A concern that can exist in nearly any city, county, state, or even country, is that once an easy to remember emergency number, like 911 in the US, 112 across the European Union, and the 999 available in the UK, has been deployed, massive misuse of the system by non-emergency calls starts to put strain on the network; equipment and even staff must now cope with the increase of non-emergency citizen outreach beyond the purpose of the service. Because there isn’t a catchall category of call types, there often isn’t a single, all-encompassing solution to the problem. Technology can help and when properly deployed, is capable of providing support for dealing with many of the strains that are put on Emergency Networks and Systems.
The Architecture Problem
In the past, when we built and designed networks, solutions were siloed and purpose built, creating disparate and disconnected islands of connectivity. An agency decided what their inbound traffic would be for that particular service, and then engineer the incoming trunks for a P.01 grade of service, meaning that 1 out of every 100 calls could be blocked during the busy hour. This is a standard level that is accepted by the Public Safety industry for Public Safety Answer Points.
But this creates a problem when a service (9-1-1 for example) receives more calls than expected. Normally, they would track analytics and call volume reports that showed the trend information. These reports let them increase the number of positions and trunks to handle the new projected call load. This is normally not a problem for agencies, as they are tasked with providing service to a geographic area, and when the population increases, call volumes increase and budgets should naturally increase.
Unfortunately, quite often, population increases, along with call volume, but agencies are regularly being asked to do much more with less.
While other agencies may exist that can deal with the call volume, the problem still exists of citizens dialing 9-1-1 for everything and anything. To make matter worse since we built the voice networks as independent islands of service, we have likely, albeit unintentionally, created virtual inter-agency barriers that cannot be easily spanned.
Although inter-departmental trunking can easily be created over private or public networks, allowing agencies that have received a call better serviced by another, to simply transfer the call over those interagency facilities, while the caller is communicating with the right resource that can assist them, the original inbound resource is not freed up. This prevents the original agency from taking another call.
The problem where limited trunking connecting the 9-1-1 center to the PSTN still remains an issue, and another blockage point. This can be corrected by removing these problematic trunks from the equation; and moving to an IP pipe that is dynamically flexible where it can be expanded and contracted as needed, based on the application of standard rules logic that takes into consideration the number of available 9-1-1 call takers that are currently available and ready to take calls.
Of course, every Public Safety person reading this just got a chill up their spine, and muttered, “Your CRAZY Fletch”, but this is exactly what needs to happen, and this is not new bleeding edge technology. Local carriers have been offering SIP-based trunking services to the commercial market for years. The largest contact centers in the world use this basic architecture to bring calls into their network, and then they decide the best resource to apply to that inbound call.
With the right tools on the right network, solving problems becomes simpler. For example, meet Ava. Ava requires 911 services on a regular basis. She is considered to be, what Public Safety has nicknamed, a ‘Frequent Flyer’.
This term is not meant to be derogatory, in fact, Ava has a medical condition that requires Emergency Transportation much more often that the average citizen, but her condition is usually not life-threatening.
When Ava calls 9-1-1 for medical transport, much of the time, resources are available and immediatelydispatched. But on occasion, Ava’s call arrives in the middle of complete chaos. Because the 9-1-1 network is unable to differentiate Ava’s non-emergency call from any other call being processed by the system, all calls must be treated with the exact same priority level, despite the vast prior history and information that may be available. If this information was collected and examined in a context store and associated to a specific call event, the system can dynamically apply specialized call handling. Simply by knowing that Ava is a frequent flyer caller, and her condition is typically not life-threatening, her call can be answered by a Speech Recognition enabled IVR that collects relevant information, giving Ava the opportunity to escalate the call to a call taker.
N11 – More than just Emergencies
9-1-1 has been called the most widely recognized ‘brand element’ in the world. Nearly everyone is aware of the number, and despite the attempt to increase awareness of other avenues of access, 9-1-1 remains to be the winner. Unbeknownst to many in the US, several other N-1-1 services are actually available to citizens. In most of the cases, these are geographically routed the same way 9-1-1 emergency calls are routed to centers that are close to the caller. Following the N-1-1 format, these easy to remember numbers are as follows:
2-1-1 – World Health Organization and Red Cross
3-1-1 – Local government non-emergency services
4-1-1 – Not officially reserved, but often used for local Telco information
5-1-1 – Highway and Traffic information systems
6-1-1 – Not officially reserved, but often used for local Telco repair
7-1-1 – TDD Relay services for Deaf, Hard of Hearing or Disability
8-1-1 Call before You Dig utility mark-out hotline
While these services can often provide valuable information to citizens, they are often under-publicized, and under-utilized. By consolidating connectivity in the cloud, we gain flexibility in dynamically adjusting the trunking required, and calls destined for other agency remediation. This can effectively eliminate the public education and awareness problem. While the dialed number can be an indicator of the nature of the request, calls can still be handled efficiently and resources are no longer limited and blocked.
Proactive Citizen Outreach
When a known issue exists, reaching out to the public in an affected area can be an effective and proactive countermeasure that can greatly reduce the number of inquiries for more information while reassuring concerned citizens that an issue is being addressed. In addition to providing information, a query can be made to ensure no other issues exist. If the citizen does have an additional concern, the system is already ‘context aware’ of the identity of the citizen, and they can be queued up against the appropriate resource. Upon connection to the person or agency that can provide the additional information they need, information about the previous interaction can be displayed to the call taker, facilitating quicker response and better service levels.
Mark J. Fletcher, ENP is the Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions at Avaya. As a seasoned professional with nearly 30 years of service, he directs the strategic roadmap for Next Generation Emergency Services in both the Enterprise and Government portfolios at Avaya. In 2014, Fletcher was made a member of the NENA Institute Board in the US, in 2014 – 2015 he served as co-chair of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union, providing valuable insight to State and Federal legislators globally driving forward both innovation and compliance.