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What Does a 3-Digit Number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Mean for 911?

What Does a 3-Digit Number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Mean for 911?

what does a 3-digit suicide lifeline number mean for 911?In 2018, President Trump signed the national Suicide Hotline Improvement Act into law. The purpose of the act was to research and identify if the creation of a 3-digit number for the National Suicidal Prevention Lifeline would be worth the time, effort, and cost. In August of 2019, the FCC released their findings in a report and on Thursday, July 16, they unanimously voted to finalize 988 as the three-digit number for the suicide lifeline and will require phone carriers to begin this process by summer 2022. Until 988 is established, callers should continue to use the crisis center’s 10-digit number: 1-800-273-8255. What does a 3-digit suicide lifeline number mean for 911?

The 2018 report found that suicide rates have increased by 30% in the past two years, particularly in at-risk groups like veterans and the LGBTQ community. The FCC consulted multiple subject matter expert groups, including the North American Numbering Council (NANC), the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

Currently, the SAMHSA funds the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is made up of 163 crisis centers across the country. Texas has 5 crisis centers and in the first 4 months of 2019 those centers received 64,361 calls. (If you’d like to see the call stats for your state, you can download the report here).

In the end, the report supported the creation of a 3-digit suicide hotline stating that it would “likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources” and determined that 988 would act as the new number, which brought about the announcement on July 16. That leaves the same question in every telecommunicator’s mind: Can life-saving resources not be obtained through the 911 program?

The importance of 911’s role in the topic of suicide in the United States was noted. The NANC stated utilizing a 3-digit number for the suicide line may “alleviate the pressure on 911 call takers and allow the caller to obtain assistance for other non-suicide related services in addition to mental health referrals.”

The SAMHSA also hope that “the [National Suicide Prevention] Lifeline could be more effective in preventing suicides and providing crisis intervention if it were accessible via a simple, easy-to-remember, 3-digit code.” Though 911 telecommunicators are trained on handling suicidal callers and other mental health concerns, Lifeline callers are trained specifically in Applied Suicide Intervention Skills and may be able to offer more specific services to suicidal callers.

The lifeline operators are also trained to deescalate the situation and attempt to work with the caller to brainstorm ways they can calm themselves down or otherwise provide additional help or resources for their mental state without contacting emergency services. However, the lifeline does acknowledge that when an “imminent risk” presents itself to the operator, they are trained to reach out to emergency services. Because lifeline calls are not geo located, operators use the caller’s area code and prefix to determine the correct PSAP to contact. These calls typically arrive through the PSAP’s 10-digit line. If someone contacts the lifeline through its online chat feature, location information is determined via the IP address, which can be determined by contacting the internet provider.

The lifeline pays for access to a PSAP database to identify the correct agency to contact for a caller in imminent risk, says Director of Clinical Best Practices Shye Lewis.

Most 911 professionals would agree that the creation of the 3-digit suicide hotline number will not eliminate suicidal calls in the PSAP. It’s important that telecommunicators continue to be trained properly on handling suicidal callers, but creating a 3-digit number for the suicide prevention lifeline may destigmatize mental health and allow more lives to be saved.

The national suicide prevention lifeline encourages local PSAPs to build a strong relationship with their local lifeline center to assist in future call transfers. You can find your closest crisis center here.

Download the National Suicide Lifeline Service Factsheet



5 Questions To Ask When Building a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Agency

5 Questions To Ask When Building a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Agency

Every 9-1-1 telecommunicator knows that communication is an important part of any crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has made that clearer than ever, especially when considering the number of rumors and false reports circulating the web. How does an agency ensure it is delivering concise, accurate, and timely information to its relevant audiences? It’s important to start with a plan.

To develop your crisis communications plan (CCP), ask yourself these five questions.

What could go wrong?

The goal for a crisis communications plan is to be proactive rather than reactive. Too many agencies and organizations end up responding to a crisis without any kind of preplanning. But by asking yourself what could go wrong, you can begin to build the foundation of your crisis communications plan around the potential emergencies you may face.

What crisis events could affect the goals and objectives of your organization? Potential events might include:

  • A natural disaster such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, etc.
  • A pandemic or epidemic
  • A public relations scandal involving a prominent member of your staff
  • A technology failure
  • An internal crisis, such as confrontation between employees, dissatisfied staff members, boycotts, strikes, union discrepancies, etc.
  • And so many more

Which of the above would impact the goals of your agency? Most likely all of them could, but some may be more likely to occur than others. Start your crisis communications plan by focusing on those crises. After a basic plan is developed, you may want to start including the unlikely scenarios into your plan over time. A few months ago, a pandemic was an unlikely crisis event, but those who included it in their communications plan are glad they did.

