Category: News & Media

Where is 911 now? How NCT9-1-1 looks to the future

Where is 911 now? How NCT9-1-1 looks to the future

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the history of 911 innovation and the phases the industry has gone through to accommodate new technologies. As an early adopter, the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District is at the forefront of innovative development. We push for the type of technology that improves the day-to-day tasks of 911 telecommunicators and is beneficial to our public. Here are some of the projects that we have our eye on.

We’re Going Vertical

During my first year at NCT9-1-1, a co-worker told me the story of a time when they received an open line 911 call but were unable to locate the caller. They eventually identified the apartment complex the call was in but couldn’t figure out what the unit number was. The 911 call taker instructed the firefighters to run up and down the stairwells and hallways shouting as loud as they could, and she was able to identify the caller’s location by listening for them on the other end. They found the caller, who was experiencing a medical emergency and couldn’t speak, and got them the medical assistance they needed.

This is the story I think of when I talk about z-axis. Currently, 911 maps are able to identify the y and x-axis points and use GIS data to present an approximate location of the caller. But this is 2D information. If a caller is in a multi-floor building, like an office or apartment complex, the 911 call taker won’t be able to tell which floor they are on. The Federal Communications Commission recently released a mandate that requires z-axis information with an accuracy of 3 meters to be available to 911 telecommunicators for 80% of calls.

The NCT9-1-1 GIS team were already thinking about the future of 3D mapping before this mandate came out. They’ve been collecting the necessary data to build 3D models of critical infrastructure, which includes places like schools or government buildings.

Let’s Get Social

During disasters that see a high amount of 911 traffic, it’s difficult to ensure all the calls get through. During Hurricane Harvey, local Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs or 911 call centers) noticed a high amount of calls for help through a different service: their social media platforms.

Since social media accounts aren’t typically monitored on a 24-hour basis by first responders, this created a buzz in the industry. How can PSAPs keep track of social media when they’re already overwhelmed with 911 calls?

NCT9-1-1 has partnered with university researchers to find out. Research has been done or is being written on what would be required to make social media a useful tool to 911 telecommunicators and not an additional burden. Questions like how to filter out true calls for help from spam or noise, what technology to use to present this information on consoles, and what kind of standard operating procedures and policies would need to be deployed are already being asked.

Don’t Forget About the People

Technology is important, and innovative technology gets us excited about the future, but NCT9-1-1 believes in staying grounded on our purpose: saving lives and making a difference. That means we can’t just innovate for innovation’s sake. We have to provide useful tools to 911 telecommunicators and life-saving technologies to our public.

Our director, Christy Williams, believes in a people-first approach to innovation. Remembering the actual human beings who will be using this technology should be the foundation of every project. Change is difficult, especially if your job is to save lives. We don’t believe in adding new technology just because it’s cool and flashy. There is a careful process to make sure any new technology that is invested in and implemented is useful. By focusing on the 911 telecommunicators needs, we ensure that changes will make a difference in saving lives.

The Only 9-1-1 Academy in Texas Will Graduate 13 New Telecommunicators During North Texas 9-1-1 Staffing Shortages

The Only 9-1-1 Academy in Texas Will Graduate 13 New Telecommunicators During North Texas 9-1-1 Staffing Shortages

ARLINGTON, TX, August, 3, 2021 — The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) will graduate 13 new 9-1-1 telecommunicators from the Regional Telecommunicator Training Academy on August 6 in a virtual ceremony. These recruits join the industry during a significant staffing shortage of 9-1-1 telecommunicators in North Texas. The recruits of class #011 represent agencies from across the region including the Balch Springs Police Department, Collin County Sheriff’s Office, Seagoville Police Department, and more.

The graduates completed a rigorous four-week program that taught 9-1-1 equipment use, state mandates and regulations, as well as how to handle crisis communications such as active shooters. They will graduate after taking the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) State Licensing Exam. Texas is the only state in the country that requires its 9-1-1 telecommunicators to be licensed in the same line as peace officers and jailers and was the first state to reclassify them from administrative professionals to first responders.

“They’re joining the industry during unprecedented times,” said NCT9-1-1 Training Coordinator Bret Batchelor. “The pandemic has changed a lot, and they’ll have to adapt quickly as it continues to affect the day-to-day roles of first responders. The chances of burn out only increase when working in that kind of high-stakes environment. But I have confidence that they all have what it takes to excel at this career.”

The academy has graduated recruits from across Texas and Arkansas since its inception in February 2016 and continues to grow with classes held twice a year in the winter and summer.

Class Photo of RTA #011
Class photo of Regional Telecommunicator Academy Class #011

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About the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1)

The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District (NCT9-1-1) is responsible for 40 plus Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) in the 13 counties surrounding the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The district supports these PSAPs through maintaining and upgrading 9-1-1 equipment, providing up-to-date mapping information, training 9-1-1 telecommunicators, educating the public on the proper use of 9-1-1, and monitoring PSAP functionality and compliances. NCT9-1-1 serves a population of 1.7 million and 10,000+ square miles.

