Aug 09 2022

New York Invests in Emergency Wireless Communications

A state program dedicated to interoperable communications helps to address gaps in information exchange.

Over the past few years, collaborative technology that supports communication efforts across industries has been a must. This is especially true for state and local governments, law enforcement and public safety professionals. 

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul recently announced the release of $62.5 million to help counties upgrade the wireless technology that first responders and public safety officials use to communicate. This funding, which comes through a state grant program, accelerates upgrades of outdated technology and works around the traditional funding methods that typically fail to fully fund emergency systems in a timely manner. 

RELATED: Learn how augmented location capabilities could change the scope of 911 services.

The Statewide Interoperable Communications Grant (SICG) Program will allow individual counties to apply for funding to improve infrastructure, address communications deficiencies, implement national interoperability channels and enhance regional connectivity between counties and systems. 

Counties with “insufficient coverage or insufficient infrastructure on national interoperability channels” may be awarded up to $6 million each, according to the governor’s office. The governor recognizes interoperability — making varying technologies communicate with each other seamlessly — is a major challenge for emergency services agencies and one of the motivating factors for the current nationwide upgrade to Next Generation 911 (NG911)

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Why Is Interoperability Important for Public Safety?

In 2021, Verizon conducted a survey of over 3,000 police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel. Of those surveyed, 70 percent said they were comfortable with existing technologies, including smartphones, mobile radios, laptops and push-to-talk devices. However, 80 percent said interoperability is of “critical” concern. Despite emergency personnel regularly using this communication technology, they struggle to communicate across teams, agencies and fields.

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One benefit of interoperability is data sharing, which can facilitate sharing life-saving information in a crisis. During an emergency, time spent searching for necessary information can slow first responders, ultimately delaying action. Successful interoperability enhances emergency response times, awareness and action, helping improve community safety. 

“When an emergency happens, our first responders need to be able to communicate,” State Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Jackie Bray said in a press release. “Updating aging communications infrastructure through these grants and partnerships between the Division and counties is critical to ensuring clear lines of communication during events.”

How Does the SICG Program Support Next Generation 911?

New York’s efforts to upgrade emergency communication services correspond with the broader, nationwide NG911 effort. NG911 intends to enhance emergency number services by adapting current systems to support and incorporate evolving technology. This includes accepting digital information — voice, photos, videos, text messages, etc. — during emergency correspondence and seamlessly relaying that information to first responders. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, NG911 would also enable 911 call centers to transfer 911 calls to other call centers, helping them deal with call overload, disasters and the day-to-day transfer of 911 calls to other jurisdictions.

READ MORE: Learn how New Orleans is enhancing its call centers with Amazon Web Services.

For New York specifically, the newly released funding is meant to support lifesaving technology that can be costly to upgrade and difficult to keep updated. Technologies include mobile radios for responders, additional wireless towers and new equipment for communications centers that will enable jurisdictions to communicate with each other. As the governor noted in the release, “when our firefighters, police officers, EMTs and paramedics respond to a crisis, they need a communications structure that allows them to communicate and coordinate effectively and efficiently.”

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