PSAP operations: The transformative power of ESInets
These broadband-enabled networks support the transmission of video, images and other bandwidth-intensive data files
By Randall D. Larson
ESInets are a critical first step toward Next-Generation 9-1-1. These broadband-enabled networks support the transmission of video, images and other bandwidth-intensive data files, thus enabling the sharing of emergency data between public safety answering points (PSAPs).
Advances in communications network technology
It all begins with Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) – the recognition that modern communications technology has far surpassed traditional, narrowband, telephony, voice-centric 911 systems.
The advent of digital communications and the enhanced capabilities of today’s handheld communication devices to send a tremendous amount of data and media beyond just the user’s voice requires a reception system on the telecommunicators’ end of the 9-1-1 call to accommodate current and near-future data delivery. NG9-1-1 networks replace the existing narrowband, circuit-switched 9‐1‐1 networks that carry only voice and very limited data, offering the first solution to the technology upsurge.
Another advance in communications network technology that has or will impact public safety communications is the Emergency Services IP Network or ESInet. “IP” refers to “Internet Protocol,” which is simply the identified standard set of protocols (rules) that determine the format of data sent over the Internet or another kind of network. Thus, an ESInet is a network that adheres to standard IP that is used for emergency services voice and data communications.
The ESInet supplies the network foundation on which NG9-1-1 transmits its large volume of data to and from callers and 9-1-1 centers and subsequently between PSAPs and first responders. In fact, an ESINet is one of the core network components of NG9-1-1, providing the connection between the PSAP and its service providers, and between the PSAP and its callers-for-service.
The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) defines ESInet as “a managed IP network that is used for emergency services communications, and which can be shared by all public safety agencies. It provides the IP transport infrastructure upon which independent application platforms and core services can be deployed, including, but not restricted to, those necessary for providing NG9-1-1 services.”
NENA goes on to note that ESInets may be constructed from a mix of dedicated and shared facilities, interconnected at various levels, from local to international, to form an IP-based network of networks. The term “ESInet” designates the network, not the services that are carried by that network.
ESInets are designed to stimulate reliable flow and sharing of 9-1-1 calls and/or data by utilizing existing broadband, packet-switched technology that is capable of carrying both voice and other various types of data in large quantities. The NENA standards allow ESInets to be designed and managed to support a variety of PSAP operational communications and data-sharing needs in the most expeditious level possible.
Components of an ESInet
FirstNet and ESInets are related but operationally distinct systems. FirstNet is a wireless broadband network for communications between first responders, whereas ESInets are intended to provide a data link between the 9-1-1 caller and the PSAP telecommunicator – exemplifying the needs of NG9-1-1, and subsequently as needed from the PSAP to the responder or allied agency, with the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and telephony systems as the conduit between them.
As with many wired or wireless communications modes, an ESInet is fairly flexible in the kind of media used to transport its data, which allows variety in the network designs that accommodate its application. This can range from typical wiring of copper or fiber to wireless means such as radio or satellite. As long as standard IP is used and the mode is consistent, the ESInet is able to transport voice, text, imagery and video data to and from the PSAP, as well as other groups that are designated in the network design.
ESInet Options for Different-Sized PSAPs
A kind of “virtual consolidation” can be established by using the ESInet to link a number of PSAPs together for the purpose of sharing data and giving smaller agencies the same data resources as their larger neighbors. Sharing data in this manner when needed benefits a PSAP’s daily operations and also accommodates more immediate coordination during major incidents that affect numerous connected PSAPs.
With the large diversity in technological systems and standard operating procedures (SOPs) between PSAPs and first responder agencies, there’s no standardized configuration that would govern the use of an ESInet, and so far it’s not a one-size-fits-all configuration. NG9-1-1 is providing a wealth of data on top of the voice call, but even this largely originates with the caller and what devices they have and what frame of mind they are in to send images, video, IoT - via their communication devices. And on the PSAP side, the technology needs to be able to receive all of that data in a seamless and useful means so the dispatcher can forward it out to the field responders. It’s also worth pointing out that the added abundance of information flow presenting itself to public safety telecommunicators needs to be managed to avoid overwhelming staff.
An ESInet is definitely a technology with advantages for PSAP and first responder operations – and thus our ability to even better serve the public – but realistically an amount of compatible connectivity, training and user-level operational consideration is necessary for the process to work as intended.
About the author
Randall D. Larson retired after 20 years in public safety communications, serving as a shift supervisor, trainer and field communications supervisor for the San Jose (CA) Fire Department. He now resides among the northern California Redwoods writing in a number of fields of interest.