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Your Old Phones Can Still Call 9-1-1

Your Old Phones Can Still Call 9-1-1

The proper amount and protocol for “screen time” has been a hot topic and often debated issue in parenting circles for a while now. Especially since technology has continued to affect every part of our lives. We at NCT9-1-1 aren’t here to pick a side — just to let you know that those old phones can still call 9-1-1. 

What is a non initialized phone call? 

As we near the end of 2019, NCT9-1-1 has started to pull some statistics on what 9-1-1 looked like for our region over the past year. The data we pulled included how many calls were made, how many were wireless versus wireline, how many texts to 9-1-1 occurred, the amount of abandoned calls, etc. One piece of data stood out to us: the number of non initialized phone calls. 

“Non initialized call” is industry jargon for a call made with a cell phone that is not connected to a calling service. Your old cell phones collecting dust in your kitchen junk drawer can still call 9-1-1 as long as it can be charged and turned on, though they do not provide a location or a call back number. This capability has saved lives in the past (an infamous example being the case of the Turpin children in California, whose daughter rescued herself and her siblings by calling 9-1-1 with a deactivated cell phone). 

However, few parents know that their old phones have this ability, and this leads to a huge amount of false calls to 9-1-1. Out of the 985,878 attempts to reach 9-1-1 in January to September in 2019, about 14% were from deactivated cell phones. Though a handful of these calls may have been legitimate 9-1-1 calls, the data is still skewed.

What should you do with your old phones?

If you’re not going to give your old phones to your kids to play with, what should you do with them? You can dispose of them properly or donate your old cell phones to a local women’s shelter where they will be utilized as untrackable, direct-to-9-1-1 devices. You can also keep your deactivated cell phone charged and in a central place in your home to use during an emergency.

Remember that when you give your old phone to your toddler, that phone can still call 9-1-1. If your child does happen to accidentally dial 9-1-1, the best thing you can do is stay on the line and explain the situation to the telecommunicator.

Reflections on 2019 from a 9-1-1 Perspective

Reflections on 2019 from a 9-1-1 Perspective

It’s that time of year again when we reflect on the previous year, contemplate lessons learned, and begin planning for the new year ahead. Last year I identified “unstoppable” as the word for 2019. All in all, I think that has been accurate. December 3rd marked the first anniversary of the North Central Texas Emergency Communications District or NCT9-1-1. Due to this transition and starting a new district without cash reserves, our biggest challenges in 2019 centered around funding. But being unstoppable, this did not hamper productivity and accomplishments.

During our first year as a district, a Board of Managers was created, a Strategic Advisory Committee was appointed, and the district joined and participated in the Texas 9-1-1 Alliance. NCT9-1-1 hosted Regional Telecommunicator Academy classes #007 and #008, added Lifecare EMS in Parker County as a secondary PSAP, and completed implementation of a SD WAN solution for network diversity and dynamic routing.

The GIS team completed the transition from EGDMS to the newly created Regional GIS Data Quality Control process and implemented a new county disbursement model, the technology team replaced Uninterrupted Power Sources (UPS) at 35 sites and completed the microwave network, and the strategic services team executed new Interlocal Agreements for all PSAPs. The operations team completed a quality assurance resource document and the data team conducted Real Time Text (RTT) research, testing, outreach, and training. The support team worked behind the scenes and assisted in many of the completed projects.

NCT9-1-1 focused on PSAP engagement this year. Regular efforts ensured PSAPs have greater awareness and more communications. The staff brought in companies to talk about new technologies, hosted PSAP focus groups on relevant issues, and included PSAP feedback in product development and implementation. A Generational Advisory Board was created this year in an effort to create a culture that will attract Millennials and Gen Z to our workforce and assist in retaining current employees. This concept has been well-received, and we hope to expand the scope to PSAPs in the coming years.

Streaming services have not just become popular with the way we watch television, but with public safety as well. NCT9-1-1 introduced optional services for the PSAPs this year with Waze and flood warning sensors. In addition, we entered into a contract for data analytics with a company that is revolutionizing the way we have historically provided call statistics through reporting. Phase I has been completed and the PSAPs now have improved reporting with a user-friendly platform to run reports and access a dashboard of near real time information. The next phase will allow us to bring in the health of all our systems.

Perhaps the greatest thing to happen to 9-1-1 in Texas in 2019 was the passing of House Bill 1090, which reclassified telecommunicators from clerical workers to first responders. This was the culmination of a long effort to give telecommunicators the recognition they deserve. NCT9-1-1 celebrated with our PSAPs by hosting a Commencement Ceremony.

On a national level, NCT9-1-1 continued to coordinate the Early Adopter Summit with the third annual event held in South Carolina. This effort brings together early adopters in the 9-1-1 space and innovative companies throughout the country to collaborate and plan for the future. It was the largest event to date and was considered a great success. Special thanks to the NCT9-1-1 planning team!

