Author: Amelia Mueller

Innovators Meet at 9-1-1 Early Adopter Summit to Mold the Future of the Emergency Number Industry

Innovators Meet at 9-1-1 Early Adopter Summit to Mold the Future of the Emergency Number Industry

In a quiet conference room in Charleston, South Carolina, a group of 9-1-1 careerists listened to a simulated 9-1-1 call. It was a situation they, or their staff, had come across hundreds of times before: a report of a residential break in from a security company. This is something 9-1-1 call takers handle daily, and one that takes a lot of manpower away from life-threatening emergency calls. But in this simulation, the call taker was artificial intelligence.

When this group began their careers in the emergency number industry, few thought they would one day listen to a robot answering a 9-1-1 call. And for many in the industry, the idea is too scary to even consider. But this group was made up of 9-1-1 Early Adopters, pioneers in innovation who work to improve public safety through cutting edge technology and best practices, and they’re not afraid.

Once a year, 9-1-1 Early Adopters across the nation gather to discuss their latest projects and to share and improve emergency number innovations. The Early Adopter Summit (EAS) is a small gathering by design, with less than 60 attendees in Charleston this year.

“Somebody has to be first,” said Jim Lake, director of Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 Center and host of the 2019 EAS. “We’re it.”

The first EAS was hosted in 2017 by the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) and is the brainchild of Lake, NCT9-1-1 Director Christy Williams, and Maricopa County 9-1-1 Administrator Liz Graeber. In the three years that the summit has taken place, attendees have seen everything from bleeding edge tech to newly minted operation protocols. A few weeks ago, they gathered to discuss the future of 9-1-1 innovation and what they can do to mold it.

Data with a Purpose

Video and pictures in the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) is just the beginning of the kind of information that can be integrated into call takers’ equipment. With the rise of IoT (Internet of Things), the industry can expect to see more of a push for additional data. But EAS attendees made it clear that analytics would only be useful if they drove a telecommunicator’s decision making.

The information 9-1-1 agencies will utilize in the future include what is gathered from social media, quality video and photographs, and Z-Axis data that will assist in location accuracy.

Gathering Information from Social Media

After disasters like Hurricane Harvey, where public safety agencies saw a spike in 9-1-1 requests through social media, it is no longer an option for the industry to ignore platforms like Twitter and Facebook. At the 2019 EAS, researchers from the 3C Informatics Research Team presented their ongoing research on using social media in relation to emergency services.

“Our broad research right now is this vision that we call ‘help by any means,’” said Dr. Jess Kropczynski of the University of Cincinnati. “We understand that this is a room full of innovators and early adopters, and we envision a future where [it is] not just picking up a phone call…but how can we incorporate help by any means and how we can think of a multitude of ways to request help.”

One of the biggest impediments experienced by this group, according to Kropzunski, was how to extract “actionable information” from the abundance of data found on these social platforms like Twitter. The researchers are utilizing Twitter data sets coded to train machine learning based on the six “Ws” (who, what, when where, why, and weapons). Their research also led them to discover the “Golden Tweet” — a hypothetical tweet that includes all necessary information a telecommunicator will need to take action in assisting this person. The 3C Informatics team utilized the EAS attendees to gain insight on how their research can best be put into the PSAP and to begin building a set of protocols that 9-1-1 agencies may utilize to process the data.

Facebook also attended the event to share  how to request emergency data provided by the platform that is available to government agencies. Currently, 9-1-1 employees can pull data such as address information, photos, messages, and more to assist in a life or death emergency. Employees can visit to request this information, and the only prerequisite is a government email address and the full URL of the Facebook profile in question.

Show Me Your Emergency

Though new data from IoT is making strides in multiple industries (including public safety), there is still much that can be done with imagery in the PSAP. The Chandler Police Department has been using imagery and visual tools like video messaging, traffic cameras, maps, and more to assist its telecommunicators.

