Preparing 911 telecommunicators for a strange new world
The day is coming soon when public-safety answering points from coast to coast will be able to accept texts, images and video from wireless 911 callers. That’s very good news for the general public. But for 911 telecommunicators and those who manage them, the influx of these new media will create myriad challenges.
For instance, the new multimedia era will require telecommunicators to multitask as they never have before. “This is going to be a real challenge, especially in smaller centers where telecommunicators have to both take calls and dispatch,” said Steve Wisely, director of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials’ Communications Center and 911 Services Department. “Most telecommunicators have experience with TTY calls [for the hearing impaired], so texting won’t be that big a deal. But throw on top of that talking on the radio, looking at video and dealing with multiple texts, that’s going to be a challenge.”
Still another problem is the language of texting — it’s all over the board. Some believe that because telecommunicators are experienced in fielding TTY calls, they will adapt quickly to text messages. That’s true — but only to a degree. Years ago, the hearing-impaired community banded together to create a standardized language for TTY calls. “We just had to adopt their language,” said Rick Jones, operations manager for the National Emergency Number Association.
But no such standardized language exists in the text world, according to Wisely, who believes that the plethora of abbreviations and shortcuts — which can vary from region to region and based on cultural factors — are going to cause telecommunicators headaches, at least for a while. “They’re going to wonder, what do they mean with these texts,” he said. “That’s going to cause frustration on both sides of the call.”
So, 911 telecommunicators are going to need a lot of training to prepare them for the strange new world they are about to enter. With that in mind, Verint Systems has re-engineered its Content Producer call-recording application to let public-safety answering points record the actual screens viewed by call-takers and dispatchers for the purpose of creating interactive “learning clips,” according to Kristyn Emenecker, Verint’s director of solutions marketing.
“The main concern that PSAPs have right now is, ‘How do we train our people for this new language and the operational impacts of having to field text calls,'” Emenecker said. “You can train them to communicate via text, but the unforeseen challenge is that they have no way of identifying the point at which [the communication broke down].”
The ability to capture everything that was occurring at the time of a multi-media 911 call lets supervisors work with call-takers and dispatchers to accurately recreate the event in order to first determine what went wrong and then to create training tactics designed to address the relevant error, problem or challenge.
“It helps them to understand later what was happening at the time,” Emenecker said.
In addition to letting telecommunicators and their supervisors review actual 911 call screens that could include text, video and photos, the application also allows customization. For instance, it can simulate text from specific smart phones to help ensure that telecommunicators are able to respond effectively in highly stressful situations, regardless of the message type.
Currently, PSAPs in Chester County, Penn., are beta-testing the application for screen-recording. According to Emenecker, commercial call centers are encountering the same challenges and some already are using the application in this manner, so Verint is confident that the beta-test will go well. “We felt comfortable that we had tools that we could adapt and apply to the public-safety sector,” she said.
Editor’s note: For an expanded article on this topic, see the December edition of Urgent Communications.