Technology issues, solutions expected to be part of 911-overload debate
Addressing the problem of 911 overload — the situation of high call volume exceeding the capacity of a given public-safety answering point — will be the focus of a national workshop being hosted next month by the 911 Industry Alliance.
Many PSAPs experience 911 overload, resulting in emergency callers receiving busy signals instead of getting an emergency call-taker after dialing 911. In Georgia, a woman died when flash floods swept her vehicle off the road after she repeatedly called 911 but only received busy signals, because the emergency-calling system was overloaded with calls related to the weather issues.
There are myriad reasons for the 911 problem, according to 911 Industry Alliance Chairman Kevin Murray. With the popularity of mobile devices that are generating 65% of the call volume to many PSAPs, there are more potential sources for emergency calls during a weather or manmade event, he said. In addition, many people mistakenly call 911 to report non-emergencies, which reduces the number of emergency calls that can be answered.
“In California, recent research showed that as many as 45% of the calls to the 911 center come in as non-emergency calls with very long wait times,” Murray said.
Other factors include some 911 being understaffed and underfunded, in part because the 911 funds in many states have been raided by governments to pay for projects that are not related to emergency calling, Murray said. It’s a problem that could become more difficult in the future, when emergency callers also may be able to send text, photos and video to PSAPs via the next-generation 911 architecture, he said.
“As you introduce different devices and more methods to contact 911, I believe the problem’s only going to become worse,” Murray said.
Technology can help resolve some of the overload problems, Murray said. For example, IP routing between PSAPs that is included in next-generation 911 designs could allow emergency calls to an overloaded PSAP to be rerouted to another PSAP that has call takers that are not busy at that moment.
The 911 Industry Alliance workshop — designed for first responders, policy-makers and vendors — will be conducted on Oct. 4–5 at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center in Washington, D.C. Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC’s public safety and homeland security bureau, will be the luncheon keynote speaker.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to address prominent public safety leaders and government officials on the important topic of 911 overload,” Barnett said in a prepared statement. “911 is an extremely important service and is a priority for the commission. We look forward to participating in the dialog on this complex issue.”
Hosted by the 911 Industry Alliance, the workshop is being sponsored by CTIA‐The Wireless Association and co‐hosted by the National Emergency Number Association, the Association of Public‐Safety Communications Officials, the NG-911 Institute and the National Association of State 911 Administrators.