The Zetron Blog: Z-Wire

Will Telecommunicators Be Replaced by Machines?

Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)   The pace of adoption of Next Generation 9-1-1 technology is speeding up. In fact, there are organizations dedicated to increasing the pace of adoption, such as the NG911 NOW Coalition. The NG911 NOW’s mission is to promote an accelerated implementation of NG911 throughout the United States, with a goal to have voice, video, text and data for 9-1-1 available nationwide by the end of 2020. 2020 is also the year robots will presumably replace over five million jobs. The media continuously reports on the impact of the digital world and the World Economic Forum predicts a “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” characterized by unprecedented “developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, and biotechnology.” So does that mean that Ms. or Mr. Roboto will soon be donning a headset and taking 9-1-1 calls? The answer is no. Leading computer scientists working in artificial intelligence, robotics and other digital fields all agree that machines excel at frequent, high volume tasks. They also agree that humans generally excel in dealing with novel situations much better than machines. Every 9-1-1 call is novel and unique. So while technology will certainly reshape jobs in the future, the very nature of handling emergency calls will require the human touch far into the foreseeable future. I’m hopeful the adoption of new technology will ease the burden on our unsung heroes, versus add to it. I’m also hopeful that OMB and Congress rethink their decision and reclassify Telecommunicator as a “Protective Service Occupation.” It’s the logical, and human thing to do. By: Paul Guest Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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5 Secrets to a Headache-Free Communications Center Systems Migration

Estimated reading time: 17 minute(s)   Like boarding a roller-coaster, upgrading your communication center can be equally thrilling and nerve-wracking. Just when you think you’ve finally overcome funding and approval hurdles—you realize the real ride is only beginning. Despite anticipating this moment for months, there is nothing like holding your breath as your project inches closer to completion. And while Tylenol and Tums are on the menu at every call-taking and dispatch center in the country—you shouldn’t have to order industrial size bottles, to make it through the migration and implementation phase. Like any project, meticulous planning and consistent communication are the keys to a seamless transition. In the spirit of helping you transform plans into action, here are five simple strategies to keep your team on task and your project pain-free. Define Clear Objectives Establishing realistic goals from the beginning will help you avoid added stress. By the time your project starts, you should be clear on how the system will adapt to your current and future needs. Will your new console and CAD system have the capacity to handle upcoming enhancements such as Next-Gen 9-1-1, real-time reporting, regional data-sharing, and FirstNet capabilities?  If not, consider how upgrading these systems at once may save time and money, as opposed to multiple implementations and staff displacements. Conversely, if the budget isn’t there to complete all of your upgrades, look for a communications vendor that supports modular or stepped integration. Likewise, now is also the time to think about accessibility and lighting modifications. Often you can subsidize this work with strategic sources of funding. For example, if you are making any structural improvements to the facility, check with your municipality on the availability of internal maintenance crews to complete tasks such as painting or flooring refreshments while the room is free of personnel. Ideally, your agency should discuss these elements before inking any proposals. However, if you realize you’ve forgotten something, altering plans in the early stages will help you avoid friction and stumbling blocks in the future. Communicate Early and Often Regular meetings with both agency committees and vendors are a must for confirming everyone is on the same page. As communication professionals, this step may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked amid the dust and disorder. Multiple work crews drilling and stringing wires in all directions can wreak havoc on scheduled conversations. Nevertheless, making time to gather contractors, equipment vendors, and agency leaders at the same table, is critical to ensuring continual movement and overall project cohesion. As the project progresses, dependencies, deliveries, and scope modifications should all be revisited and discussed to prevent unwelcome surprises. Above all, remember to designate one internal manager to communicate with vendors, synchronize trades, oversee timelines, and report on targeted progress. Allow Flexible Scheduling Coordinating time to complete work in unison while minimizing disruption requires precision organizational skills. But what happens when inclement weather and shipment delays upend your strategy? Of course, in a perfect world, this would never happen. Unfortunately, plans change more often than not. If you want to escape with your sanity, you’ll have to be ready to navigate the dips. Developing a schedule with built-in flexibility ensures each trade has time to complete tasks and provides a buffer to compensate for delays or dependencies. If you’d like even more control, consider downloading a free program like Google Sheets or a trial version of your favorite project management software. Using tools like these will enable you to view an instant snapshot of your progress and help map out your strategy from onset to completion. Minimize Risks and Challenges Before setting up interim operations, make sure your backup center accounts for mission critical operations and addresses employee needs. While space may play a role, keep in mind both temperature and maneuverability can impact your team’s ability to work effectively. In the same respect, excessive heat or circuit usage may contribute to equipment losses and unexpected downtimes. In mapping out your schedule, consider how work interruptions or power failures will affect systems-specific migrations, such as ANI/ALI data, CAD records, paging plans, or unit identifiers. As a failsafe, make sure your staff is aware of your agency’s backup plans for these systems. Equally important, if you are relocating older equipment to the backup, understand there is a good chance these components may break due to their age. In hindsight, it may be wiser to install the newer equipment at the temporary location. Doing this accomplishes two tasks. First, you will have time to test each system completely before taking anything offline, and second, your staff can learn to work with the new programs outside of live operations. Not to mention, moving cloud and computer-based technology requires fewer hands. Plus, it’s easier to bring on and offline. Test, Implement and Improve When switchover day arrives, consider migrating one workstation at a time. Conduct stress tests on data and power redundancies, checking components one by one to ensure operational continuity. Essential functionalities such as radio correspondence, CAD data, 9-1-1 voice, and location verifications should also be vetted before giving technicians the green light to leave. Bear in mind, that user interfaces and screen configurations, might not be perfect at this point. Adjusting these elements will require some trial and error before you settle on a permanent setup. Your solution provider should be happy to make any accommodations to help ensure a seamless transition. Before conducting the final walkthrough, make sure your vendor is clear about continued expectations. After the execution phase, it’s time to take a breath and admire your work. Well, at least until the next emergency. Moving forward, remember to keep track of warranties and expiration dates. Establishing an ongoing relationship with a trusted solution provider will help ensure your dispatch center stays mission-ready and future-proof. By: Kevin Eckhardt Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Text-to-9-1-1: Quietly Saving Lives