 

The History of 9-1-1 Innovation

The History of 9-1-1 Innovation

The first 911 call was made on February 16, 1968 in Haleyville, Alabama by Representative Rankin Fite. It was a call that launched an industry dedicated to saving lives and supporting communities.  

At the time, the 911 system was called Basic 911. The system was a simple, two-way call and didn’t involve any of the routing or location accuracy we associate with 9-1-1 today. It was implemented before wireless phones, so it was a lot easier to know where you were calling from. 

911 has evolved significantly since that first call, but what key moments brought us from Basic 911 to recognizing wireless location to texting 911? 

Enhanced 911 

Enhanced, or E911, is the system most call centers use today. Implementing E911 into an agency allowed for a variety of new features and tools. Addresses, for example, can be displayed on a E911 system. ALI, or the Automatic Location Identifier, was provided with addresses being stored in a Master Street Addressing Guide (MSAG). Calls could also not be routed to the correct 911 call center by area code.

As wireless phones became more popular, there was an increased need for more accurate location information other than the ALI. That’s when the cell phone carriers began providing Phase I and Phase II as additional location information. Phase I provided a radius of where the caller was located based on cell phone tower signals, while Phase II narrowed down that radius to about 300 meters.  

E911 was the beginning of more innovative technology becoming available to 911 telecommunicators and led to the introduction of Next Generation 911. 

Next Generation 911 

Next Generation 911 (NG911) was first identified as a need in 2007. Technology was evolving quickly all over the country, and industry leadership recognized a new system was needed to support this rapid change.  

The introduction of NG911 allowed for cloud-based technologies to be integrated into the 911 system. This included GIS data and device-based hybrid location, which uses factors like GPS, Bluetooth beacons, WIFI, and other sources to provide a more accurate location of a caller. This is particularly important since much of the country has moved to smart devices.  

NG911 also brought the introduction of additional data, which are supplemental resources 911 telecommunicators can use to build situational awareness to a call. This can include being able to view the iPhone Health app information when a call is made from that device or connecting to the phone’s camera to see what’s happening on scene in a live stream.  

There are many other types of innovation the emergency number industry is working on developing, and even some new technology that we haven’t identified yet! Looking back at the history of 911 innovation makes us excited to think about what the future of the industry holds. 

 

Can I Connect My Address to My Cell Phone? Sort of.

Can I Connect My Address to My Cell Phone? Sort of.

You want to know how to connect your cell phone to your home address in case you have to dial 911. We get this question a lot, or it’s close cousin: “Doesn’t 911 automatically know my location when calling on a cell phone?”  

Wireless location accuracy is different than wireline. On a wireline- – or landline — phone, your address is registered with your landline phone number and stored in the Master Street Addressing Guide (MSAG). We manage that for our region. When you dial out on a landline, your address is associated with your phone number and the 911 telecommunicator can see it. Simple, right? So, what happens when you call on a cell phone? 

We’ve gone into more detail about wireless location accuracy in other blogs, but your device is either triangulated with legacy technology and gives the 911 telecommunicator an approximate location within 300 meters, or enhanced location technology is used to find a more accurate determination of your location.  There’s a lot more to it than that, but what we’re saying is you don’t have to register your address with your cell phone to reach 911. The only exception to this is wifi calling. 

What is Wifi Calling? 

Wifi calling just means you’re placing a wireless call over a wifi signal instead of a typical cell phone signal. Wifi calling is generally used when a cell signal is weak, and it will set up automatically if your device is connected to a wifi signal. You can use it to talk or text and when you set up your phone, it asks you for an address to register for wifi calling.  

If you call 911 with a cell signal, your location is determined by one of the processes we described earlier. If you call over wifi, your call will be routed based on the address you provided. You can set up your address in the settings of your device, but this information is not stored or maintained by your local law enforcement or county addressing coordinator’s office. Carriers maintain and update this data. You can read more about your carrier’s wifi calling services below. 

AT&T 

AT&T’s address database is maintained by a third party, not NCT9-1-1. If you are unable to set up your address for wifi calling with your device, you must contact the AT&T Mobility (ATTMO) Customer Care Center at 1-800-331-0500.  

Verizon 

A valid address must be used for wifi calling. Verizon recommends validating your emergency address with the USPS or entering an alternative address through their website. 

T-Mobile 

You can set up you e911 address with T-Mobile within you’re my T-Mobile account. 

911 and Wifi Calling 

When you dial 911 over a wifi signal, the call will route to the call center based on your registered address. This is why carriers do not allow you to register an unverifiable address. If you connect to wifi outside of your registered address, such as at your place of work, the call will still be routed based on your registered address and not your current location. The 911 telecommunicator will also receive the registered address as the location of your emergency. If you move locations and call 911 over wifi, you must update your registered address.