Latest Posts

9-1-1’s Role in a Mass Casualty Incident

9-1-1’s Role in a Mass Casualty Incident

Recently, representatives of the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District participated in a series of Mass Causality Incident (MCI) framework planning sessions. The goal of the sessions was to develop a framework for communities that don’t currently have an MCI plan in place. More than 30 different organizations, agencies, and private partners were on the planning committee, including representatives from hospitals, fire and EMS, local emergency management offices, and advisory committees. NCT9-1-1 was the only representative for 9-1-1.

Both NCT9-1-1 and our district partners have begun to see the need to include 9-1-1 in these type of emergency community planning workshops. In order to assist other communities, we wanted to share our key takeaways to help other 9-1-1 personnel and partners understand 9-1-1’s role in an MCI.

Public Safety Answering Points Could be Utilized More

During the tabletop exercise that tested the final draft of the MCI framework, our staff members on the committee noted that 9-1-1 could be utilized more.

For example, during the exercise it was discovered that the Red Cross had never been contacted. When asked by the event organizers whose responsibility it was, there was no conclusive response from the participating members. Our representatives pointed out that a PSAP can call Red Cross, but only if instructed to do so by the incident commander, as telecommunicators rarely have the authority to make these decisions on their own. Had this been known, incident responders wouldn’t have lost as much time deciding who would physically make the actual calls to request more resources. Emergency management and local government personnel should take the time to understand the reach and limitations of their PSAPs so these kinds of details can be confirmed before an MCI.

MCI Personnel Should Understand the Structure of a PSAP

The basic functions of a PSAP are fairly well known to most community leaders, but we discovered that few understood the details of how telecommunicators actually operate.

The most obvious example we found was the difference between police dispatch practices and fire and EMS practices. This MCI exercise lacked significant police representation, which meant that the different structures of dispatching police versus fire were never addressed. A telecommunicator working fire or EMS will experience situations that follow familiar protocols, compared to telecommunicators dispatching for police who must be prepared for a more flexible response and more variables.

This is just one example of PSAP structure that may not be known to community personnel responding to an MCI. And since the first thing a citizen involved in this incident will do is call 9-1-1, it’s important that officials and 9-1-1 professionals take the time to understand what they can do for each other.

9-1-1 PSAPs Should be Brought into the Planning

The purpose of these planning sessions and tabletop exercise was to learn and find gaps that others may not have noticed, and there were more than enough opportunities to grow with other public safety agencies. The most important thing we learned at this event was how necessary it is to involve 9-1-1 during these exercises, but we also have to acknowledge how difficult it is for 9-1-1 personnel to find the time to attend. We hope other communities can begin to solve this problem by starting small. We encourage community leaders to reach out to their local telecommunicators by taking a PSAP tour, sitting in for an hour or two on a few calls, or just talking to the telecommunicators to better understand how they operate. We also think 9-1-1 personnel should look for opportunities to be heard by their communities by asking to be included on notifications for these events and volunteering to sit on these kinds of committees.

9-1-1 has in the past been left out of these kinds of frameworks and exercises, but we’d like to see that change. It’s a two-way street, however, and 9-1-1 professionals and community personnel need to find a way to start the conversation. It’s better to be pro-active than wait until something goes wrong. We appreciate and would like to thank North Central Texas Council of Government Emergency Preparedness for inviting us to weigh in on this framework, and hope that this is the beginning of a closer relationship between 9-1-1 and other public safety entities.

What Is Additional Data and What Does It Have to Do with 9-1-1?

What Is Additional Data and What Does It Have to Do with 9-1-1?

The term “additional data” has been floating around the 9-1-1 industry lately, and it’s important to us at the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District that our telecommunicators and citizens understand what that term means.

Though it sounds complicated, it’s really just about information. One of the next steps in Next Generation 9-1-1 is to provide additional information from devices, systems, and other data-storing tools like apps or smartdevices. This information can assist 9-1-1 telecommunicators in making decisions about what kind of help and how much is needed for a caller. The goal is a better, faster response.

But what kind of information would telecommunicators get?

Picture and Video

This is what most people think when they hear the term “additional data.” Industry professionals have known that picture and video would be coming to the 9-1-1 call center soon, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, livestreaming video from an emergency or sending photos is a part of the additional data process, but it’s only a small part of a bigger plan.

Home Security

What if fire alarms let a telecommunicator know the temperature and intensity of a fire before responders were dispatched? Additional data could also provide something as simple as the face of the thief stealing Christmas gifts off a porch. With new technologies being applied to home security systems, it only makes sense that public safety should benefit. Plenty of security companies are working toward collaboration with 9-1-1 to create a safer experience for their customers.

Vehicle Information

The details of a vehicle accident are crucial to a first responder. Data like seatbelt sensors, the number of passengers, and information on air bag deployments change how a telecommunicator dispatches responders. Having this information readily available the second the first 9-1-1 call is made allows for a quicker response and more lives saved.

Medical Information

Wearable devices like Fitbits and Smartwatches contain vital medical information. If a citizen chooses to allow emergency services to have access to this info during a crisis, a telecommunicator could one day have necessary medical and contact information at their fingertips.

Though a lot of this technology is still in development, it won’t be too long into the future before we see it. The interconnection of smart devices not only makes parts of our lives more convenient, but it has a huge opportunity of changing how we save them. It will be a long road before additional data is implemented on a large scale, and there are still questions from telecommunicators on the front lines who are concerned about what this means for their role. The goal of integrating additional data into a PSAP is to help telecommunicators, not to overcomplicate their position. That’s why proper training and the creation and application of standard procedures that are individualized to each PSAP will be instrumental in the deployment of additional data.