“What we’ve done in our center is not necessarily about one specific technology, like video-to-9-1-1…it’s about using visual cues in the decision-making process,” said Chandler PD Communications Manager Michelle Potts. She demonstrated how tools like medical alert data paired with a live mapping environment with breadcrumbing may change how a call taker responds to a call.

Potts emphasized the department’s focus on “the headlines,” or the big picture, so telecommunicators don’t get lost in the details and the agency can stick to their single message: whatever technology they adopt must assist in risk management and give better information than what they already had.

Finding the Z-Axis

In October, the Federal Communications Commission proposed that location information provided to 9-1-1 call takers have a “z-axis accuracy metric of plus or minus 3 meters for 80% of wireless E911 calls for z-axis capable handsets.” Representatives from Google discussed what can be done with ELS (Emergency Location Service) on Android devices to help achieve this goal. Currently, Android devices utilize meters above ellipsoid to determine the z-axis, which occasionally comes through on the ALI screen. Based on ALI formats, many are not receiving any z-axis information. Only a handful of early adopters found this information useful as it was currently presenting.

“We have a nice circle and it looks great in math, but the reality is that the Earth is not a circle,” said Boone Spooner of Google. “So what this means is that when we’re reporting height, we may actually report a negative elevation.”

Researchers at Google are trying to find out if the proposed methodology is “confusing,” said Spooner. The presentation focused on how the information collected by Google can be accurately translated to the PSAP and then onto the first responder. Something as simple as terminology (floor versus level, for example) has a huge impact on the actionability of the z-axis information. The EAS attendees spoke from experience to guide Google in locating useful ways to improve this technology, and ended with the intention to continue the conversation with a focus group in the near future.

No Longer Just a Phone Call

As new technology emerges, it is difficult to classify a request for emergency service as only a “call.” Every day new ways to reach 9-1-1 pop up as smart phone applications or through voice command tools, and rather than running from this new trend, Early Adopters look into how they can make it work for their telecommunicators and citizens.

Charleston County Consolidated 9-1-1 Center discussed their web-based tool that acts as an alternative to calling 9-1-1. Citizens can visit and fill out the form on the homepage to reach a telecommunicator. This tool can be used during disasters in the region when calls or texts to 9-1-1 become overwhelmed.

A citizen who needs to utilize the site must enter a valid address, which gets the request to the correct PSAP. The tool can also accept data from smart device applications built as alternatives to dialing 9-1-1, a rising problem in the industry since many apps cannot connect to the PSAP directly and leave users with a false sense of security.

“Our hope is to work with companies like Facebook and if you have an emergency event occurring and you’ve got all of this data, images, IP addresses…send it here and we’ll get it to the right PSAP,” said Jim Lake.

Preparing Our People for What’s Next

The Early Adopter Summit is more than just a place to discuss new technology. Attendees also get together to challenge each other on how to implement innovations in their agencies. Best practices and lessons learned on projects that may have struggled to get off the ground are discussed. Strangers continue to meet the needs of their people while still keeping innovation and the future of 9-1-1 in mind are identified.

Continue to Adapt Protocol and Improve Training

It’s difficult to adopt new technology if the day-to-day activity of a PSAP is struggling to meet the expectations of its citizens. Geoff Kuhn of the City of Tucson Public Safety Communications 9-1-1 presented on the challenge of updating protocols after a merge of fire/EMS telecommunicators with the police department’s agencies. To improve on lengthy wait times, performance issues, and citizen complaints, the agency had to change their approach to protocol, Kuhn said.

This included focusing on criteria-based dispatching (CBD) and encouraging call takers to ask what they needed to know versus what they wanted to know in order to reduce requests for additional information. They rewrote everything in narrative format to make their content digestible for officers and telecommunicators alike. This process also included providing regular quality assurance, or quality improvement, which meant all telecommunicators had their calls pulled on their days off and were then reviewed and discussed upon their return.