Estimated reading time: 10 minute(s)   Ever since the first text message was sent back in 1992, it’s transformed how we communicate. Today, over 180 billion text messages are sent each month 1 in the U.S., with 97% of Americans saying they text on a weekly basis, according to The Pew Research Center. Younger generations especially are more comfortable texting and prefer it over talking on the phone. Yet when it comes to emergencies, we’ve still been widely limited to just one option: calling 9-1-1. In this post I’ll cover how this drastic shift in how we communicate has helped pave the way for an alternative to calling 9-1-1 and the benefits it provides to those in emergency situations, as well as the impact it’s had on emergency call takers. Transition to the Next Generation Texting 9-1-1 isn’t new. Despite the first text-to-9-1-1 being sent in Iowa back in 2009, adoption by counties and states has been slow. This is due in large part to the antiquated technologies in place in many communication centers that simply aren’t able to support receiving texts, and the lack of appropriate funding to replace it, which I’ll cover more in-depth in a future post. However, being able to text 9-1-1 instead of calling has provided several benefits beyond just a more convenient way for those who prefer typing over talking to get help in an emergency and is a crucial step in the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1. Advantage of Time With every emergency situation already presenting any number of unique challenges for call takers, such as pinpointing the caller’s exact location, those on the other end of the line experience a whole different set of challenges that can be assisted and/or even remedied thanks to text-to-9-1-1. For instance, in loud environments like concerts, sporting events, or bars where it’s nearly impossible to hear the person on the other end of the line. In these situations, victims would resort to texting a friend or family member and asking them to call 9-1-1, wasting valuable time, relying on a second-hand communication chain, and resulting in no guarantee they’ll receive an immediate response. But with the ability to text 9-1-1, victims can get those critical minutes and seconds back by connecting with a dispatcher directly, and enabling help to arrive faster. With winter fast approaching, dangerous and damaging storms can wreak havoc on roads, cause widespread power outages and jeopardize communications. Not only can it be difficult for first responders to reach you in an emergency, but even calling for help can be problematic with jammed cell networks preventing calls from going through. But oftentimes, text messages can still get through, giving someone another way to reach emergency dispatchers when voice communications are down. Another situation where calling 9-1-1 can be difficult or impossible is for speech and/or hearing impaired individuals involved in an emergency. You might be thinking, isn’t that what the TTY/TDD interface does? While that’s true, when using TTY the caller is first connected to an operator or relay service who receives the message, then delivers that message to the dispatcher, adding seconds, if not minutes. And when it comes to emergencies, those few seconds can be the difference between life and death. What’s Next? As we approach nearly a decade since the first text-to-9-1-1 was sent, and despite the significant benefits it offers, why is it that just 10% of the 6,500 emergency communications centers in the US are able to receive text messages today? I’ll uncover some of the obstacles text-to-9-1-1 still faces along with what’s in store for the future as we continue the path to Next Generation 911 in a future post. What are your thoughts? Find out if text-to-9-1-1 is supported in your area. By: Alice Johnson Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Mission Critical Solutions? Let’s Talk Mission Extreme Solutions…

