Two States – Two Paths

What is the best approach for leaders to combine efforts and resources to establish a state or regional NG9-1-1 system?

Chief Dick Heitschmidt in Kansas and Duane Schell in North Dakota have been involved from the beginning in helping their PSAPs move to a statewide NG9-1-1 system. And although their approaches have been different, the end result is the same – putting a lasting foundation in place to take PSAPs into the future with confidence and reliability.

Chief Dick Heitschmidt has been in law enforcement for 42 years—the last 25 as the Chief of Police of Hutchinson County. When the Kansas 9-1-1 Act passed in 2011, he became the Chairman of the Coordinating Council. The Act created the Coordinating Council and gave the state the authority to oversee the development and implementation of a statewide Next Generation 9-1-1 system. The Act also ensured all fees collected to fund 9-1-1 would be used only for that purpose.

“The sweeping legislation is what has allowed us to move as quickly as we have,” said Chief Heitschmidt.

And Kansas has certainly moved quickly. It’s currently implementing a statewide, hosted system using the VESTA® 9-1-1 call handling solution. Today, 39 of the state’s 117 PSAPs are on the statewide system.

“When we looked at our options, we decided we did not want to own and operate the system,” said Chief Heitschmidt. “We wanted to be in a partnership with the people who have the knowledge and expertise to do that for us.”

“Each cut over goes better than the last. It’s been a tremendous success thus far,” added Chief Heitschmidt. “We’re hearing from our PSAPs that their new system is already helping to save more lives.”

Regarding advantages to the statewide, hosted approach, Chief Heitschmidt said the model provides huge benefits. First, the cost of the system is shared by everyone in the state, reducing unnecessary financial burden. Second, because it is a hosted system, everyone is on the same network, maintained by the same people.

“This provides a tremendous amount of assurance,” said Chief Heitschmidt. “If one of our PSAPs becomes inoperable for any reason, it’s a very simple process to start taking that PSAPs calls. You can drive 300 miles to another PSAP, log in and begin taking calls right away.”

For other states or regions looking to implement Next Generation 9-1-1 systems, Chief Heitschmidt has two pieces of advice.

First, the partners you choose are critical.

“We are making major decisions every day and we need people who understand the importance of the project and each piece of technology. You need partners who are as committed to the success of the project as the individual PSAPs. We were very picky about the people we selected and we have those partners,” said Chief Heitschmidt.

Second, is the importance of a stringent and thorough RFP (Request for Proposal).

“We have technically savvy people on our Coordinating Council who understand the technical aspects that had to be built into the RFP. We had very thorough and detailed descriptions of what we wanted regarding reliability, redundancy and delivery of the product. We also had a rigorous interview process with the vendors,” said Chief Heitschmidt.

According to Chief Heitschmidt, the result for the state of Kansas is the best solution for its citizens and its emergency services.

North Dakota
The state of North Dakota, is taking a different approach to their NG9-1-1 implementation. Duane Schell, the Director of Network Services Division for the North Dakota Information Technology (IT) Department, is one of the central figures who has guided the state’s Public Safety operations toward a unified NG9-1-1 solution. Schell has been with the IT department since 2001 and the Director since 2009.

Where the state of Kansas legislated a solution and established the 9-1-1 Coordinating Council to implement the plan, North Dakota has benefited from the expertise of the state’s IT Department to guide them to an NG9-1-1 solution.

Schell was able to kick start the move for North Dakota serving as technical advisor, representing the CIO, for the state’s Emergency Services Communications and Coordinating Committee. The committee oversees the policies and procedures on how PSAPs in the state operate.

“Being on the committee gave me a lot of visibility into the technology of the PSAP community—and we are talking about a time when the world is evolving very rapidly and the focus for Public Safety is on Next Generation,” said Schell. “The question we asked is, ‘How do we execute on making Next Generation a reality for all our PSAPs?’”

The answer was based in the methodology the IT department has used very successfully over the years.

“All of the work done in the IT department is predicated on shared solutions,” said Schell. “The shared model generates economies of scale and, combined with where the Public Safety industry is in the evolution of its technology, it made sense for the state to move that direction.”

The North Dakota Information Technology Department has been the network provider for state and local governments for many years.

“We had a presence and were the likely candidate and advisor to help migrate PSAPs to IP-based solutions,” added Schell. “We already facilitate, support and manage a lot of enterprise networks in the state using the shared service model.”

To move the plan forward buy-in was necessary. The first PSAP to step forward and be the anchor tenant was the Central Dakota Combined Communications Center, which serves the City of Bismarck and the surrounding area. "From there, we presented the idea to other North Dakota PSAPs and the reaction was very positive,” said Schell. “And when we put the RFP together, we got the PSAP managers involved. In our minds, they are the decision making body and we are their facilitators and advisors. Their decisions are the ones that matter.”

As a result, 11 of the 22 North Dakota’s PSAPs are on their new NG9-1-1 system. Through collaboration, they have achieved a significant cost savings deploying the VESTA 9-1-1 solution in a geo-diverse configuration ensuring redundancy and eliminating a single point of failure so no calls are lost.

“Being on the system is not a mandate. Over time we will have more PSAPs join. It is a matter of lifecycle management. What is important is that we had enough volume so that it made sense to get started. The more we demonstrate success, the more other PSAPs will want to join,” said Schell.

When asked what advice he has for other states or regions looking to implement a Next Generation system, Schell said, “It’s all about relationships. If you have strong relationships between the players, whether that is vendors, PSAP managers or technology advisors, then it’s easy to come up with solutions that make a lot of sense and will work for everyone involved.”

As regions and states seek the best way to migrate their PSAPs to next generation technology, the efforts of leaders like Chief Heitschmidt and Duane Schell and what they are doing to create smarter ways to keep their communities safe, become the example and inspiration for many.

For more information on the successes in Kansas and North Dakota, contact