By focusing on guidelines rather than scripted protocols, the city of Tucson saw their staff members improve and adapt to the new environment.

Prepare Operations for Technology

An agency cannot innovate while maintaining the same culture from 20 years ago. As the technology within 9-1-1 changes, so must the policies and guidelines of a PSAP.

“Success of innovative tech depends on how we implement it on the operational side,” said Stacy Needham of Manatee County, who presented on the topic.

Needham taught her top lessons learned when implementing new innovative tech, which included having your leadership team on board from the beginning and preparing staff members with “comfort training,” which brought together new telecommunicators and veterans to discuss a new technology product long before it is introduced to allow for questions and preparation. Needham also introduced the challenge room: creating a small team of technical and operational staff members who gather to create SOPs for new integrations. The goal of the challenge room is not to find the perfect solution, said Needham, but to identify best practices.

NCT9-1-1 presented on their Generational Advisory Board (GAB), which is made up of younger individuals not employed by the district who meet to propose suggestions on policies and protocol. The GAB’s goal is to allow the voices of the future work force help define the work culture they’ll soon join.

Don’t Wait for Tomorrow

9-1-1 Early Adopters are gathering today to prepare for a future that isn’t here yet. The road to Next Generation 9-1-1 has been a long one, and those in the industry know it still has a long way to go. But it’s coming whether the industry is ready for it or not. That is why events like the Early Adopter Summit are important to assist both innovators in 9-1-1 and those following in their footsteps. It’s a place where tomorrow is something to look forward to rather than be afraid of, and where we can’t wait to see what happens next.


3 Ways to Show Appreciation and Give Thanks for Your Telecommunicators

3 Ways to Show Appreciation and Give Thanks for Your Telecommunicators

We all know that the 9-1-1 industry has some of the highest turnover rates. There are a lot of factors that contribute to it, but that doesn’t mean PSAP leadership can’t take some small efforts to try to make their agencies a better place to work. This Thanksgiving week is a great time to show appreciation for your telecommunicators!

At the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District, we pride ourselves on our focus on PSAP involvement in the everyday running of our district. We learned through some trial and error how important it is to get feedback from our agency’s managers and supervisors, and during a focus group held last year we noticed a common theme: All of our agencies had a process for disciplining rule breaking and poor behavior, but few had a structured way of rewarding positive behavior.

Though the purpose of this focus group was for an entirely separate issue, this idea of creating a system that applauds and appreciates positive behavior was filed away by some of our staff members. A few months later we launched YouEarnedIt (now known as Kazoo) to encourage and reward the everyday tasks our telecommunicators performed. The platform has so far been a huge success, but you don’t have to invest in a digital solution like Kazoo in order to show employee appreciation. You can start with something small.

Here are a few ways you can show appreciation for your telecommunicators without breaking the bank.

Go public with your teams’ wins

When someone volunteers to work overtime or goes above and beyond the call of duty during a call or in some way performs beyond expectations, don’t keep it to yourself. We’ve seen “Wall of Fame” message boards inside agencies with post it notes detailing telecommunicator successes, and we always try to reshare social media posts that praise employees at our agencies. We also love the idea of the “stork pin,” which is awarded to call takers who talk a caller through a birth, and we’ve seen a lot of different variations of it within the industry.

Your appreciation method doesn’t have to be complex but making a small effort to show your employees that you care about their triumphs can go a long way.

Individualize Your Praise

Some people may enjoy a public display of your gratitude and appreciation when they do something right, but others may prefer to stay out of the spotlight. Knowing your employees individually will help you determine the best way to show them you appreciate them. For the shyer types, you might want to stick to the old-fashioned thank you note (not an email; handwriting a note shows that you’re willing to go the extra mile), while those who enjoy the attention would feel honored that you’re willing to call out their success in front of their coworkers.

Anniversaries Matter – Celebrate Them!