What needs to be done?

This question is less about action items and more about determining who needs to be involved during a crisis. By identifying necessary steps, you will determine who needs to be included on your crisis communications response team. Every action deemed essential to providing effective communications should be assigned to a staff member and that action should include at least two back up staff members should that person be unable to perform the task.

Who needs to know?

Before distributing any communications materials it is necessary to identify your audiences. There are some obvious ones like your local and, if applicable, national media or your citizens, but what about other stakeholders?

When developing the NCT9-1-1 CCP, we divided our audience members into two categories: internal and external. External audiences are those outside of your organization such as citizens and media members while internal are relevant stakeholders such as city or county leadership, your staff members, adjacent agencies, etc.

To identify your audiences, start by listing everyone who may be impacted by a potential crisis. Some will be obvious but dig a little deeper to identify those who may slip through the cracks. Take into consideration every possible angle to ensure no one gets left out, otherwise you may be scrambling to explain their omission later.

What are you going to say?

NCT9-1-1 developed a messaging matrix with pre-written statements for a variety of audience types that are ready to go. Some revisions may be necessary, but a starting off point takes away some of the pressure that comes from creating messaging from scratch in the moment.

During a crisis you’ll release two key types of messaging: an initial statement and updates. The initial statement acknowledges the existence of a crisis and lets your audiences know that you are aware and taking action, even if that action is as simple as waiting for answers from those involved. Your initial statement should go out as soon as possible, but give yourself enough time to craft something that is honest and truthful. It should contain a short summary of the scenario and what actions your affected audiences need to take, if any.

The initial statement should address as many of the six “Ws” as possible:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • And How (not weapons, unless relevant of course)

It should also include a link or information of where future updates about the crisis can be found (on your website, social media channels, etc.) and when you plan on providing the next update.

Updates are regular statements provided after the initial statement that detail developments about the scenario. These will vary in length depending on the amount of new information you have and should be used to address any rumors or any of the six “Ws” that you were unable to address in the initial statement. We provide updates to a crisis event every hour until the crisis is resolved, even if our update is only to say that the situation has not changed.

You may also want to provide materials near the end of the crisis, such as a press release or a press statement, or offer analytical reports detailing what happened and your mitigation plans for your internal audiences.

How will you tell people?

How to distribute your messaging is more complicated than you might think. A lot of agencies post a screenshot of a press release on their Facebook page and call it a day. However, if you want to be in control of the message and the reputation of your agency, it’s important to actively distribute updates and statements.

That’s not to say social media isn’t a valuable tool. In fact, it is probably your most valuable distribution method. We suggest hosting your messaging on your website and using tools like social media, emails, and press release platforms to distribute that information. This way, all of your statements and updates will be in one place, which makes it easier to follow what’s going on.

Every time you make an update, you should also post that update on social media with a link to your webpage. Include timestamps to keep things organized and have the most relevant information at the top of the page.

Though social media will be the primary way you communicate with your external audiences, email will probably be how internal audiences are notified. You can include the link to your webpage with every internal email so it’s easier for these audiences to keep track of developments.

What can you improve on?

Once the crisis is over it’s important to look back and reflect on opportunities to improve on. When collecting data for our After-Action Report, NCT9-1-1 looks at the following parameters to determine if we were successful or not in getting our message across.

  • Page views on webpage hosting statements and updates, including average time spent on the page and traffic sources. Traffic sources are how views navigated to our page, the most common being social media, email, or search engines.
  • Overall reach of social media posts as well as the number of engagements, retweets, and reshares.
  • Number of emails sent, number of recipients, the open rate of each email by percentage and the bounce rates of each email. Not all email platforms offer these types of analytics, but at the very least keep track of how many people were sent your emails.
  • The number of traditional media reports of the crisis, including the number of different networks and a short summary of the key talking points. We also keep track of the number of media requests as well.

Your crisis communications plan is a living document and with every crisis scenario your agency goes through, it will grow and develop with new best practices. Remember that it is impossible to predict everything and one of the most valuable skills a communicator can have during this kind of an event is adaptability.


