New Technologies, New Opportunities: Improving Accessibility in Emergency Communications
This blog considers the role of PEMEA in light of new accessibility requirements clarified by the recently adopted delegated regulation supplementing the European Electronic Communications Code.
Telecom operators have migrated their networks from the 1970s TDM technology to IP packet-based networks that provide faster communications and access to more services, including data access to the Internet. Because the old TDM technology has reached its end of life, PSAPs must modernize to continue providing life-saving services to the public. As technology develops, the opportunity for emergency communications through text, video, and other accessible means becomes possible.
For the majority of the population, contact to emergency services through voice is sufficient. This means that access to emergency services through established telecom operators will remain the norm. However, there is still a considerable proportion of the population for whom voice is not sufficient to convey their issues and obtain the assistance required. Historically, this sector of the community has been greatly under-served. Despite EU legislation requiring equivalent access to emergency services through emergency communications, many EU member states have failed to implement truly accessible solutions.
The European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), the main legal reference for emergency communications in Europe, has recently been supplemented by a delegated regulation to provide important clarifications on accessibility for people with disabilities. The delegated regulation now provides clearer instructions on the ‘functional equivalence requirements’ that must be met. The criteria include two-way interactive communication; availability in a seamless way, without pre-registration, to people travelling to other member states; communication should be free of charge for the end-users; routing of the communication “without delay” to the most appropriate PSAP and appropriate handling of the communication by the PSAP; equivalent caller location accuracy and reliability compared to means of access for other end-users.
It is imperative that access to emergency services is consistent, reliable, and easily accessible regardless of the method of contact. The use of complementary solutions, such as applications, may potentially enable more people with disabilities to access emergency services in a functionally equivalent way.
In Deveryware by Flandrin Technologies’ view, an application may be sufficient to bridge this gap in disability access to emergency services, contingent on the applications providing service equivalence and roaming without requiring pre-registration in every member state. The Pan-European Mobile Emergency Application (PEMEA) European standard is available today. However, concerns have been raised over the question of seamless integration of technologies in PSAPs who aim to replace outdated equipment, as PSAPs need to support both voice calls from operators and multimedia calls from apps.
One of the potential benefits of access to emergency services via application is that they may enable diversity in caller user interface design so that people with multiple disabilities, such as sight and hearing, could have access to a tailored system that works for them. On the surface, it may appear that divergent solutions exist that cannot be integrated, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Adapters and interface nodes can enable various approaches for PEMEA and NG112 to interoperate, providing solutions that quickly meet the needs of the general public in the best possible way.
For example, a gateway from the PEMEA network into an NG112 deployment would enable roaming PEMEA apps to contact a PSAP using real-time text and/or video without pre-registration being required. This solution could work whether advanced multimedia services are enabled in the operator core networks or not. Using this approach, app-based multimedia services could be rapidly introduced across multiple member States to meet the urgent needs of those who cannot use voice to contact emergency services, whilst at the same time facilitating true service mobility. Additionally, this strategy would not impede a PSAP’s decision on how to upgrade their equipment to support IP-based voice communications from operators.
With the delegated regulation of the EECC outlining clearer measures for accessibility in emergency communications now is the time to consider workable, rapid solutions that take into account future NG112 architecture. With EU Member States being required to submit roadmaps on upgrading national PSAP systems in order to be able to receive, answer, and process emergency communications through packet-switched technology, they may wish to consider the use of Apps and PEMEA alongside their plans on how to upgrade their equipment to support IP-based voice communications from operators. There is no better time to consider effectively implementing accessible solutions that will meet EU standards now and in the future.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of EENA. Articles do not represent an endorsement by EENA of any organisation.
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