View from the Top

Let’s not just change 911—let’s revolutionize it

Table of Contents:

Disruptive innovation isn’t easy and can be a little scary—but when it occurs, it’s a beautiful thing to witness.

The original idea behind 911HelpMe was to provide citizens with a way to communicate with public safety via the Internet, even when they cannot access the 911 system. Now the center is contemplating using 911HelpMe to gather information from social-media platforms—such as Facebook and Twitter—to further enhance situational awareness.

Enhanced Situational Awareness—Genesis Pulse is a computer-aided-dispatch (CAD) enhancement tool that integrates with the Waze crowd-sourcing navigation application and leverages numerous data layers—e.g., automatic vehicle location, personnel tracking, and weather/storm—to help telecommunicators make better dispatching decisions by providing them with more information in an easily digestible format.

For example, telecommunicators can look at their screen and immediately know where each responding unit is located at any given moment, as well as how long it will take them to arrive at the incident (based on traffic, accident and road closure information provided by Waze). This is critical information, because the best unit to dispatch isn’t always the closest; it’s the one that can arrive fastest.

The platform also indicates on the map which units’ shifts will end before they can respond to and mitigate the emergency incident. Meanwhile, circles on the map surrounding each 911 call for service enable telecommunicators to determine which units are close enough to the event, based on information provided by Waze, to meet contracted response-time metrics—if the unit is inside the circle, it can be dispatched. As time ticks down, the circles progressively shrink, providing a clear visual cue to the telecommunicator regarding which units still can be dispatched in time.

The weather and storm layers also are quite useful, because they enable telecommunicators to move responding units out of the path of a major storm.

Speaking of Waze, the solution was discussed at several junctures during the summit. Increasingly, motorists are reporting incidents to Waze instead of calling 911. In fact, it was reported that

  • Waze users report an event before a 911 call is placed 40% of the time
  • Waze events precede the 911 call by four minutes, on average

It is estimated that for every minute saved in emergency response, 10,000 lives can be saved annually. When you do the math, it is easy to see the significance of apps like Waze for emergency response.

In fact, there was speculation during the summit that Waze might be integrated with 911 systems in the future—perhaps to enable the 911 system to push out notifications to motorists regarding a wrong-way driver on a freeway, or to receive reports from Waze users about debris in the roadway. In both instances, serious accidents could be avoided.

Cloud-Hosted CAD—RapidDeploy is a web-based, cloud-hosted, scalable, Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS)-compliant CAD solution that provides all the functionality of traditional premises-hosted solutions, but without the effort and expense required to implement, operate and maintain such systems. Meanwhile, it also eliminates the need to version upgrade the system and manage its life cycle.

The name of the solution is revealing, as the company claims that it can deploy a full CAD capability in about an hour after receiving a PSAP’s master data file; in contrast, it takes from 18 to 24 months to deploy a traditional CAD solution. This is something that every agency whose current CAD system is approaching end of life should consider.

Administrative Call-Takers—When people think about disruptive innovation, they typically do so in a technology context—but innovation also can occur operationally.  We live in a “if you see something, say something world,” which is great, but that can create challenges in the form of ever-increasing 911 call volumes.

Combine this increased number of 911 calls with the fact that many PSAPs are understaffed and that telecommunicators often find themselves answering non-emergency calls that come into the 911 center via 10-digit administrative lines, and the result is that call-answering standards are not being met.

To lessen the burden on its telecommunicators, Charleston County created administrative call-taker positions to handle the non-emergency calls—if they field an emergency call on an administrative line, they simply transfer it to a 911 telecommunicator.

This innovative approach to staffing paid immediate dividends. First, call-answering times improved, because telecommunicators no longer were overburdened by having to answer non-emergency calls.

Second, the administrative call-taker positions helped alleviate a huge staffing shortage the center had—at one time, 40 positions were vacant, in part because half of all applicants washed out during training, because they lacked the skillsets needed to be a telecommunicator.

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