ESInets Help Public Safety Agencies Move to NG911

IP-based Emergency Services IP Networks enable next-generation 911 services to flourish.

This is one of the dream scenarios for next-generation 911 systems: A caller dials 911 and connects to a public safety answering point. After getting basic information about the emergency, including its nature, location and whether anyone is injured, the caller is able to use his or her smartphone to send the PSAP pictures and video of the incident.

That information is then relayed to first responders so that they have as much information as possible while en route to the scene.

However, for that to actually happen, the PSAP needs to be connected to an IP-based Emergency Services IP Network, or ESInet. An ESInet is a critical element, and the networking backbone, upon which PSAPS and public safety agencies can build services toward a system called Next Generation 911.

Maria Jacques, director of the Maine Emergency Services Communication Bureau, notes that an ESInet is a “secure, emergency network” and next-generation applications run on top of it.

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What Is an ESInet?

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) develops the technology standards that drive NG911. Those standards, known as i3, spell out numerous factors PSAPs must meet for their systems to be considered true NG911 systems.

NG911 requires both an ESInet and Next Generation Core Services (NGCS).

“The ESInet delivers i3-compliant emergency calls to the appropriate PSAP and supports NGCS; it also potentially is the transport mechanism for other public service-related capabilities,” a 911.gov document notes. “However, the ESInet is not equivalent to the NG9-1-1 software and database functions that operate on the ESInet. Rather, the NGCS consist of the software elements and related databases that are needed to process a 9-1-1 call on the NG9-1-1 network.”

ESInets take advantage of “broadband, packet switched technology capable of carrying voice plus large amounts of varying types of data” using IP standards and technology, NENA notes.

Further, ESInets are “engineered, managed networks, and are intended to be multi‐purpose,” supporting extended public safety communications services as well as 911 services.

According to NENA, NG911 systems assume that “ESInets are hierarchical, or a ‘network of networks’ in a tiered design approach to support local, regional, state and national emergency management authorities.”

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What Kinds of ESInets Can Be Built?

Like other IP networks, ESInets are a “collection of routers, switches, core service functional elements, and data security devices, and management tools,” NENA notes, but they “must be designed to meet more stringent requirements for security, resiliency and reliability service levels than most other IP networks.”

ESInets need to be constructed as managed IP networks for emergency services communications, which can be shared by all public safety agencies. They provide IP transport infrastructure upon which independent application platforms and core functional processes can be deployed, including NG911 applications.

According to NENA, ESInets need to meet numerous core requirements, including:

  • The network between the PSAP and an ESInet needs to be a private or virtual private network based upon transmission control protocol (TCP) and IP /IP
  • The networks must have scalable bandwidth to support new enhanced services
  • Multiprotocol label switching or other sub-IP mechanisms are allowed as appropriate
  • ESInets must be engineered to sustain real-time traffic, including data, audio and video

Budge Currier, the 911 branch manager of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, or CalOES, says that it is critical for ESInets to be both logically and physically separated for each connection, and for connections between data centers with the same network service provider. NENA requires PSAP LAN connections to an ESInet to be “resilient, secure, physically diverse, and logically separate.”

The idea is to be as redundant as possible and not have a disruption at one service provider knock out connections between PSAPs and the ESInet. California is creating a statewide microwave network that is connecting to every single PSAP in the state. Although it will have limited throughput, it is a redundant network connection.

ESInet design

A simplified illustrated model of an NG911 system. Source:: charlestoncounty.org

In addition to technical considerations, there are different forms and governance structures ESInets can follow.

In Maine, Jacques notes that the state’s NG911 system is run via a service-based contract. “We don’t own anything,” she says. “They put in the equipment, run the equipment, provide training, 24/7 support.”

Maine runs its own ESInet for the entire state. But some states, like Texas, offer different regions the ability to create their own ESInets.

“It’s supposed to be interoperable,” Jacques notes. “As long as the system is built to standards, it really shouldn’t matter whether you have vendor A or vendor B for PSAP equipment. We should be able to accept the data and look at the data between us.”

Kelli Merriweather, executive director of Texas’ Commission on State Emergency Communications, oversees a program that funds 911 services and provides assistance to 21 regions in Texas, most of them rural areas. The agency has established a cooperate contract under the state’s umbrella telecommunications contract that established an NGCS offering.

Other regions in Texas have their own ESInets, including the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio metro areas.

Merriweather notes that cost and funding are key considerations for state and local agencies, and that transitioning to NG911 means that PSAPs are often paying for legacy and next-generation systems simultaneously for some period of time. “You want to control for that period of time,” she notes.

ESInet construction takes planning and a long time, Merriweather notes. NG911 requires IP-capable equipment as well as updated geographic information system data, which can be a painstaking process. GIS is “a complex mix of database management, display technology, and analysis tools that can be used to create maps, solve problems that have a spatial context, and enable processes such as emergency call routing that leverages the locations of features,” 911.gov notes.

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How Does an ESInet Connect to NG911?

Once an ESInet is in place, PSAPs can build NG911 on that foundation. As NENA notes, NG911 uses “service-oriented architecture, software applications and data content to intelligently manage and control its IP based processes.”

NG911 is driven by software and databases and enables “an exponential increase in available data and information sharing possibilities.” Additionally, NG911 “provides flexibility and individual agency choice to determine information needs based on predetermined business/policy rules,” NENA states.

In California, CalOES has established different pricing tiers based on the bandwidth PSAP needs, ranging from 1 megabit per second service up to 100Mbps and even 1 gigabit per second connections

“We’ll be able to ingress photos, videos and other data sources from the originating 911 call path side,” Currier says.

PSAPs can also easily upgrade their bandwidth. “We have got the ability to grow the network to support the throughput for data,” he says.

However, just because an ESInet enables NG911 services like video and photo collection doesn’t mean a state or a region will use those apps, Jacques says.

“I think that we will proceed cautiously,” she says. “Our PSAPs are really sensitive to the fact that they don’t want to be inundated with video.”

Maine’s rules, she says, are not “defined to the point that, policywise, where we’re ready for that.”

Dave Faytinger/U.S. Air Force
Sep 27 2019

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