What does emergency-services call recording have to do with one of the greatest American inventors of all time? On Dec. 6, 1877, Thomas Edison made the first recording of a human voice on a tinfoil cylinder phonograph and patented the invention only a few weeks later. Over the course of the next decade, he perfected his recording device, replaced tinfoil with wax, acquired a commercial license and marketed his invention to the masses. But call recording in the public-safety answering point (PSAP), as we know it today, didn't take hold until World War II.

In the early to mid 20th century, emergency call recording continued to evolve, establishing what law-enforcement agencies in the late 1980s used to capture and analyze audio recordings. Over the next couple of decades, call recording remained mostly confined to military and law enforcement sectors. All the while, the technology continued to advance, moving from wire to tape recording. By the 1960s, tape recorders increasingly made their way into PSAPs at the state and local levels, becoming the defacto device.

Around this time is when we see the story become more familiar, reflecting how we know and understand recording today. The technology moved from analog to digital, and the industry evolved to removable media, from VHS to CDs to laser-optical drives and DVDs. Times and advancements in technology were changing dramatically. With digital recording, PSAPs were able to better mine the recordings and ask simple questions, such as: Who was logged into a dispatcher position? What phone number was associated with a call or the caller's ID? This information aids PSAP operations in targeting the source to quickly playback interactions, confirm details and review difficult-to-understand conversations.

The introduction of Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has advanced recording capabilities by making audio portable and easily transferrable — allowing public-safety agencies to take advantage of what has been proven in commercial contact centers for years. PSAPs have started adopting VoIP for the same reasons as commercial contact centers. It comes down to flexibility in turning audio into data. Enhancements in recording technology have paved the way for the next evolution in PSAP recordings, as well as in analytics. Today's analytics software enables the PSAP to retrieve actionable intelligence from recordings for strategic gains — both in terms of performance and citizen response, as well as the value that PSAPs can provide to law-enforcement agencies.

Where the evolution of call recording grew in terms of development in the PSAP environment in the 19th and 20th centuries, the 21st century is quickly becoming the era of analytics. The recent rise in tools such as speech analytics — a technology that mines PSAP caller interactions to uncover trends, as well as search for keywords and phrases — lets PSAPs mine their digital-recording data.

The software analyzes this data to improve the performance of the dispatchers and call takers — letting them adhere more closely to policies and procedures — in addition to finding best-practice examples to improve overall quality. Analytical software also helps direct resources more efficiently, identify trends related to call types more quickly, and determine trends that may aid in investigations or provide more detailed information to law-enforcement agencies.

One application of speech analytics technology in the commercial contact center is focused on quality, including what agents are saying and doing. PSAP managers and supervisors also concentrate on this area and are now applying another powerful tool from which contact centers are reaping great benefits. Analytics software in both environments can search hundreds, even thousands, of calls using Google-like keyword searches to identify interactions in which mistakes occurred or procedures weren't followed accurately. By using analytics insight to address specific call-taker performance, PSAPs can help ensure that the right training in is place and the correct steps are followed.

Analytics also allows greater visibility into changes in the community that may not otherwise be discovered in a timely fashion. Through both searches and alerts, the software can help identify that a center is starting to receive an increase in calls of a specific nature.

For example, if numerous calls start coming in about repeated accidents occurring at a particular intersection, speech analytics lets PSAPs rapidly identify and act on such trends. From a training perspective, it lets PSAPs staff to those trends and have much better control on how calls are handled. In leveraging such insights, PSAPs can deploy and direct resources properly.

"We immediately saw the impact, confirming through verifiable data some of the trends we suspected were taking place," said Bobby Kagel, Chester County (Pa.) Department of Emergency Services' assistant director for quality. "One centered around our location verification, which proved to be frustrating for both callers and our own telecommunicators. Since then, we've reengineered the process, leveraging technology the telecommunicators have right at their fingertips. The power and results speech analytics can produce are an exciting development in our market — one we can't wait to fully maximize."

PSAPs regularly receive requests from investigators seeking information that has potential or direct relevance to ongoing investigations. To fulfill these inquiries, PSAPs traditionally have manually searched recordings to find the correct calls a highly time-consuming process. And typically, they only look for the calls that have direct relevance or are specifically requested for by investigators. However, what investigators and PSAPs can overlook are the additional and related calls that can help identify missing pieces of the investigative puzzle that rarely discovered through manual processes.

Imagine a bank robbery and a series of 911 calls from those trapped inside the bank. Investigators can typically access such calls directly through PSAPs. Now imagine that, as the robbers escaped, three blocks from the scene of the crime, they ran a red light and an intrepid citizen called in to report a traffic violation and perhaps noted the license plate.

This seemingly unrelated information could prove to be valuable in resolving the crime. Technology like speech analytics can help identify and compile intelligence using advanced categorization and search capabilities. Speech-analytics tools have the capability to index every word and phrase identified for context and meaning. For instance, a PSAP can search for all calls where the descriptive terms were mentioned, perhaps surfacing unknown, but related, calls. It can then isolate respective conversations for further investigation, and with trend analysis, reveal frequency and usage around these terms.

Technology for mission-critical needs have a long evolutionary history. Critical mass and recording efficiency has been attained through the use of digital technologies such as VoIP, which has become the framework for the advanced systems in which speech analytics software has thrived. PSAPs now are adopting analytics tools to mine data to uncover trends, better meet citizen needs and help fill in the missing pieces of investigations. Edison would be proud.

Diego Lomanto is the senior analytics solutions marketing manager for Verint Systems. He has authored numerous articles and white papers and serves as a frequent speaker at industry events. He can be reached at diego.lomanto@verint.com.

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