Estimated reading time: 12 minute(s)   Zetron recently announced the award of a new ACOM Command & Control system for the Australian government. I know, so what, Zetron’s been in Australia doing public sector business for years, so why is this interesting? Glad you asked. What’s interesting about this specific ACOM system is that it will provide integrated radio communications to and between the country’s research stations across Antarctica. That’s right, while we don’t commonly equate the two in terms of relative climate, on the map Antarctica is just a couple fingers away from the southern-most frozen continent and Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy maintains multiple permanent stations that are inhabited year-round by Australian scientists, expeditioners, and visitors. Not an expert on Antarctica? Few are, other than knowing it’s the big content on the bottom of the globe that’s typically and appropriately white in color. A few fun facts about that big white land mass (Source: LiveScience) Bring your skates – 99% of Antarctica is covered by ice Brrrrr – The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was -128.56 degrees on July 21, 1983 in Antarctica Hold onto your hat – It’s the windiest continent in the world, with gusts reaching up to 200 mph (320 km/h) in some places That’s a lot of ice axing to do some lake fishing – There are more than 200 liquid lakes on Antarctica, all buried beneath approximately 2.5 miles (3.7 kilometers) of ice Dads of the Year – The male Emperor penguin is the only warm-blooded animal that remains on Antarctica (other than humans) through the winter – staying to nest on the single egg laid by its mate while the female spends nine weeks at sea and returns for the egg to hatch A challenging communications landscape Probably needless to say, Antarctic conditions are extreme. Understatement alert. In fact, the climate and conditions actually limit access to the Australian stations maintained there to the southern hemisphere’s summer season, which is typically between October and March. So nearly all flights and sea voyages to transport people and resupply the stations are made only during those months. Also needless to say, communications between the government’s head offices in Australia and its stations in Antarctica are critical, yet can be precarious, a dangerous combination for sure. The ACOM system selected by the Australian government after a competitive bid process will replace legacy communications consoles at a head office in Hobart on the southern-most tip of Australia, a station on Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean between the two continents, and at the Casey, Davis, and Mawson stations, all located along the northern and western coast lines of Antarctica. ACOM Command & Control will serve as the new integrated communications system linking the operations, people, and over 3300 assets Australia maintains across all locations. The dangerous climate and terrain make Antarctica operations extremely high risk to those working there and any downtime in communications can be disastrous, so replacing the antiquated radio consoles in place was identified as a priority. Chris Reade, from Melbourne-based Zetron partner AA Radio that won the Australian Antarctica contract, noted in a recent press release that in addition to the harsh climate and terrain, the Australian teams on Antarctica face a myriad of other challenges the new mission critical communications system has to overcome, including space limitations, the multiple heterogeneous radio technologies in use, the often present and severe audio decibel interference that accompanies the climate, coverage limitations, and the harsh treatment all equipment and systems must endure given the conditions. It’s a lot to ask of an integrated communications system. It’s not just penguins that thrive in extreme conditions There’s obviously a lot to providing integrated communications in this part of the world. But sophisticated, complex, and/or challenging environments have always been where ACOM Command and Control systems have thrived. For Zetron the award means we now have mission critical solutions at work on all seven continents of the world, not a bad feather for the cap. But really we’re just honored and excited to have been selected for this highly important task and to have the opportunity to work with our partner AA Radio and the Australian government to conquer one of the most extreme communications challenges on Earth. Just like the male Emperor penguin, we’re ready to weather the storm…and just maybe look forward to summer a little bit too. By: Jim Shulkin Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Building the Case to Upgrade Emergency Communications Center

Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s)   Garbled transmissions, dropped calls, frozen computer screens, and an operations center that is dated and not keeping up with the times. If your PSAP is displaying any of these symptoms – it may be time for an upgrade. That said, rallying support for updates to a room few ever see, can leave your team struggling to find enough evidence to support your position that change is warranted. So now your challenge is duo fold, we not only need to decide what to change, we need to determine the factors and establish our proposition to the stakeholders and get buy in that change is necessity. While the outlook might seem grim, all is not lost. Before you abandon your thinking, it’s time to examine some talking points that can help you present a clear and compelling case to your department’s decision-makers. Enhanced Response Capabilities Of all the reasons to leverage in your case for a new communications center, expanding capabilities should be at the top of the list. Why? In the age of instant gratification—first responders need to know everything and they need to know it now! Information gathering, response coordination, and on-scene collaboration rely on streamlined communications, constant situational awareness, and the ability to navigate unforeseen challenges quickly. With that in mind, innovative advances in telephone, radio, CAD, and mobile technologies will become the tactical tools of tomorrow. And without them, your department will be at a distinct disadvantage. When assessing your PSAPs capabilities, it’s essential to evaluate whether your current systems support interoperable communications, real-time updates, Next Generation 9-1-1, regional information sharing, and mobile command connectivity. Although these things may not feel like an absolute requirement now, access to instant awareness, collective intelligence, and up-to-the-minute scene conditions better enable first responders in the field to stay safe and save lives during a disaster. Remember, the best time to evaluate your resources is before you need them. After all, when it comes to managing emergency communications and keeping your community safe, you can never be too prepared. Improved Productivity and Increased Uptime Moving on to the business issues, it’s time to address productivity and maintenance costs. Older and obsolete programs can cause more than headaches. When you stop to look at the numbers, duplicate data entry, system errors, and time spent waiting for information to load, it can all add up quickly, resulting in a massive number of hours in unrecoverable wages and lost productivity for both communications personnel and other first responders. Not to mention, equipment failures and inadequate support often lead to unacceptable outages and unnecessary downtime waiting for maintenance and repair. Compound the equipment costs and administrative handling fees with these failures and your headaches are now fraught with extra financial burden. While these issues might seem like minor inconveniences to those who work outside your office, it’s up to you to convey the most important cost of all. Human life. When every second counts, your department and municipality have a societal responsibility to provide responders with the right tools and equipment to protect themselves and care for their community. Healthy and Compliant Workplaces Last but not least, let’s tackle employee well-being. Emergency communications is a demanding and stressful field. Every year longer hours, hectic schedules, and emotionally demanding events contribute to the astronomical turnover rate in this business. Not only is this frustrating, but it also drains your resources and leaves the department overworked and understaffed. And while an upgraded communication center can’t fix all these problems alone, making your employees comfortable can boost their overall satisfaction and job performance. Think about it. Sitting for excessive periods of time can leave employees vulnerable to a plethora of circulatory issues and back pain. While in the same respect, poor monitor placement may lead to eye strain, migraine headaches, or even nerve damage. If your department is looking for ways to cut costs and improve morale, investing in new sit-to-stand consoles and ergonomically designed workstations can help eliminate these on-the-job injuries, providing a better work environment and encouraging healthier lifestyles. Equally important is the issue of inclusion. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide fair access to employees with limited mobility. Aside from staying on the right side of federal compliance standards, adhering to this practice will help your department stand out and be seen as a caring and responsible employer. Looking Ahead So, there you have it — three ironclad reasons for building a case to upgrade your communications center. Keep in mind, first-line employees can often supply you with additional details to support your case. Moving forward, make a note of all equipment malfunctions and communications issues. And above all, remember to research federal grants and finance programs to assist you with funding and equipment options. Although these steps might be tedious, when it comes to creating an open and shut case, you can bet the benefits will outweigh the costs. By: Tom Giles Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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What is NG9-1-1 and Why is it Important?

Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s)   “911…What’s your Emergency?” “I’ve been in an auto accident. My face is cut and my leg hurts really badly.” “Stay on the line, please. I show your location on South Broadway between South Park and the Northridge Recreation Center. Is that correct?” “Yes. Please hurry. I’m trapped here.” “I’m sending an ambulance. Please try to remain calm. I see that you are alone and have no passengers, correct?” “Yes.” “OK. Are you calling from your phone, is this Mary Jones? “Yes.” “You live at 955 Main Street. Is that correct?” “Yes.” “We are going to access your medical records on file with Dr. Simmons, who I see as your primary care doctor. Is that alright?” “Yes. My head is throbbing…” “Try to stay still and calm. I see in your medical files that you are allergic to penicillin. Is that correct.” “Uh, yes, that’s right.” “Ok, if you can do it comfortably, I’d like you to take a photo of your injuries. But only if you can do it safely and without causing any further harm to yourself.” “I’m taking the photos now…There, I’ve sent them to you.” “That’s great, Ms. Jones. I’m sending the photos and your medical data to the EMTs. They’ll be there shortly.” “Thank you. I think I hear the ambulance now.” … This conversation between a 9-1-1 caller and the 9-1-1 call taker was entirely fictitious. It imagines a state of the art in 9-1-1 call capabilities that do not quite exist yet. The technology is available, but as of today, not enough of it has been adopted into the emergency services infrastructure. The legacy analog 9-1-1 systems still widely in use are not compatible with much of the newer technology. One pressing public safety issue is to get the U.S. emergency communication system if not on pace, then at least in the same generation with the vast advancements that have taken place in consumer (i.e., smartphones) and business (i.e., IP-based systems) technologies. New wireless and internet-based communications devices and technology exist that deliver capabilities (e.g., text and video messaging/live streaming) that will dramatically enhance and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of emergency services in the future. The technology-enabled leap will be more significant for emergency services than any in history, and it will save countless lives. But to achieve the benefits of new technology, public safety answering points (PSAPs)–or 9-1-1 centers–across the United States need to implement Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1). All About NG9-1-1 NG9-1-1 refers to a standards-based, all-IP emergency communications infrastructure. Its goal is to provide both voice and multimedia (i.e., supplemental) communications between the 9-1-1 center and the 9-1-1 caller in the field. With NG9-1-1, those rapid communications and additional information can be quickly passed to responders heading to the scene and provide valuable context that can save time once they arrive at the scene. The goal is for citizens in need of assistance to be able to: transmit photos, videos, and other broadband data/applications (both existing and future) in addition to voice to 9-1-1 professionals stream video from an emergency incident, e.g., photos of damage at the scene, a fleeing subject, medical information, etc. arm field responders with the real-time actionable knowledge they need to arrive on the scene fully prepared The implementation of NG9-1-1 is the responsibility of individual states, counties, municipalities and regional authorities and are funded and managed differently according to unique local circumstances and regulations. Assisting and coordinating those efforts is a coalition of business, non-profit, and federal government entities. What NG9-1-1 Will Do NG9-1-1 networks are replacing the existing narrowband, circuit switch 9-1-1 networks, which can carry only voice and minimal data. Those limitations cause difficulties in supporting text messages during life-threatening emergencies, images, and video—support for American Sign Language users, for example. So, NG9-1-1 consists of a system of hardware, software, and associated data. NG9-1-1 also includes operational policies that are designed to: standardize the interfaces between call and message services handle all types of emergency calls to include non‐voice (i.e., multimedia) messages collect and integrate additional data for use in future call routing and handling reliably route and deliver the calls/messages to where they need to go support and coordinate incident management through integrated data and communications management provide emergency communications in a secure environment The Path Forward to NG9-1-1 The path to full NG9-1-1 adoption needs to be on a faster track. Prolonging the deployment will result in continued patchwork systems, risks of incompatibility as communications trends continue to advance, and missed opportunities for improved emergency response and inter-agency cooperation. Please visit the following links to learn more about NG9-1-1. By: Paul Guest Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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2019 Conferences and Events: Where to See Zetron

Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s) As we approach the end of 2019, don’t miss the opportunity to meet with us at any one of our remaining conferences and events! Stop by our booths as we showcase the latest mission critical technology. 2019 Conference Schedule Members of the Zetron team will be at the following Fall and Winter conferences — we hope to see you! Wireless Leadership Summit October 23-24 Kansas City, MO Virginia APCO NENA October 23-25 Roanoke, VA California Public Safety Radio Association October 24 Montebello, CA New Jersey NENA Fall Meeting October 30 Westampton, NJ New York State 911 Coordinators Association Fall Conference October 29-31 Ithaca, NY Idaho APCO October 28-30 Boise, ID Illinois Public Safety Telecommunicators Association Annual Conference November 3-6 Springfield, IL APCO Canada November 4-7 Halifax, Nova Scotia ITS Texas Annual Meeting November 13-15 Irving, TX Atlantic APCO November 11 Falmouth, MA Mississippi Civil Defense Emergency Management Association November 14 Biloxi, MS Comms Connect Melbourne November 26-28 Melbourne, Australia Oregon State Sheriffs Association November 28 Bend, OR Idaho Sheriffs Association Winter Conference December 12 Boise, ID By: Brian Degenstein Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-Wire blog!

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