Next-generation 911 promises ‘explosive’ challenges, state CIO says

Wisconsin Chief Information Officer David Cagigal says his top priority, after securing his state’s election systems, is ensuring public safety officials are fully prepared to respond to emergencies.

Thousands of primary and secondary public safety answering points, or PSAPs, more commonly known as 911 call centers, are upgrading their systems to next-generation 911 around the country. Wisconsin’s PSAPs are among them, as public safety and technology officials transition their old analog systems used to handle emergency calls onto digital systems capable of sending and receiving videos, photos and other media. All this is expected to cut response times and equip first responders with additional intelligence as they head to the scene.

States are at varying levels of maturity in their upgrades, but none has yet gone live in providing next-generation 911 capabilities to the public.

“We’re at the beginning of evaluating our ESInet, our emergency services internet provider, our digital provider,” Cagigal says in a video interview with StateScoop. “We’re searching for them, hoping to be able to line ourselves up with a vendor that can protect that environment. As you connect to a digital network, you become hackable, so to speak, and you have to build in appropriate firewalls.”

These types of technologies are outside the wheelhouse of most of those working in public safety, and that has Cagigal concerned.

“These are two things that the historical PSAPs have not had to deal with,” Cagigal says. “So now they’re learning about a digital network, they’re learning about firewalls, they’re learning about protecting their environments.”

In addition to handling new media types, next-generation 911 promises greater accuracy in locating 911 callers, including indoors, which is hoped to further cut response time. But, first, states and counties will have to navigate various technology challenges.

“The storage medium is going to be an explosive situation for them because now they have to take a picture, text or video, whatever the consumer offers up for evidence of their situation, it has to be retained,” Cagigal says. “There are significant storage management challenges, [geographic information systems] challenges, firewall security challenges and a digital network.”

Cagigal on his top priorities and projects:

“For the State of Wisconsin, our top priorities are really focused on one: cybersecurity. If we can’t get past that one, we’ve got some difficulties.”

Cagigal on election security:

“By and large, this whole elections and security is stemming from creating a shadow of doubt, just placing a measure of doubt on our democracy and our voting process.”

Cagigal on how he sees his role changing in the future:

“I see my role being able to bring multiple constituents, multiple providers together to optimize a relationship that we can essentially protect our data centers from the personally identifiable information, our most critical asset, to be able to protect our citizens’ livelihood and be able to protect the democracy through our election process.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 2019.