A concern that can exist in nearly any city, county, state, or even country, is that once an easy to remember emergency number, such as 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 Public Safety networks, the solutions were siloed, purpose built creating disparate, 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. Typically, they would track analytics and call volume reports that displayed trend information. These reports guided them on the increase of the number of positions and trunks to handle the new projected call loads. You would think that expansion should not be 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, however, quite often population increases along with call volume, but agencies are always being asked (read demanded) to do more with less.
While other organizations may be able to aide with the call volume, the problem of citizens dialing 9-1-1 for everything and anything still exists. Because the network was built as independent islands of service, virtual inter-agency barriers naturally evolved. In specific cases, inter-departmental trunking can be created that allows adjacent agencies to transfer calls over those facilities directly. Now the caller is communicating with the right resource that can assist them, and we have freed up the original 9-1-1 resource to allow them to take another call, but we create another problem on the back end.
Although the issue of routing is solved, the problem still exists where the limited trunking that connects the 9-1-1 center to the PSTN remains an issue and another blockage point. This blockage is easily corrected. By removing these trunks from the equation, and replacing or augmenting them with an IP pipe that is dynamically expanded and contracted as needed, based on the application of rules logic that takes into consideration the number of available 9-1-1 call takers that are currently available and ready to take calls.
While I realize that every Public Safety person who is reading this just got a chill up their spine, and muttered, “Your CRAZY Fletch”, this is what needs to happen to solve the problem, and is not new bleeding edge technology. in fact, local carriers have been offering SIP-based trunking to the commercial market for years. The technology has been refined and the largest contact centers in the world use this architecture to bring calls into their network, where they decide the best resource to apply to the inbound call.
With the right tools on the right network, solving these type of problems becomes simpler and a routine process in the contact center, and there is no reason why this technology and thought process cannot be applied to Public Safety Answer Points to assist in improving efficiency and reliability during large-scale national disasters. At the same time, this can also radically improve service to callers. 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 not life-threatening.
When Ava calls 9-1-1 for medical transport, most of the time, resources are available and dispatched immediately. But on occasion, Ava’s request arrives in the middle of complete chaos. Because the 9-1-1 network is unable to differentiate Ava’s call from any other call being processed by the system, all calls are treated with the same priority level, despite the vast prior history and information that may be available. By collecting and examining this information in a context store, and associating it with a particular call event can dynamically apply specialized call handling. Simply by knowing that Ava is a frequent flyer caller, and her condition is not life-threatening, her call is answered by a Speech Recognition enabled IVR that collects the 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 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 Reserved for the World Health Organization and Red Cross
3-1-1 Reserved for local government non-emergency services
4-1-1 Not officially reserved, but often used for local Telco information
5-1-1 Reserved for 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 Reserved for the 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 efficient and dynamic countermeasure that can significantly 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 problems 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.