9-1-1 Needs a Tune Up

Jeff Ledbetter, GISP, PMP


Jason Bivens, bs, nrp


Have you been tapped to play a part in Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) as the 9-1-1 Authority, Addressing Authority or GIS Data Provider, but have been feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of bringing your existing location data (i.e. road centerlines, address points and 9-1-1 boundaries) up to the National Emergency Numbers Association’s (NENA) NG9-1-1 data standards? It has implications for everyone involved, whether you have sophisticated GIS support or little to no GIS support.

In the Fall 2017 edition of the BayGeo Journal you read about the need to get your data ready for NG9-1-1. In this edition, we’d like to discuss why public safety stakeholders, from police and fire departments to IT and GIS support teams, need to shift their mindset away from system-forward thinking to embrace data-forward thinking.


For too long public safety systems have been vendor-driven, highly customized and, therefore, very expensive to maintain. They typically come with complicated procurements, heavy maintenance agreements and a “lesser of two evils” acceptance of products. As in so many areas of life data should bring options and flexibility. As we experience digital transformation, the great value in the many GIS data layers will become inescapably apparent, especially assisting jurisdictions that are interested in boundary drops for mutual and automatic aid (where neighboring agencies, especially fire-rescue agencies, respond to each other’s calls based on proximity rather than administrative boundaries).

Public safety systems are no different. The open-source focus of the NG9-1-1 standards provide an opportunity for technologists to free our public safety partners from the bonds of this system-forward thinking by insisting that rather than using common systems to bring interoperability we use common operating data. It’s a shift away from being concerned about what interface mutual-aid response systems use to ensuring that those systems are using the same data as their neighbors. This will lead to nimbler implementation of NG9-1-1 by allowing agencies to share and collaborate on commonly used data without having to keep individual data sets that become riddled with inaccurate information because a partner agency has had a more recent interaction. This is becoming widely used with criminal justice information that is accessed by law enforcement agencies, jails, and healthcare systems, among many others.

In particular, there is a great opportunity to apply this concept to GIS data preparation for NG9-1-1. GIS will provide a large chunk of the common operating data necessary to run the Next Generation Core Services (NGCS), the Emergency Call Routing Function (ECRF) and Location Validation Function (LVF) specifically. Because NG9-1-1 is built upon the concept of being a network of networks, local data maintenance and regional data aggregation will have a larger geographical impact than ever before. Aggregating your GIS data into a platform-agnostic tool that is compatible with any system, whether from commercial vendors, NGCS, computer-aided dispatch (CAD), GIS or other non-public safety business system, will allow for flexibility and efficiency in a way that is new to the public safety world but that has become the norm in the GIS world.

When evaluating a potential tool you should consider whether it 1) allows for schema resilience, that is to say that it shouldn’t demand major GIS data schema changes and spawn otherwise redundant datasets; 2) supports an iterative data cleanup and maintenance cycle; 3) maintains authoritative provisioning boundaries that act as a geofence to protect each jurisdiction’s data sets.

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan

Those responsible for GIS data prep should start with an assessment of NG9-1-1 readiness and a strategic plan to move your data forward. There are two aspects of the data that should be considered when assessing NG9-1-1 data fitness and the level of effort you will need to bring it into compliance: the accuracy of the data you already have and completeness, and filling in the known and unknown holes in your data. Because of this, public safety organizations need to invest in creating the "gold standard" in addressing databases to meet this dynamic need. The good news is the entire government enterprise that each public safety organization is a part of stands to benefit greatly from this investment and, as such, should be leveraged to contribute to the effort!

911 Tuneup figure 1.png

A 911 GIS data implementation and quality assurance plan should be drafted. This plan should take into consideration the number and type of GIS datasets, detailed in the NENA GIS Data Model (now out for public review), and the current readiness for its use in a NG9-1-1 environment. It should document the difference in the current condition of your GIS data and what is needed for an end state NG9-1-1 dataset.

The plan, which is intended to be a living document, serves as a base to start your GIS data remediation efforts. It documents the plan of work that needs to be executed for your particular needs, from which you can estimate costs and duration of the effort to level up your GIS data for provisioning into your NG9-1-1 system. Based on this plan you should pursue a purposeful order that: 

1)     Begins with reconciling your Master Street Address Guide (MSAG), the legacy 9-1-1 database that bears a close but not quite 1:1 relationship to street centerlines, to road centerline reconciliation (which is distinct from synchronization),

2)     Jumpstarts the executive-level conversations that need to take place to agree upon boundaries, and documents those boundaries with GIS data,

3)     Performs iterative location data (i.e. address points, centerlines, boundaries and legacy 9-1-1 databases) quality control and validation that considers the relationships that exist between the separate location datasets, and 

4)     Reconciles the Automatic Location Information (ALI), the legacy 9-1-1 database that contains landline and some voice-over-IP subscriber information and correlates a subscriber’s civic location (aka street address) to the MSAG, to GIS data including but not limited to address points and street centerlines. 