New technology means industries everywhere have to learn how to adapt, including 9-1-1, but telecommunicators are some of the strongest, most resilient members of the public safety family, and we know that they are up to the challenge.

9-1-1 Telecommunicators Save Lives – Why Aren’t They First Responders?

9-1-1 Telecommunicators Save Lives – Why Aren’t They First Responders?

 Last month, the 9-1-1 Supporting Accurate Views of Emergency Services (9-1-1 SAVES) Act was introduced into the United States House of Representatives. Last week, a companion bill was introduced into the Senate and a similar bill has been filed in the state legislature (HB 1090). The 9-1-1 SAVES Act will reclassify 9-1-1 telecommunicators, who are currently classified as clerical workers, as a protective service occupation. This would allow them to be recognized as first responders in the public safety community.

Telecommunicators already identify as the first, first responders. They answer the call in the worst moment of someone’s life and offer support while simultaneously coordinating a response. They face fatigue, burn out, PTSD, and other unique mental health challenges. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies them as an Office and Administrative Support Occupation. How many clerical positions see 31% of their employees with PTSD? How many administrators report feelings of fear, helplessness, or horror in 32% of the phone calls they take?

The telecommunicators of the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District are more than clerical workers. They are the ones who pick up the call in your darkest moment, and the ones who stay on the line to promise you hope. They are the first, first responders, but this time they need your help.

Support your local 9-1-1 telecommunicators by contacting your local legislator. The National Emergency Number Association made it easy: just click the button below, fill out the form, and they’ll tell you who your representatives are and contact them for you.

Your 9-1-1 telecommunicators will always be there to pick up the call. This time, you can help them. Contact your legislator.

Support Your Local 9-1-1 Telecommunicators Now!

4 Ways You Can Reach 9-1-1 in the Digital Age – and Why They’re Not All a Good Thing

4 Ways You Can Reach 9-1-1 in the Digital Age – and Why They’re Not All a Good Thing

It’s a brave new digital world. Boundary-pushing technologies pop up every day, and a lot of this new tech solves our problems faster and makes our lives easier. However, there are some industries, like public safety, who are concerned about new technology that the public isn’t fully educated in.

The best way to reach 9-1-1 is by calling. We don’t see a way around it for some time, but that doesn’t mean tech companies aren’t trying to change that. Some of the solutions that have popped up in recent years can help a caller get to 9-1-1 in specific circumstances, and others are causing more harm than good.

Emergency Apps

Emergency apps were created to provide advanced capabilities that are not yet available or are currently in development for Next Generation 9-1-1. Many of these apps claim that they can replace a voice call to 9-1-1, but that’s not always true.

Many 9-1-1 call centers don’t support emergency apps, and because there is no national standard, an app that is used in one jurisdiction may not be used in another. It’s difficult to create a one-size-fits-all solution when there are no standards to enforce, or when these apps are created by developers that lack public safety knowledge and resources.

Be wary of the claims that these apps make. There is no 9-1-1 app certification process developed by public safety organizations or government agencies, so if an app is “certified,” it’s unlikely that it was seen by industry professionals with authority over 9-1-1. Apps that claim to send information directly to first responders are probably referencing first responders who also downloaded the app and are monitoring it regularly—and many of them will have to pay a fee to do this. The odds that the first responders in your community are using it are slim.

The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and other national organizations are making efforts to create standardizations for apps, but for now the best way to get help from emergency services is a voice call to 9-1-1. If you are unable to call, and if it is available in your area, you can also text.

Smart Watches

Smart watches are growing in popularity and are slowly replacing smartphones in a lot of people’s lives. That means they’ll be used more and more frequently to make emergency calls, but it’s important to know the limitations of these devices. Not all smartwatches are created equal—some can make outgoing calls while others can only display information from your phone. If your smartwatch can make outgoing calls without a Bluetooth connection, then it can also call 9-1-1.

There’s been a huge increase in false 9-1-1 calls from smartwatches, which takes call takers away from emergencies. Make sure you know how your smartwatch works so you can avoid contributing to this problem.

Voice Command

Have you ever asked Alexa to call you an Uber? What about calling 9-1-1? As of today, the Alexa technology can’t call 9-1-1. The Amazon Echo speaker isn’t set up to make emergency calls because it can’t receive incoming calls. This is also true for similar technologies like the Google Assistant, though there are workarounds to all of these limitations that people discovered online. We advise you, however, to be wary. This is new technology, and glitches are bound to happen. You don’t want your life or the lives of your loved ones to depend on your ability to set up a workaround “skill.”

Siri, on the other hand, does have the capability to call 9-1-1 with just a command, but only if you’re within earshot. And it won’t turn your phone on speaker for you, so the call taker may not hear your responses if you’re far away.


The ride-sharing app recently launched a 9-1-1 calling feature that allows users to tap an icon in the bottom right corner to reach 9-1-1. This sends the caller directly to a 9-1-1 dispatcher, and won’t alert the driver (or vice versa) that the call has been made. The feature was tested in a handful of US cities and the plan is to release it nationwide.

Uber has acknowledged that this feature should only be used if it’s the fastest way to reach emergency services. If the app is already open, and a user feels threatened or in danger, it’s a useful tool, but you can still call 9-1-1 directly.

We don’t see new technologies replacing a voice call to 9-1-1 anytime soon. Though we can’t predict the future and whether or not that changes, we can advise you to follow three simple tips when you call 9-1-1 if you want to get help quickly:

1) Know your location

2) Answer all questions

3) Stay on the line

As of today, voice calling 9-1-1 is efficient and the best way to get help in an emergency. And if you see any new technology claiming to replace this, just remember to be skeptical and to do your research.