We’re not just talking about work anniversaries. Yes, celebrate someone’s first, fifth, or even twentieth year at your agency, but don’t forget about birthdays, weddings, or any other event that means something to your employees. If you’re not the right person to organize these celebrations, find someone on your team who is (just remember to celebrate them when their time comes as well).

With turnover rate within 9-1-1 so high, it’s important that we do everything we can to show the employees who have stuck it out that we care about them. We no longer live in a world where a standoffish, unappreciative culture is acceptable in the workplace. Employees expect more from the organizations where they spent the majority of their lives, and that’s the same for all industries, including 9-1-1.

Can You Call 9-1-1 For a Family Member Out of State?

Can You Call 9-1-1 For a Family Member Out of State?

Last week we heard a story of a woman who was on the phone with her aunt when she overheard shattering glass and a man’s voice shouting in the background before the call went silent. Her aunt was unresponsive, and this woman realized she needed to dial 9-1-1. The problem was, she was located in Dallas and her aunt was living in Washington state, and she was unsure of how to reach the local authorities.

If you have family living out of state, this scenario may have crossed your mind, and the helplessness of the situation may seem a little overwhelming. But there is something you can do.

The majority of police departments or sheriff’s offices have 10-digit numbers that still go into the 9-1-1 emergency communications center (ECC). You can find a list of the 10-digit numbers within the NCT9-1-1 region here. These lines are answered by the telecommunicators who also answer 9-1-1 calls and not by administrators, which is a common misconception. We advise all of our citizens to look up their local 10-digit number and save it into their phone and to write it down in a place where everyone in the household has access, like on the refrigerator. This is only a precaution, as dialing 9-1-1 during an emergency is always the best way to get help quickly.

However, if you have family members living out of state, like your grandmother in Florida, you can also write down the local 10-digit number for their police department or sheriff’s office. Save this number in your phone in case you need to contact local authorities for an emergency or welfare check. You can also dial 9-1-1 and explain the situation to the call taker, who can then look up the 10-digit number of your family member’s location.

Whether you’re contacting emergency services through 9-1-1 or the 10-digit number, remember to always give the location of the emergency first, and then to follow all instructions, answer all questions, and stay on the line.

You can learn more about 10-digit numbers here.

Our Top Four Halloween Safety Tips

Our Top Four Halloween Safety Tips

The scariest night of the year is just around the corner, and it’s not because of the goblins and ghouls that will be roaming the streets. It’s the regular every-day safety concerns that are escalated on October 31st that has most people worried. We’ve put together some of our favorite Halloween safety tips to help you and your family have a fun and safe night!

Make sure your child’s costume is safe

We might not think of a costume being dangerous, but there are a handful of considerations we think every parent should be aware of. Make sure any masks don’t obstruct their vision, especially if they’re going trick or treating and may be crossing busy streets. Also include something that makes your child visible in darkness, like reflective tape on their costume or candy bags or deck them out in glow sticks.

Teach your child how to cross the street

This sounds like an easy one. Look both ways before crossing is the standard advice, but we suggest an extra effort on Halloween when there are a lot of kids outside and just as many drivers who may not be paying attention to the young trick or treaters. Remind your kids to be aware of their surroundings, which means putting down the phone for the older ones, and to stay on the sidewalk whenever possible. If it’s not possible to walk on the sidewalk, remind them to walk facing the direction of traffic so they can see what’s ahead of them.

Not trick or treating? Drive carefully.

Slow down in and around neighborhoods, just in case some of the trick or treaters aren’t considering our previous tips. If you have teenagers who drive and will be out and about on Halloween night, remind them about keeping an eye out for young kids crossing the road and to back up and park with caution. It may be a good idea to turn your headlights on earlier than usual too.

Trust your gut

Probably the most important Halloween safety tip we can give to anyone, both kids and adults. If something feels wrong or off, leave. Remind your kids that it’s okay to leave a situation that makes them feel uncomfortable, even if they can’t exactly say what it is that makes them feel that way. Better safe than sorry.