The FCC issued a report detailing the cause and impact of a nationwide CenturyLink outage that disrupted 911 service for approximately 17 million Americans in December 2018. The report, issued after a thorough investigation in which NCT9-1-1 participated, outlined lessons learned from the incident and identified network reliability best practices that could have prevented or mitigated the effects of the outage. The FCC continues to stress the importance of reliability and works to ensure that our nation’s communications networks remain robust, reliable, and resilient.
The FCC also adopted rules that will help first responders locate people who call 9-1-1 from wireless phones in multi-story buildings, such as apartments and offices. The new rules will help emergency responders determine the floor level of a 9-1-1 caller. Specifically, wireless providers must transmit the caller’s vertical location, within three meters above or below the phone, to the 9-1-1 call center. This requirement will help emergency responders more accurately identify the floor level for most 9-1-1 calls. However, this is only the beginning. To make the data actionable, local 9-1-1 entities will need to enhance their GIS offerings and begin to implement floor plans and/or 3D mapping. This is a long road, but NCT9-1-1 has already begun planning.

The National 9-1-1 Progress Report by the National 9-1-1 Program states NG9-1-1 has now emerged as the desired level of 9-1-1 service. The NG9-1-1 Maturity Model consists of the following nine data elements: governance, routing/location, GIS, core services, ESInet, call handling, security, operations and optional interfaces. NCT9-1-1 has been focusing on all of these elements for the last several years and continues to do so.

As you can see, 2019 has been another busy and productive year for NCT9-1-1 and this region. Of course, we couldn’t do it without our partners of staff, PSAPs, elected officials, NCTCOG administration, vendors, and fellow 9-1-1 authorities. Thanks to you all for assisting us in being unstoppable!

As we change our focus to 2020, resiliency will be our word of the year. NCT9-1-1’s goal for resiliency will be achieved by being reflective, resourceful, robust, and redundant. Systems and processes will be examined in order to be efficient, inclusive, and interoperable while continuing to mitigate risks. This requires the willingness and ability to adopt alternative strategies in response to changing circumstances. NCT9-1-1 will measure success as the capacity of the district to survive, adapt, and grow, regardless of the chronic stress of the industry and the acute shocks of service interruptions and temporary financial limitations. NCT9-1-1 seeks not to just survive but to thrive regardless of the challenge. We will continue saving lives and making a difference!

9-1-1 in 2019: The Quiz

9-1-1 in 2019: The Quiz

A lot has changed for 9-1-1 in 2019. We’ve seen the adoption of new technologies, the rise in popularity for the reclassification of telecommunicators, and new regulations from the Federal Communications Commission. If you want to test how well you kept up with the changes, take our 9-1-1 in 2019 quiz. To view only the questions and answers, scroll to the bottom of this page, and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog for the latest 9-1-1 news in 2020!


What does ADR stand for?

A: Additional Data Repository An ADR or additional data repository is a central point where useful, actionable data can be collected, shared, and stored. This data may include picture and video from cell phones, medical information, home security camera footage, vehicle information, and more. 2019 brought pilots with the technology and in 2020 we’ll surely see more.

When will compliance to Kari’s Law be required?

A: February 2020 Kari’s Law was signed in 2018, but 2019 brought awareness and education across the United States. The law requires multi-line telephone systems to be able to directly dial 9-1-1 with no prefixes (like 9), to provide direct routing to 9-1-1, and to provide on-site notification of a 9-1-1 call being made.

How many meters above or below a phone does the FCC recommend for z-axis accuracy?

A: 3 Meters At the end of 2019, the FCC released a report on E911 location accuracy requirements that suggested all z-axis capable headsets should adopt an accuracy metric of plus or minus 3 meters for 80% of wireless E911 calls. We predict that 3D location accuracy will continue to be a goal for 2020.

Which of the following would be a sensor in device-based hybrid location accuracy?

A: All of the above Device-based hybrid location accuracy, or DHL, is the technology utilized to determine a more accurate location for 9-1-1 callers. It combines sensors like GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth beacons, barometric pressure, and more to give telecommunicators a more precise location. It’s the same technology used by rideshare apps.

Which state has reclassified all 9-1-1 telecommunicators as first responders?

A: Texas Texas is currently the only state that requires the licensing of telecommunicators and after the signing of House Bill 1090 by Governor Greg Abbot, it is also the only state to reclassify its telecommunicators as first responders.

In which of the following ways were Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones, utilized for public safety over the past year?

A: All of the above Drones have made a huge impact on public safety, from assisting in 9-1-1 GIS data collection to providing a bird’s eye view during at the scene, and we know this is only the beginning of this versatile technology.

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.