9-1-1 Recording Comes of Age

Law & Order, February 2000 | Go to article overview
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9-1-1 Recording Comes of Age


With all the Star Wars-like gadgetry used by public safety operations today -sophisticated CAD systems, trunked radio systems, AVL, Mobile Computer Terminals and the like-it's easy to overlook one key piece of technology that operates behind the scenes: the communications recording system.

Public safety agencies have been using recording systems in one form or another for decades.Unlike other systems-CAD, for example-that have a direct role in the call-handling process, recording systems work silently in the background. They remain tucked away in dark recesses of the telecom room - until something bad happens. Only then does the recording of the 9-1-1 call take center stage. For attorneys on both sides of the courtroom, the recording is as close as they will get to being there.

From the mammoth analog reel-to-reel systems of the `70s to today's sophisticated computer-based digital systems, recording has evolved quickly over the last two decades. The digital recording revolution, for example, produced more cost-efficient methods for storage and retrieval of recordings - but only recently has recording technology begun to tap its full potential.

One emerging trend in digital recording technology is the evolution of network appliance recorders - today these tools are breaking free from the legacy of their proprietary, standalone predecessors to bring recording into the network age.

In recent years the trend has been to provide common services to multiple network users by using appliances (such as mass storage devices, routers, networked printers, networked FAX servers and backup servers) rather than general-purpose computers, which tend to perform less well and cost more than the appliances.

Recording systems are now designed around the network appliance concept as well - which allows public safety operations the same freedom, reliability and price/performance in managing their "voice information" that they've always had on the data side.

Network Appliance Recording System? What's That?

This question can best be answered by describing what a network appliance recording system isn't. Most digital recording systems today are still based on a proprietary, single-box, closed architecture model. The recorder typically exists on its own LAN segment, separated from the outside world (the rest of the company) by its proprietary design, which limits its accessibility and utility. Furthermore, it is typically compatible with only select operating systems and network environments, hampering its adaptability to environmental changes down the road.

Additionally, in these traditional systems the archive device (usually a digital audio tape or magneto optical drive) is physically embedded in the recording unit, thus limiting public safety operations - for better or for worse -- to one storage technology. If a better, faster storage device comes along, they must either make do with their old storage technology or throw it away and start over again. The recording system prevents them from leveraging the investments they've made in technologies for data storage, too.

In contrast, the open, distributed component architecture of network appliance recording technology not only offers protection from technological obsolescence,but also enables agencies to leverage their technology infrastructure.

How is this accomplished? In a network appliance recording system, the archive device is decoupled from the recording module. Rather than automatically archiving voice recordings to standard media, like DAT or MO (as traditional recording systems do), the network appliance records calls on a circular buffer and then transfers the voice files (based upon a schedule determined by the user) to any network-attached storage device using standard file access methods like SMB, NFS and FTP.

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