Next-Generation 9-1-1 safeguards against swatting


Posted on: February 14, 2018 by Robert Clark

In this two-part article we’ll be exploring the limitations of the current 9-1-1 network and how this is impacting life and death situations across the country.

Let’s take a look at legacy systems, why they don’t work and its impact on emergency response.

The obsolescence of legacy E9-1-1 infrastructure

Existing analog 9-1-1 networks use switching technology that was developed before VoIP was invented. At the time, no one anticipated the need to secure these critical networks against threats like swatting (See this report by NPR)  and basic malware as those methods and technologies had yet to be invented, let alone conceptualized.  Legacy 9-1-1 networks are not intelligent. They’re based on point-to-point, voice-only circuitry that predates most computers.  And, they’re fixed and designed to do specific tasks under specific rules. Those rules don’t apply today, as we blast information at light speed across cyberspace and over these unintelligent networks. It’s a case of simple infrastructure being past its prime, just like an 8-year-old desktop computer with an obsolete operating system that no longer functions. This conundrum facing our nation’s 9-1-1 system made national news recently in a report by NBC’s Jeff Rosen regarding location accuracy challenges. The way we communicate today is not supported by existing networks, period.

9-1-1 System Obsolescence – The Tower Computer of the PDA Age

Imagine having to rely on an 8-year old computer for your job, you would go insane just waiting for it to process the information or task you gave it. We obsolete hardware nowadays at such a rapid pace, it is a nightmare to even dream of relying on an old tower computer or even a 3-year old laptop.  Imagine having a smart phone that is more than 2 years old?  These are things that make us cringe.

Now, imagine for a minute having to work on one of those archaic 8-year-old computers and having to connect it to a video streaming service like Netflix.  Would it work?  Likely no, as the processor would not be fast enough, there would not be anywhere near enough RAM for it to even buffer, and the network card itself would likely not even connect to the router in your home.  There’ll be no disagreement from the vast majority reading this who would think: “My system won’t support this service,” right?

Ok, so let’s roll the clock back even further now… back to the ‘70s, when computers didn’t even exist (vacuum tube models the size of a city block don’t count), and let’s run the same scenario.  How would we connect to a Netflix system?  What is a Netflix, an “App,” “social media”, heck, even a video game (you mean Pong?)?  I need something, I grab that thing on the wall with the circle and numbers and I dial. A network, what is that anyway?  I have my phone, my paper map from AAA, the phone book. What more do I need?  My telephone system works just fine, I’m sure they have everything covered for me.

Or do they?

The systems that were built in the ‘70s, those telephone exchanges that use switchboards, POTS lines, CAMA trunks, lots and lots of cards, even more hardware and NO software… yes, you guessed it, those are what form the backbone of our nation’s 9-1-1 network.  30+ year old systems!  You thought the idea of using an 8-year-old computer was scary; imagine what those who are “in the know” think every single day!

So when we ask the simple questions brought up by NBC’s Jeff Rosen:

  • Why can Uber find my location?
  • Why can Facebook find my location?
  • Why CAN’T 9-1-1 find my location? The above is your answer.

The technology is quite simply out of date – by a very long time. It’s clearly time for an urgent update to the system. We know the technology exists to allow for accurate location data to be provided instantly so let’s get a move on and introduce it.

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About Robert Clark

Vice President, NEXTGEN Solutions, Atos Public Safety
Rob Clark is a Global Public Safety and Security Migration Subject Matter Expert (SME) specializing in NG911/112 PSAP and ESInet solutions, incorporating Smart City ecosystem needs to provide a single “NGSmart” blueprint for infrastructure modernization strategies. As the Head of the NG9-1-1 GTM for North America, Rob leads the Atos Public Safety team and organizational pillars via strategic direction, solution alignment, partnerships, delivery models and total lifecycle sustainability models for Public Safety clients. Serving as the lead subject matter expert for all Atos Public Safety offerings, Rob represents the organization in North America and abroad to align core competencies with market demands, customer requirements and forward-focused innovation.

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