How Atos is moving California’s emergency communication systems into the modern age
Home to about 40 million people and the nation’s largest economy, California is also home to a 9-1-1 system in need of modernization. According to the governor’s office of emergency services, Cal OES, “The current 9-1-1 system is unable to efficiently integrate with today’s newer technologies and lacks the reliability and monitoring capabilities needed to support today’s increased disaster environment. Due to the aging technology of today’s 9-1-1 system, the number of outages continues to increase and the existing 9-1-1 system is becoming less and less reliable.”
Not to worry — help is on the way for the mission-critical system that fields about 27 million calls annually from the state’s 450 public service answering points (PSAPs). Global digitization specialist Atos is leading a metamorphosis of the antiquated system into a Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) system designed to serve Californians in the digital age.
A global leader in cybersecurity, cloud, and high-performance computing, Atos provides customized, end-to-end digital solutions for every conceivable industry. It’s no exaggeration to say they do everything digital; listing their full complement of services and capabilities would take an article all of its own.
With a presence in 71 countries, 105,000 employees, and annual revenues exceeding €11 billion, the French firm helps the world’s most important organizations through their digital transformations. One of the most complex, high-security operations in the world has been partnering with Atos for over 30 years: the Olympics.
In 1989, Atos became the International Olympics Committee’s IT partner, and over time became their digital transformation and IT solutions partner. Today, Atos provides cloud-based security and cybersecurity for all their networks across multiple venues, manages credentialing for athletes, officials, volunteers, and other participants, and uses facial recognition to double-check identities.
The number of cybersecurity threats have escalated significantly over the last four years; from one Olympiad to another, the number of attacks per second has increased four to six times. Atos will be on the frontlines for the games through 2024, and most likely, beyond.
Their expertise with the Olympics proved to be a powerful differentiator for Atos as they entered the bidding process for California’s NG9-1-1 initiative. The RFP process, a collaborative effort between the industry and the state, issued a final RFP for two different kinds of providers: prime network service provider, and regional network service provider.
In addition to cost evaluation, the review process included evaluations on experience, capacity, and a host of other elements. Atos scored the highest evaluations in the entire RFP process. “When I saw the customers’ lights go on and they said, ‘Wow, you can actually do what we’re looking for,’ it was because of our experience doing the same kinds of modernization for the Olympics,” said Phil Rotheram, the company’s VP of Public Safety Sales for North America. “There’s one company that’s done that, and that’s us.”
Truly connected emergency communications
California’s new emergency communications system consists of four Regional Network Service Providers (RNSPs) that provide NG Core Services into specific regions of the State. They connect to a subset of the PSAPs, and accept calls from the major landline and wireless carriers. Atos is the statewide prime network service provider and connects to all PSAPs in the State, and handles a host of additional responsibilities that are above and beyond what the regions require them to do.
They are the statewide authoritative source of geospatial routing information, so when a 9-1-1 call is answered it gathers the location information, routes it to the appropriate 9-1-1 center based on where the call is coming from and shares that information with the regional providers so that all calls are routed based upon the same data.
The Atos system accepts 9-1-1 calls from all the VOIP service providers in the state as well as from calls emanating from the state’s 30 or so regional telephone companies. The regions accept calls from wireless carriers and the state’s major phone companies, such as Frontier and AT&T. If for any reason a region can’t process calls from wireless carriers, Atos instantly takes over for them. In addition to connecting with every PSAP in the state, they provide the statewide solution for texting to 9-1-1.
“Most people think that everyone can text to 9-1-1. In California, that’s now a true statement. In other places the ability to text to 9-1-1 is hit or miss. Once the transition is fully completed, we will be the statewide text to 9-1-1 provider,” Rotheram said. The statewide 9-1-1 texting system will also provide much needed equal access to the deaf and hard of hearing community. Atos’s cloud-based call handling technology features artificial intelligence, machine learning, and rapidly translates texts in multiple languages.
Atos also handles alert and warning systems, including wireless emergency alerts, and the state’s earthquake early warning system. In a first for the state, when a county issues an alert, neighboring counties will be automatically notified as well. Atos also monitors the 9-1-1 systems with a statewide dashboard that gives visibility into its workings, and they also provide backup connections to the 9-1-1 centers over a statewide microwave system and wireless LTE connection.
In addition, there is a network operation center from which information about security incidents can be shared between Atos and the regional providers, which is another first for the state. Because there are so many interfaces being created for NG 9-1-1 systems. NENA, the National Emergency Number Association, has created a standard for NG 9-1-1 systems called NENAi3 standards.
“This is the first time a system has been deployed from end-to-end using those standards,” Rotheram said. Atos is responsible for creating all the interface control documents and for performing testing between the regions.
California’s geographic diversity presents a set of challenges that Atos is fully positioned to meet. In urban and suburban areas with multiple ways to connect to broadband IT, creating reliable and redundant networks is fairly straightforward. In isolated rural areas, bandwidth is often limited.
The Atos system will give more paths into the 9-1-1 centers, whether from microwave, private LTE connection, or broadband fiber.
While Atos’ cybersecurity work on the project is extensive, it is also very closely guarded. Generally, the system is focused on eliminating any and all denial-of-service attacks. “Cybersecurity is ingrained in everything we do,” Rotheram said.
“Cybersecurity is often overlooked in public safety. It’s shocking how many of the other public safety systems have had cybersecurity attacks, they’ve had ransomware attacks, and that’s something that Atos and the state of California take very seriously.” Atos provides the public key infrastructure for all devices that are part of the network solution for the entire state, ensuring that they are known and trusted devices.
Emergency 9-1-1 communications operations have lagged other industries in their embrace of current technologies and Rotheram is enthusiastic about changing that. “Everyday technology has changed so much but the modernization of 9-1-1 and many public safety systems is just being left in the dark. We’ve had so many siloed systems that can’t talk to each other,” he said. NG9-1-1 services will be managed as a unified call flow, rather than in discrete silos.
“There’s a lot going on in our industry to help 9-1-1 keep up with the technology that’s used everywhere else,” he concluded. “We’re at a tipping point with the state of California to say yes, we’re going to keep up with the times.”
Atos is a global leader in digital transformation with 110,000 employees and annual revenue of €12 billion. European number one in Cybersecurity, Cloud and High-Performance Computing, the Group provides tailored end-to-end solutions for all industries in 73 countries.
Pioneer in decarbonization services and products, Atos is committed to a secure and decarbonized digital for its clients. Atos operates under the brands Atos and Atos|Syntel. Atos is a SE (Societas Europaea), listed on the CAC40 Paris stock index.
The purpose of Atos is to help design the future of the information space. Its expertise and services support the development of knowledge, education and research in a multicultural approach and contribute to the development of scientific and technological excellence.
Across the world, the Group enables its customers and employees, and members of societies at large to live, work and develop sustainably, in a safe and secure information space.