Alabama public-safety answering points(PSAPs) are being transitioned to an IP network to prepare them for next-generation 911 (NG-911) while using solutions from 911 vendor Bandwidth, according to Jason Jackson, executive director for the Alabama State 911 Board.
Live rollout of the Alabama Next Generation Emergency Network (AMGEN) began in the fall with a new call-routing solution being implemented in two PSAPs and the ability to receive live emergency calls from T-Mobile customers, Jackson said.
“It’s technically not next-gen, but we’re moving to an IP-based [architecture],” Jackson said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We can’t get to next generation  until we’re IP-based. I really call it an IP system, because it’s not a next-generation system. All the carriers have to get on board before the text messaging, the videos and all the next-generation stuff can happen.”
Kevin Breault, vice president of emergency products for Bandwidth, echoed this sentiment, describing the implementation of the IP layer as a foundation for NG-911.
“You can’t build a building without a strong foundation,” Breault said during an interview. “That’s pretty much where we’re at in Alabama; we’re building that strong foundation in order to add additional capabilities as we go along.”
Some initial benefits to PSAPs moving to the IP system is that it will become much more affordable for call centers to have redundant connectivity to a backup facility, Breault said.
Such redundancy is a priority in Alabama, which is prone to strikes from tornadoes and hurricanes, Jackson said. In fact, during a recent tornado, one 911 district in the state was “on an island” because all lines to the backup PSAPs were severed, he said.
“It didn’t happen [for] very long, but it did happen,” Jackson said. “We wanted a way where, if we needed to shut down a district in one part of the state and transfer them to another part of the state, we wanted to be capable.”
Full implementation of the new system statewide is expected to be completed early in 2015, which likely would make Alabama the first state in the southeastern U.S. to make the transition, Jackson said. In the meantime, 911 calls also can be routed over the legacy 911 system, if necessary.
“Everything has gone as expected—there’s been no glitches, and it’s great,” Jackson said. “To me, it’s a success when the dispatchers don’t see a difference, when they don’t realize [a change has been made]. If you can do this without there being a difference, they’ve done their job.
“Bandwidth was not a traditional choice, and a lot of people were like, ‘It will never work.’ There have obviously been bumps in the road, but so far, it’s working.”
Breault said he believes the Alabama rollout can be duplicated in other states, if key players are willing to take the steps necessary to ensure that potential problems—such as outdated laws and funding systems—do not create problems. In Alabama—the state where the first 911 call was made in 1968—both of these issues were addressed, he said.
“The only thing that’s prohibiting next-generation capabilities in any state is the people,” Breault said. “There’s not any barrier they can’t overcome, be it funding, be it legislative or technical. There’s nothing that’s going to keep next generation from happening today. The only thing that’s keeping it from happening is people. It requires people to make the initial step to say they’re going to do this.
“This project is just another example of Alabama leading the way in the country, as far as establishing themselves as an example for other states to follow. What Jason and the board in Alabama are doing is removing any potential roadblock to see continued success.”