Press Release: North Central Texas Emergency Communications District Responds to Citizens Not Dialing 911

Press Release: North Central Texas Emergency Communications District Responds to Citizens Not Dialing 911

Arlington, TX, June 22, 2020 –  The North Central Texas Emergency Communications District launched its “Safe to Save Your Life Campaign” this week in response to the community’s hesitation to dial 9-1-1 during a medical emergency. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, citizens who are experiencing life-threatening medical emergencies such as a heart attack or stroke won’t dial 9-1-1 in fear of contracting COVID-19. This has led to 54% more patients pronounced dead on scene by North Texas EMS crews when compared to 2019, according to MedStar.

911 Calls Have Decreased for Medical Emergencies Since COVID-19
911 calls have decreased for medical emergencies since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign includes local resources from health care providers, emergency medical services, and more. Citizens are encouraged to visit the NCT9-1-1 resource page for a better understanding of how emergency providers are preventing the spread of COVID-19. Videos, fact sheets, and additional links to more resources are available.

“We are concerned that the fear of contracting COVID-19 is preventing citizens in our region from utilizing the resources designed to help them,” said Director of 9-1-1 Christy Williams. “We hope providing education on what precautions have been taken will show citizens that it is safe to dial 9-1-1.”

North Texas citizens experiencing a life-threatening emergency such as a heart attack or stroke are encouraged to seek medical assistance by dialing 9-1-1 or visiting an emergency room. Hesitating to dial 9-1-1 due to fear of contracting COVID-19 could cost citizens their lives.


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.

How Much Does 911 Cost?

How Much Does 911 Cost?

We get a lot of questions about how much 911 costs and where the financing comes from. Do citizens pay for 911? Do taxes? How do officials determine how much goes toward an emergency number program when they also have to consider other aspects of public safety?

We wanted to clear some things up on how much 911 costs. 

What is a 911 fee?

Pull up your latest phone bill. It can be for your landline (if you still have one) or a cell phone. Depending on your service provider, such as Verizon it may be in a different place, but if you review the itemized version of your “taxes and government fees” section of your bill, you’ll notice a charge titled “State 911 Fee,” or something similar. The only exception will be T-Mobile, who doesn’t mark the 911 fee, but it’s still there. That is how 911 is funded in your area. 

For the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District, the charge is $0.50. However, it could be more or less depending on what state you live in, which county within that state, and which city in that county. You can review a list of 911 fees by state here. It may vary based on the type of local government you have, or based on a decision made by your previous state legislator five years ago. It could change next time your state legislators meet for a session. The point we’re trying to make is that 911 funding is complicated and there is a lot of variation across the country, but we’ll go into some more detail about how it works in Texas to give you a better idea.

Who collects the fee?

You’ll see that the person you’re paying your hard earned cash to isn’t NCT9-1-1, but rather your individual service provider. How does it go from their hands to funding your safety and the safety of your community? That process will depend on what type of 911 entity your city or county is located in. To keep it simple, we’ll divide entities by districts (emergency communications districts and municipal emergency communications districts) and regional planning commissions.  

Texas 9-1-1 Entities Map

911 Districts

  • For Landlines

Landline fees may vary by district and are determined by a district’s board of managers, which is made up of elected or appointed officials within the district’s service area. You can review the NCT9-1-1 board of managers here. It is the responsibility of the service provider to collect landline fees and give them to the individual districts, but the district is responsible for informing the providers of its rates.

  • For Wireless

Wireless fees are consistent statewide. Everyone in Texas pays a $.50 911 fee for their mobile service, regardless of the 911 district they live in. The Texas State Comptroller collects these wireless fees from telephone carriers and places them into a trust fund to await distribution by the Commission on State Emergency Communications (CSEC). CSEC will then distribute those fees based on population.

Regional Planning Commissions

If you’re located in a RPC, your 911 fees are established by a statue (Health and Safety Code 771.071 to be specific) and both wireless and landline are collected by the service provider and then placed in the appropriate trust fund. From there, CSEC distributes the funds to RPC’s across the state based on a variety of factors.  

What is the funding used for?

The 911 fees at NCT9-1-1 are used for multiple kinds of projects including:

  • Vendors/services who provide equipment and technology to the 911 system. This can include mapping technology, call handling equipment, data storage, and more. 
  • Public education campaigns to bring awareness to proper 911 use.
  • Training and courses for new 911 telecommunicators and to maintain the licenses of veterans. Everything from crisis communications, to fire dispatch, to mental health awareness, to leadership training for managers and supervisors. 
  • A whole lot more that we couldn’t possibly list it all.

Depending on where you live, your local government agencies may have a different process for collecting 911 fees, but that’s a quick summary of how it works in Texas. For more information on our 911 program, visit the NCT9-1-1 FAQ.