A U.S.-based remote public-safety answering point (PSAP) and an eventual portable PSAP are key components of a proposal to restore emergency calling in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, a representative from the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) said this week.

Struck by a 7.0-magnitude quake 10 miles west of Port-au-Prince on Jan. 12, Haiti has reported more than 200,000 fatalities associated with the disaster. In addition, both PSAPs in Port-au-Prince were destroyed, leaving those left in the area without the ability to call — some commercial wireless services in the area are working, although securing power to recharge handheld devices has been a struggle — for emergency aid, said Greg Riddle, APCO’s first vice president.

With this in mind, APCO recommended a two-pronged plan to the U.S. federal government to restore emergency calling in Haiti that is based largely on the Telecommunicator Emergency Response Task Force (TERT) initiative the organization has in collaboration with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

“What we’ve developed is a fairly high-level plan at this point, with ideas of how we want to move forward. But the real nuts and bolts and technical aspects of it are yet to be finalized, based on the acceptance of the regional concepts that we proposed,” Riddle said.

The more immediate aspect of the plan calls for the creation of a remote PSAP being created within the United States and staffed by U.S. emergency-calling personnel. Riddle said such a PSAP likely could be established within three days of a plan being approved, although logistical issues might cause additional days of delay.

“We also have to be cognizant of the fact that we have to deal with the wireless carriers in Haiti and get them connected … so they can route their calls to the location that we determine,” Riddle said. “It’s not just a matter of transporting our people to a location; we also have to be able to transport the calls, and some of those technicalities will still have to be finalized once the plan is approved.”

Another challenge the remote PSAP will face is translating emergency calls effectively, as relatively few U.S. telecommunicators are fluent in the Haitian Creole language spoken by most people in the devastated country, Riddle said. A program would be developed to address the language barrier.

Under the APCO plan, the U.S.-based PSAP would handle Haitian emergency calling for at least two months. During this period, APCO proposes the development of portable structures in or near Port-au-Prince that would allow Haitian telecommunicators to receive emergency calls, Riddle said. While developing such a solution in 60 days is “realistic,” the actual timetable could be impacted by several unanswered questions at the moment, including the safety of deploying a structure in the area, when Haitian telecommunicators are available or can be trained, and what power sources can be used to keep such a PSAP online, he said.

“Generators are fine until you start running out of fuel, and fuel is still somewhat of a problem in Haiti,” Riddle said.
“You’ve got to be careful that you don’t bring something in that has a 15-day fuel supply and then, after 15 days, you’re out of service again. There’s a lot of other things that play into it long term that have to be analyzed to make sure you’ve got something that’s going to work and continue to work once you establish it.”

APCO officials hope to provide a cost estimate for its proposal by the end of the week, Riddle said. A funding source also has to be identified, he said.