The term “cloud computing” seems to be encroaching on every aspect of the technical scene these days, but do you really understand what that means and how it applies to 9-1-1?
In the past, to have a real-time software experience, we had to load software onto a personal computer at the desk. Your experience depended upon how fast your processor was, how fast your drive was, and how much memory your computer stored. We all envied the person with the latest X86 processor because their experience was better than ours on the same software.
We evolved past this stage to server-based software. The software could reside in a back room on a bigger, faster server and deliver us a real-time user experience via the CAT-5 cable running to our desk from the back room. We all became dependent upon IT gurus that kept that server alive and functioning back in that closet. Remember that love/hate relationship from the ‘90s?
With the advances in network speeds and reliability nationwide, and actually worldwide with the major carriers, we have entered the age of “cloud computing”. Now we can have a real-time experience just like we had with the server in the back room, except the back room can be thousands of miles away!
There are several advantages to having your 9-1-1 solution in cloud-based architecture. First is geographic diversity. If your PSAP is affected by an event (flood, fire, tornado, gas leak, electrical failure, etc.), your equipment is safe and functioning. If you are in a cloud-based solution shared with other agencies, your staff can log in at those agencies and keep receiving calls. You also don’t have to worry about security, air conditioning, electrical, software upgrades, security upgrades, or not having a trained technician to work on your call handling equipment.
Cloud computing solutions for 9-1-1 have really been tested recently. We never thought we would see another Hurricane Katrina type situation, but Tropical Storm Irene was just that for Vermont. We saw twelve communities cut off by flood waters, one PSAP underwater and a host of other state facilities compromised. All of Vermont’s capabilities are cloud based. Throughout the storm, the network stayed up and they did not lose a single 9-1-1 call. Their 9-1-1 network was the only statewide network that stayed up during Irene.
Super Storm Sandy hit next generation sites in Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Vermont. Despite the massive 9-1-1 problems reported on the East Coast, these next generation systems were still able to handle the incoming calls. In fact, to illustrate the power of cloud computing, the Government Services Administration (GSA) had moved its employees in New York and New Jersey to a cloud-based solution; despite the massive power outages and loss of a major part of the telecommunications network in New York City, their 4,000 employees stayed online throughout the storm and even helped in the relief efforts.