The Ark-Texas Council of Governments (ATCOG) was awarded Government Computer News Magazine’s (GCN) digIT award for excellence in the category of Cloud and Infrastructure.
The award recognizes ATCOG for its work in developing a Regional Satellite Emergency Number System showing how resilience is built into systems by combining very different communication networks. The system was implemented to address the risk that a disaster might compromise the 9-1-1 network, just when emergency service calls are needed most.
“One of the most critical components to any 9-1-1 system architecture is its ability to ensure continuity of operations and correctly route calls and information to the nearest Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP),” said Mary Beth Rudel, ATCOG Public Safety Manager, and project lead. “The 9-1-1 network is very diverse and complex with many potential points of failure within the infrastructure that could result in callers being unable to contact their local emergency services. Disruptions in the network can make it difficult for calls to reach the PSAP or prevent a call from connecting altogether.” Chris Brown, ATCOG Executive Director, also stated, “Our Board of elected officials understands the importance of increasing the resiliency of the 9-1-1 network. Mary Beth has done an excellent job in leading our partners in obtaining a higher level of operation.”
In the GCN article “Discovery and innovation in government IT (digIT): The 2016 digIT Award Winners”, author Troy K. Schneider, editor-in-chief of GCN, writes, “There were 36 finalists for GCN’s 2016 digIT Awards, all of them having done outstanding work in open data, cyber security, mobile or one of the other categories. At the Oct. 13 digIT Awards gala, however, six projects — spanning federal agencies, state and county governments and one multi-government association — stood out as exceptional examples of discovery and innovation in government IT.”
Schneider continues, “As National Institutes of Standards and Technology Fellow Ron Ross, one of the digs IT Award judges, noted at the gala, “all of the difficult and challenging problems we face today will be solved by innovation.” So the winners in each category were selected partly for their use of technology, but largely for the creativity with which it was applied to a critical government mission.”
To ensure that the PSAPs maintain constant connectivity, ATCOG worked with Hughes and AT&T to create a site-to-site satellite backup network that provides an alternate communication path should first network outages occur. The satellite system enables failover re-routing of any inbound or outbound communications that occur over an IP-based 9-1-1 network. Now, if the primary network goes down, routers at each of the PSAPs automatically switch to the satellite system. This system means that even if a citizen’s call is unable to be routed over the primary network, it would still be automatically re-routed to the PSAP over the satellite connection without call interruption.
The ATCOG 9-1-1 Emergency Communications Program is funded by a local telecommunications service fee and provides fully enhanced 9-1-1 services for the nine Texas counties in the ATCOG region, in addition to Texarkana, Arkansas. The 9-1-1 Program provides and maintains the important network and equipment to ensure delivery of 9-1-1 calls to the proper public safety answering point or 9-1-1 call center. For more information, visit www.atcog.org.