More than half a decade ago the Next Generation 911 Advancement Act of 2012 was passed with the intent of helping the nation’s public safety organizations upgrade their systems to meet both evolving technology and citizen expectations.

With mobile devices becoming the primary communications platform for a large portion of the population and citizens turning away from voice-based communications towards data-based modes, such as texting, the existing 911 call center infrastructure is no longer equipped for optimal response to public safety needs. In fact, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently referred to the system as “antiquated.”

During Ross’s speech he also announced that the U.S. Department of Commerce would be assisting state and local governments with funding to upgrade 911 call center infrastructure via a $110 million federal matching grant program.  Further Ross commented that “Next Generation 911 will save lives by being faster and more reliable, and by better connecting first responders to key health and government services in the event of an emergency.”

While news of the federal funding was well received by state and local public safety agencies, many states, counties, and cities, including New York City, have already embarked on a next generation 911 roll-out, but the timelines to full execution are long.

In a recent conversation Bob Burwell, Chief Technology Officer for NetApp U.S. Public Sector State, Local Government and Education (SLED), noted that “New York City, has a next-gen 911 technology plan and investment strategy and has started its modernization efforts with a multiplatform 911 capability, including text, video, and social media messaging, that will be launched in 2018.  And while this is a great start the full deployment of the Next Generation 9-1-1 program is still at least 3 to 4 years away.  This grant program will provide a tremendous opportunity for New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DOITT) to help shorten the time to completion.”

As to how to invest the grants, which are expected to range in size from $250,000 to $500,000, Burwell urged state and local IT leaders to focus not only on ‘front of house’ projects, like better Wi-Fi connectivity, but to consider how data will be managed behind the scenes.  “One of the most important lessons we’ve learned from working with public safety organizations on body worn camera (BWC) programs, is that managing data is essential,” shared Burwell.  He continued “Data management is not only about ensuring that there’s a flexible storage environment that can accommodate both present and future needs, but also ensuring that data is secure both for chain of custody requirements and also against ransomware and other attacks.”

After many years of waiting to upgrade their 911 systems, it seems like state and local governments will finally be able to implement next-generation solutions that meet citizens’ growing demand for data-driven connections.  While agencies wait for the official release of the Department of Commerce’s grants, it’s an ideal opportunity for CIOs, CTOs and their teams to plan not only how to meet current needs, but to plan an infrastructure that’s reliable, resilient, and adaptable for whatever the next, next-generation of IT might be.