Members of the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA) last week discussed this year’s vision for the second phase of their work, which includes providing greater detail about the cybersecurity, architecture transition and funding components of the report on next-generation 911 (NG911) that was released early this year.

TFOPA members said the report—approved in January and released in February—has been well-received within the 911 community and by those decision makers who have read it. The task force was established last year to advise the FCC about issues surrounding the transition to next-generation 911, but the report also includes a considerable amount of information outlining processes and best practices for public-safety answering points (PSAPs) to implement in various areas.

One key area is cybersecurity, and PSAP leaders have learned that it is not just an issue associated with NG911 but one that can impact operations today, according to Jay English, who serves as chairman of the TFOPA cybersecurity working group.

“What we’ve received is overwhelming support for the concept of securing networks sooner rather than later,” English said during the TFOPA meeting, which was webcast. “When we give presentations on cybersecurity, members of the audience—most of whom are practitioners, whether they’re CIOs, PSAP directors, supervisors or line telecommunicators—have one very common reaction, and that was, ‘I didn’t know cybersecurity was that kind of a threat to us right now. I also didn’t know we had options.’”

Public-safety entities have been increasingly have victimized by cyberattacks in recent years, with the nature of attacks ranging from denial-of-service attacks to ransomware threats. Educating all personnel in PSAPs is crucial, and doing so can play a big role in helping secure the 911 network, English said.

“The folks in the PSAP world are very careful about sharing data,” he said. “We deal with HIPAA, we deal with CJIS data. We’re used to protecting data, but we’re not used to having to protect the entire enterprise, because we’ve never had to do it before.

“So, just the fact that people are starting to understand the nature of cyber and how far-reaching it is, and that they are starting to think proactively instead of reactively as to how do we defend the network before we build—to us, that’s a huge win.”

David Hall, chairman of the TFOPA working group examining PSAP architectures, said his group this year expects to develop an NG911 planning framework and an NG911 scorecard that will serve as guidance documents to help 911 monitor their progress as they make the transition to the IP-based next-gen platform.

“There are a number of different avenues that you can take in a variety of different pathways to get to the ‘ready’ part,” Hall said. “Our obligation will be … is to get to the point where we know what those checkboxes are, we know what those pathways are, and—from a planning perspective—what a 911 authority in order to get from wherever they are to the point of next-gen [911].”

But NG911 will not be an end-to-end IP system until commercial carriers retire legacy time-division multiplexing (TDM) networks and selective routers that currently send emergency calls into the 911 system, according to Anthony Montani, Verizon’s director of E911 engineering and operations.

“The key, from my perspective, is to get off of that TDM switch, get off of those selective routers that were designed 30 years ago and more, and see that evolution onto an architecture that can originate and pass that data onto the next-gen environment,” Montani said.