Address Points:  NG9-1-1 GIS Data Prep Case Study

The latest version of the NG9-1-1 GIS Data Model requires address points. This is a dataset that most jurisdictions will need help with to meet the standards. Let’s use address points as a practical example to demonstrate the level of effort that it will take to ensure compliance.  

What is an Address?

You may think this is an easy question but address nerds can go on for days answering it! Let's rely on NENA-ADM-000.21-2017, the NENA Master Glossary of 9-1-1 Terminology, for definitions for our purposes here. We'll reference three definitions specifically:

1.     Civic Location: “Any city-style address that includes a house number and a street name is considered a Civic Address.  Civic Addresses include a community name that may or may not be recognized by the USPS or be MSAG valid. Civic Addresses may be used as Postal address if recognized by the USPS. Civic Addresses may be used as MSAG addresses if they are an exact match to the MSAG address.  A rural route delivery address or FPO or APO address is not considered a Civic Address.”

2.      Dispatchable Location: “A location determined by a telecommunicator that is derived from an ALI Response (in E9-1-1) or derived from a PIDF-LO* (in NG9-1-1) represented as a civic location or geodetic location and sometimes modified after communication with a caller that contains enough detail for accurately dispatching emergency responders to a location.”

(*Footnote: PIDF-LO is the Presence Information Data Format Location Object, an IETF standard that is used to represent an address/location in XML format across the internet.)

The civic location best represents what the man on the street thinks of as an address. The dispatchable location represents the biggest difference between addressing for other purposes and public-safety-grade addressing. A dispatchable location may be a location where a civic location has not been assigned. For example, that statue of the town founder in that spectacular downtown park in Anytown, USA is a notable landmark that visitors most likely don't know the address to. When a telecommunicator asks, "What is the address you're calling from?" said visitor is likely to respond something along the lines of "I don't know but I'm in the middle of Central Park near this big statue." The extension of addressing to these dispatchable locations helps a caller relate a location without requiring them to know exact addressing.


3.     Subaddress:  Another place that public-safety-grade addressing may differ from addressing from other purposes is subaddressing. NENA-STA-004.1.1-2014, entitled the United States Civic Location Data Exchange Format (CLDXF) Standard, spells out what subaddress components are available. This includes (in section 3.6): Building, Floor, Unit, Room, Seat, and Additional Location Information. 

Imagine the Benefits

Sound location data (e.g. streets and addresses) are the foundation for public safety systems, including call routing for NG9-1-1. Agencies will become the owners and operators of an authoritative public safety streets and address layer in NG9-1-1 that will provide call routing data to the Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet), which is a segregated IP network dedicated to 9-1-1 and differs from the federal Public Safety Broadband Network (otherwise known as FirstNet). This will also mitigate other issues that occur once a 9-1-1 call enters the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), or 9-1-1 call center. Imagine a call routing to the correct PSAP, subsequently verifying in the CAD system and being dispatched to the correct beats while seamlessly being logged accurately in the records management system (RMS). If the source information is correct, it can create a domino effect improving accuracy throughout the rest of the public safety systems.

NG9-1-1 requires that all PSAPs maintain accurate and complete road centerline and address point data that will provision into their ESInet. These road centerlines and addresses are used to determine which PSAP a call should route to. This will improve call routing time and mitigate the necessity to transfer calls, which extends the time it takes for citizens to receive service. Discrepancies along PSAP boundaries (i.e., which agency is responsible for which geographic area) will be predetermined and agreed to prior to provisioning. Neighboring PSAPs must agree on a boundary and determine who is responsible for which section and/or side of the road and which set of addresses. This will further mitigate the response time of fire or police to the incident. Creating this accurate database of streets and addresses is mission critical for public safety agencies.

There are many downstream benefits of maintaining this accurate and complete public safety addressing database. First, creating and sustaining this address layer requires PSAPs to build crosswalks to other resources both internal and external to their agency. The PSAP will need to pull from multiple data sources to build a process that supports the public safety workflows and requirements. In building these crosswalks, agencies work towards becoming more efficient and cost-effective, potentially reducing costs and increasing revenue for the entire government enterprise.

Consider the Challenge

As you are picturing, this is no small effort! It goes beyond addressing GIS data. Without dedicated effort to fill this need billion dollar ESInets won’t be able to route calls properly.

Consider the example of the City of San Jose, which recently completed a master address database project. The City, with a population of about 1 million, has sophisticated GIS support throughout its enterprise and started with an address database of 250,000 points. They realized that they were employing 12 full-time employees to manage nine disparate address databases in various formats. They ranged from spreadsheets, to official records, to GIS data.

