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A mobile dispatch vehicle “Kansas 911” “Mobile Dispatch Training”; a hand holding a mobile phone showing a location app; a telecommunicator on the phone at a workstation

Kansas uses cutting-edge technology to enhance 911 services

February 6, 2024

The State of Kansas uses cutting-edge technology to enhance the state’s 911 services for telecommunicators, responders in the field, and the public.

Michele Abbott, Scott Ekberg, and Sherry Massey of the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council — the  organization overseeing the delivery of 911 services and strategies for future enhancements in the state — shared ways FirstNet is maximizing the potential of 911. They explain how FirstNet enables data sharing, mobile dispatching, and redundancy for 911 agencies.

Data is key

Kansas was an early adopter of Next Generation 911 (NG911) standards and technology to upgrade the state’s emergency communication infrastructure for processing digital data.

“The promise of NG911 is to be able to funnel tons of call-related data along with a 911 call,” said Sherry Massey, GIS and Technical Specialist for the council.

As the state transitioned to a digital infrastructure, they also looked to leverage public safety broadband. “From basically day one of our project, we have utilized FirstNet,” said Scott Ekberg, who is the NG911 administrator for the council.

FirstNet provides quality of service, priority, and preemption for all public safety communications — critical when entrusting a network to transport 911 calls.

GIS consolidation

A crucial component of NG911 is geographic information systems, or GIS. With GIS data, the caller’s location is verified and routed to the nearest public safety answering point, or PSAP. 

The Kansas 911 Coordinating Council oversaw a project to update GIS data across the state. In a short two years, the council worked with local PSAPs to create a statewide map of high-quality data to help telecommunicators. The map was completed in 2014, and local PSAPs have kept the data updated and maintained since then.

These maps are used to provide geographic context for 911 calls. Some examples of the available data are mile-marker information, railroad crossing numbers, and utility service boundaries.

Common operating picture

GIS mapping has proven invaluable to Kansas telecommunicators, who often request that the same data be shared with responders in the field.

That’s one reason why the state is piloting the rollout of a new app. “This app allows us to share the map out into the field, so that our curated data can be available and provide a common operating picture,” said Sherry.

A common operating picture is an important benefit for Kansas telecommunicators. With NG911, PSAPs have seen an influx of data, which can be overwhelming for staff.

“We are still at a point where a human sitting in a chair has to synthesize a lot of that data — to pick the wheat from the chaff —and then figure out how to pass it along to the responders in the field,” Sherry said.

With this new app, Kansas is hoping to alleviate the burden on telecommunicators. “They are trying to deal with the caller and everything else going on, and it's critical to make sure any data is a help, not a hindrance,” said Sherry.

The app will aggregate and visualize various data sets to put actionable information in the hands of responders.

When fully rolled out, the app will be in the hands of an estimated 24,000 first responders across Kansas. Many of these responders will be connected using FirstNet’s True Priority®, so that their data gets the ‘lights and sirens’ to cut through network congestion.

On-site training and testing for telecommunicators

Recognizing that PSAPs are often understaffed and overworked, the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council is developing a mobile dispatch and training center that will be equipped with five workstations and FirstNet connectivity. The team plans to use the mobile unit to bring training to the PSAPs, reducing travel for staff and time away from their centers.

“We’d like to create, develop, and deliver the curriculum training program to them,” said Michele Abbott, who is the communications and training coordinator for the council. “This mobile unit will allow the PSAPs to test and evaluate new features or functions without losing valuable time to traveling.”

Backup dispatching

“A mobile dispatch center makes a huge amount of sense,” said Scott. “We will have the ability to take it anywhere in the state and use FirstNet to connect and have people log on as if they were sitting in their home dispatch center.”

If any one of the over 100 PSAPs in the state is experiencing a major event, the mobile dispatch center can be sent to provide backup. “If they're being overwhelmed with calls, we can send the mobile unit and take surge calls for them,” said Scott.

Layers of redundancy

Another way Kansas is creating redundancy is by providing FirstNet as failover for the statewide ESINet, the emergency services internet protocol network that serves as the transport for 911 calls and services.

This is possible because the Kansas 911 Coordinating Council migrated all eligible PSAPs to a statewide call handling system. “There was a push to create a shared system that all PSAPs could benefit from,” said Scott.

Having all PSAPs on a centralized hosted platform enables continuity in receiving text-to-911, video from callers, and enhanced location capabilities.

The primary connection between the host and the PSAPs is a terrestrial circuit, and FirstNet serves as a backup if the primary network is down or unstable. FirstNet works seamlessly. “We have PSAPs that fail over to it routinely, and they never even know,” said Scott. “There is zero downtime.”

To learn more about how FirstNet is helping public safety and the 911 community to leverage innovative public safety communications, sign up for the 911 Take with Jennifer McIntyre.


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