Money well spent
Nobody wakes up and thinks, “I’m going to have to call 911 today.” But those who have to know where to turn, and when they do, they expect 911 to “just work.”
And for more than four decades, it has. The current 911 system has adapted to new and emerging technologies and devices along the way. There have been stumbles and missteps, but the story of the three-digit emergency-response system in America overall has been one of great success.
But as consumer communications technologies advance in once-unimaginable ways, end-users expect 911 to keep pace. They think 911 centers can — or will soon be able to — accept text messages, images and video in real-time, with location and callback information. We, as public-safety professionals, have to live up to our end of the bargain. It is our duty to continue to provide the service that the public has come to expect from us. It is imperative that we adapt to changes in technology and heightened expectations while continuing to provide the life-saving service of 911.
The good news is that technological advancements have enabled us to create a 21st century, IP-based 911 system. Next-generation 911 (NG-911) demonstrations and trials are ongoing, and the future looks as bright as it ever has. The era of public-safety answering points (PSAPs) existing as standalone silos is coming to an end quickly. There will be shared networks and new applications. There will be new and different ways to communicate with callers and responders, as well as an increased capacity to transmit and disseminate information. We soon will be able to ensure the same level of professional and high-quality response nationwide — from America’s busiest cities to its most rural areas.
In an NG-911 environment, nearly all those employed in the emergency communications field will be expected to take on new and/or altered responsibilities. Thorough education and training of all 911-center personnel will be necessary to ensure a seamless transition that is invisible to the public and to promote full use of NG-911’s expanded feature set and capabilities within the PSAP. Training PSAP personnel to understand and use the functions and feature set made available by NG-911 implementation is arguably the most essential task to ensure that the system performs as intended, that the overall quality of emergency response is improved, and that the cost and effort incurred to facilitate the migration are deemed worthwhile.
At a time when budgets are being slashed from coast to coast, training moneys often are the first to be excised. The exact opposite should be the case. Our shared goal should be to ensure that all telecommunicators and PSAP employees across the country are equally prepared to perform their duties and safeguard the public. Government entities, national public-safety associations such as the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), and industry leaders must come together to create and promote high-quality training and standardized telecommunicator certifications that are in the best interest of the public-safety community, enhance the overall effectiveness of the 911 system and enable emergency communications professionals to take full advantage of all that NG-911 has to offer.
In short, we must consider the training of our nation’s 911 professionals not an expense, but an investment in the future of public safety.
Craig Whittington is the second vice president of the National Emergency Number Association.