UNT professor works on overhaul of 911 services

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Calling 911 from an Internet-based phone can be unreliable, leading to potentially deadly delays in response times from emergency personnel.

A professor at the University of North Texas wants to change that.

Ram Dantu, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, is working to overhaul the 911 infrastructure to better handle emerging technology. He has received two grants from the National Science Foundation, totaling more than $1 million.

"This issue affects everyone," Dantu said. "When you call 911, they must be able to find you."

Within the next decade, Internet-based phone services, provided by companies like Vonage and AT&T, are likely to replace the traditional system that connects callers through wire lines, Dantu said.

That could be a problem for 911 centers, however, because Voice-over-Internet protocol, or VoIP as it is commonly called, is tied to an Internet address rather than a physical location.

For example, Dantu said, an Internet user who lives in Dallas may call 911 from his or her laptop, but that person could physically be in Singapore. Tracking that person is a challenge.

"How can we locate people?" Dantu said. "That is the central question."

Allison Mankin, program director for the division of computer and network systems at the National Science Foundation, said UNT's research will be timely and important to the country.

"The bottom line is E-911 is here, but it's not well," she said. "This project is going to bring great insight into some pressing and challenging problems."

In the first grant, Dantu will create a platform for future research and experimentation of next generation of 911 services. The work will be a collaboration among UNT, Columbia University and Texas A&M University, with UNT assuming the role as project leader. The entire grant is $1.34 million, and UNT's portion is $650,000.

Dantu received a second grant for $400,000, which will include additional research on emergency communications, including:

  • Securing 911 call centers from outside attacks that would tie up all available lines.
  • Ensuring available service during large-scale emergencies.
  • Providing neighborhood notifications.
  • Enhancing 911 services for the deaf and hearing-impaired through video phones and instant messaging.

"This is critical infrastructure," Dantu said. "We know it must be updated."

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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