9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Friday, January 31, 2014

Managing Call Overload: Triaging Calls Before They Are Answered

Taken from Public Safety Communications Magazine, January 2014
Written by Bob Koenig, director of sales - eastern U.S. for TriTech Software Systems, he is a member of APCO and serves on the National Commercial Advisory Council. Koenig has been involved in helping agencies implement voice and data radio systems, 9-1-1 center refreshes and public safety software solutions for the past 16 years.  He has also been an active member of the IJIS Institute since 2003 and currently serves on the IJIS governance committee.

During an actual emergency, citizens need and expect a professional to immediately answer their call for help.  Holding for the next available calltaker adds to their anxiety and can slow the response.  Unfortunately, this sometimes happens because of our overloaded 9-1-1 centers.  With the increased use of mobile phones, combined with the increased number of duplicate calls to 9-1-1 reporting the same emergency, our 9-1-1 centers and staff are receiving more calls than they can handle in a given period of time.

With the population of the United States at 313 million people and the Wireless Association (CTIA) estimating the number of wireless connections at 321 million wireless subscriber connections, it's evident that wireless calls will continue to be a growing source of challenges for our 9-1-1 centers.  Prior to the popularity of mobile devices, emergency calls were strictly placed from landlines at a residence, business or public payphone.  When there was a car accident on the highway, there would be one or two calls into 9-1-1 to report the incident.  Today, with the proliferation of mobile devices, our comm centers get flooded with many good Samaritans calling to report the same incident.  While our good Samaritans are all well-intentioned, their calls can be to the detriment of other emergency calls coming into the center.

Standard NENA protocols direct that 9-1-1 calls be answered according to first in first out (FIFO) priority.  But with multiple calls reporting the same car accident, what happens to the possible heart attack call queued behind all our duplicate good Samaritan calls?  When a center is in an overload situation, wait times and abandoned calls are increased.  In 2009, California's overload problem caused more than 26% or all wireless calls to 9-1-1 to be abandoned.  In other words, more than a quarter of the people calling 9-1-1 hung up in frustration.

What if there was a way to group potential duplicate calls and highlight incoming calls that are outliers for the calltaker?  Through Phase 2 E9-1-1 rules, wireless service providers can typically provide the latitude and longitude of the wireless caller within 50 to 300 meters, enough to determine potential duplicates, something computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems have done for years to identify duplicate incidents.

However, current 9-1-1 computer telephony integration (CTI) systems are developed primarily for information intake and presentation of automatic number identification (ANI)/automatic location identification (ALI) information for call handling.  But what if that location information could be used before the call is answered to identify possible duplicates, including CAD incidents, and highlight outliers?  While 9-1-1 systems don't possess the geospatial intelligence of duplicate call checking capabilities, the CAD system does.

The CAD system is the technology hub of every comm center.  It processes incidents using geospatial awareness and agency business rules to ensure the most appropriate, closest lifesaving resources are dispatched as quickly as possible.  What if we leveraged that power of CAD and used it just one step earlier in the 9-1-1 emergency process - before the call is answered?

A unified CAD and 9-1-1 system leverages the proven situational awareness capabilities of CAD to triage calls before the call is even answered.  Beyond standard integration, a unified CAD and 9-1-1 system leverages CAD's duplicate incident detection capabilities on incoming calls and active CAD incidents to identify multiple reports of the same event.  The ALI information from our wireless callers is used to group the multiple good Samaritan calls together so that calls are likely to be unique, such as an incoming heart attack call, will be separated out.  With a CAD and 9-1-1 system, ringing calls can be prioritized or grouped to allow calltakers to answer those likely to be unique before potential duplicates.

The number of wireless devices will continue to grow and overload our nation's 9-1-1 systems.  But a unified CAD and 9-1-1 system knows not only what other calls are coming in from the area of this caller, but also what active incidents are occurring nearby to help reduce workload and provide better tools for calltakers to prioritize incoming calls.  That way, when that heart attack call comes in at the same time as our multiple good Samaritan calls, there won't be a busy signal.

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