of course complexities and politics play a role there), but that’s just one example.
Where do your calls fail over to currently? Does that actually make sound business sense? Can they do anything intelligent with your calls or can they just take messages? Can they handle the volume of your calls and vice versa? And the list goes on... How can you leverage NG9-1-1 to improve the citizen, call taker/dispatcher, and responder user experience?
Q14. And you mentioned Project Management. What should agencies know and what should PMs know?
The migration to NG9-1-1 is not a little project. It’s the biggest technology forklift change since 9-1-1 was implemented in the ‘60s across Canada (and even earlier in some provinces). It’s not a corner of the desk project, it needs a full-time body to manage it.
It also requires a certain set of skills. A strong sense of curiosity, a willingness to ask hard questions and push back to find the right answers, some understanding of technology, an understanding of operations, an ability to prioritize and juggle multiple priorities, and the authority to make certain decisions regarding implementation and function.
It is NOT just another IT project. Change management is critical and managing fear of change. It’s about the people.
Takeaway #1: Migrating to NG9-1-1 is a big deal, and naturally, the transition can feel like a daunting journey with no clear path. However, the upgrade can be seamless if you pace yourself and utilize the help of professionals. Moreover, while the migration is not inexpensive, over time, PSAP agencies that upgrade will save time and money through efficiencies.
Takeaway #2: The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) deadline of March 4, 2025, is fast approaching. Educating policy and decision-makers is time-consuming and an ongoing challenge, and with a brief period of approximately 35 months to complete 44 months worth of work, there’s simply no time to lose.
Takeaway #3: As the biggest technology undertaking since 9-1-1 was implemented in the ‘60s, the NG911 migration requires a solid Change Management Strategy to be successful. PSAP staff needs to understand the changes that they will inevitably encounter, and project managers need to ensure that everyone is equipped with the tools that they need to make the change effective.
Multiple systems are involved, and unforeseen issues may arise if planning isn’t a priority. For example, additional costs for Business advisory or consulting services, external PM resources, contractors, software licensing and support, network management, etc. are often overlooked and as tempting as it may be, these services and specialties cannot be lumped together and assigned to your single IT resource! PSAPs require skilled system integrators to ensure that the end-to-end migration goes smoothly and painlessly.
NG9-1-1 will revolutionize public safety, and PSAPs have an opportunity to impact public safety on a global scale. That said, PSAPs have access to various resources for support, and contacting a provider to simply learn more about the process is indeed an effortless, and actionable next step.
We hope you found what Holly had to say as informative as we did. If you're looking for a trusted technology provider to devise an easy-to-follow NG9-1-1 migration plan for your current 9-1-1 call management infrastructure, contact us for a free consultation!