After some initial analysis they knew there was a lot of overlap between these databases but there were also potential new address candidates that should be consolidated into an enterprise master address database. Through this effort more than 138,000 address points, a roughly 55% increase, were collected and added to the database, tackling the deficiency in completeness. Furthermore, about 20,000 erroneous or unnecessary address points were removed, improving the database's accuracy. This took more than nine months with many dedicated resources, both financial and staff time. This goes to demonstrate that to do the job right, you must be considering the challenge now and not later!

Build the Cadillac One Piece at a Time

Just as Johnny Cash built his Cadillac one piece at a time in his memorable ballad “One Piece at a Time,” sustaining a comprehensive authoritative public safety addressing layer is a monumental task, but piece by piece it can be done. Not enough people are talking about the task and some are overwhelmed at the idea of how to put it together. It is a time-consuming and tedious process that requires collaboration, understanding, and a willingness to adjust, or even create from scratch, workflows to improve public safety systems. However, PSAPs can make progress by taking one step at a time.

911 tuneup figure 3.png

In our experience, assessing, improving, and creating address databases boils downs to five steps.

Collect:  Consider the multitude of addressing databases that already exist. Depending on the PSAP’s geography the number and type of addressing databases will vary. Some of the most common addressing databases include: public works, voter registration, commercial properties, utilities (gas, electric, internet, etc.), permitting, assessor’s records, etc. This the frame for your Cadillac, you’re on your way!

Normalize:  Now that you've collected your databases you have to be able to compare apples to apples. To achieve this, you'll want make things uniform in your databases. This includes making sure that things are abbreviated the same way and that things like 1st and First are treated consistently across the board. For a smooth ride your Cadillac needs a solid suspension!

Parse:  The changes that CLDXF will bring to your database become real at this stage. You must be careful to ensure that your data is parsed in compliance with NENA standards in order to make data transfer as efficient as possible. That Cadillac body has some nice curves!

Compare/Validate:  This is where you analyze your address candidates to be sure you're only getting legitimate addresses. It’s starting to look like a Cadillac, time for a transmission.

Geolocate/Place:  In geolocating your vetted address candidates you move along to the final throes of this effort. It's the refined placement in the parcel, on the site, on the structure or at the point of access that will take the most effort. You'll want to utilize NENA-INF-014.1-2015, entitled “NENA Information Document for Development of Site/Structure Address Point GIS Data for 9-1-1,” for its full value at this stage. You're now full of addresses and ready for a nap but guess what: the engine is running! Ready to take your Caddy for a spin?

After you've completed those five steps, the sixth, and probably most important, step will be to iteratively maintain the database. It’s the lather, rinse, and repeat cycle that will ensure that the PSAP is confident there is a solid foundation for moving forward with further NG9-1-1 quality control checks. 

Get the Message to Leadership!

This is our opportunity as technical experts to educate our leaders on what’s coming, set the urgency so they understand how important it will be to develop a strategic plan and anticipate the heavy work load before it’s too late, and have a voice in deciding the best platform agnostic tool to use to accomplish the work. While it might seem difficult to get the attention of public safety leaders, it is imperative, as the future of emergency response will certainly rely on the quality of our addressing and GIS data.

About the Authors

Jeff Ledbetter has been working with GIS technology since 1998, and in 9-1-1/Public Safety applications of GIS since 2009 when he joined the Greater Harris County 9-1-1 Emergency Network in Houston, TX as the GIS Manager. Since then, he's been the Program Manager for the San Diego Regional Public Safety Geodatabase program in San Diego, CA, and is now a Public Safety GIS Expert with Michael Baker International's Public Safety Solutions practice. Mr. Ledbetter focuses on GIS projects for NG9-1-1, computer-aided dispatch, police/fire operations, and emergency management. Mr. Ledbetter is a member of the URISA NG9-1-1 Task Force and NENA's Additional Data workgroup, and holds certifications as a GIS Professional (GISP) and Project Management Professional (PMP).

Jason Bivens has spent the last 10 years in public safety executive positions, where he led the acquisition and implementation of cutting edge technology, created organizational change, mentored and counseled C-level leaders, and built strong relationships with public and private sector partners to deliver top notch emergency services within the community. Mr. Bivens until recently served as the Director at Santa Clara County, CA 9-1-1 Communications Department and is now a Public Safety Expert with Michael Baker International's Public Safety Solutions practice. Mr. Bivens focuses on preparing 9-1-1 communications center for the data transition to NG9-1-1, among other initiatives. Mr. Bivens is a Nationally Registered Paramedic (NRP) and holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Business.

Michael Baker International is a full service GIS technology firm with services including NG9-1-1/public safety, mobile LiDAR, GIS consulting and app development from its California offices in Oakland, Rancho Cordova, Santa Ana and San Diego.

Spring 2018 Volume 11 Issue 1

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