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More than four years ago, I published an article on my Avaya CONNECTED blog written by my friend and colleague, Ty Wooten, ENP. Ty is NENA’s director of PSAP Operations and Training, and he along with Maureen Will, director of Emergency Communications at Newtown, Conn., contributed a great article on school safety. Since that time, the relevance and importance of communications between 9-1-1, local first responders and school officials have increased even more. Every month brings a new tragic shooting, often in a school. The lessons learned on how to minimize the impact of these events remains the same – improved communication. Recent articles out of Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York are focusing on the deployment of a software panic button technology there, and this has an intriguing overlap with E9-1-1, Kari’s Law (first enacted in Suffolk County), and the evolution of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) technologies.
The Communication Gap
It’s well-documented in several studies that most active shooter incidents are over within 5 minutes to 12 minutes. Likewise, the average response time for public safety personnel ranges from 13 minutes to 18 minutes. The Naval Post Graduate School, the State of Massachusetts, the FBI and NYPD research projects all point to two key factors in reducing the casualty impact in these incidents:
- Improved communications
- Victim-initiated notifications
What “victim initiated” basically boils down to is the person who is closest to the situation initiates the alarm as quickly as possible, notifying authorities as well as any collateral population, such as faculty and students. Confusion and procedural missteps can occur when a call for help gets intercepted and is“triaged” by untrained staff. One has to ask “Why?!” It seems that all too often systems notify the administrator or front desk, where it is expected that the call will be answered and evaluated, and then responders are notified. This scenario, to the uninitiated, may sound efficient but it’s a stark reminder of how hotels configured their PBXs to intercept calls to 9-1-1 internally. As a result of Kari Hunt, a mother of three died in 2013. Why? A failure in communications. 9-1-1 was not able to be dialed, and no notification was made to anyone.
The Rave Panic Button, which is a software solution being deployed in Long Island, N.Y., took the basic concept of an on-site notification that is inherent in Kari’s Law and applied it to cellular phones (where 80 percent of 9-1-1 calls originate from). 9-1-1 remains a critical communication point and needs to stay involved to properly coordinate the response. Simultaneously, individuals on-site get situational awareness around the event and can initiate appropriate preparations. In line with this, regardless if 9-1-1 is dialed from the PBX, natively on a cell phone, or a physical device is activated either from a dedicated panic button on the wall, or an app that simulates the same capability directly, on-site notifications are sent to the designated individuals with situational awareness, while the call is directed to the 9-1-1 PSAP.
As the call is answered by 9-1-1, notifications are sent to the Rave app and update the status.– This step alone is valuable in reducing mass call events and call overload at the PSAP. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the call taker now has an intelligent link and the ability to push follow-on information and notifications to personnel on site. As Maureen and Ty highlighted in their article, 9-1-1 is essentially incident command for the duration of these incidents. The ability to manage all resources, including providing critical updates to individuals on-site can be invaluable. Just imagine, if 9-1-1 had been able to provide notice to those evacuating the Parkland school that the fire alarm was false and just a diversion and that they should remain in lockdown, lives may have been saved.
Does this fit with NG9-1-1?
Without a doubt, I am one of the biggest proponents of Next Generation 9-1-1, but it amazes me that I still find people that feel (coupled with FirstNet), NG9-1-1 will automatically solve all of Public Safety’s communication challenges, and the world will now have rainbows and unicorns. SORRY, that’s NOT going to happen. While NG9-1-1 will be an enabling technology providing a base framework for powerful applications, it is not in itself the answer to the problem. Take, for example, the additional location data repository and additional caller data repository that are functional NG9-1-1 elements. The challenge is that while NG9-1-1 specifies these elements, outside of the Avaya SENTRY™ solution, we rarely see anyone providing a source of additional data for public safety’s use. While some municipalities have gone through the exercise of collecting floor plans, these plans are usually gathered at the time of construction and are rarely updated. Data is good, but inaccurate or old data is useless. That being the case, while NG9-1-1 and FirstNet provide the architecture and pipeline to get data to first responders, we still need a source of GOOD DATA to make any impact on the operational effectiveness and response.
There are examples of CAD systems supporting additional data, and the Avaya SENTRY and BETA 80 example we demonstrated last year at NENA and APCO proved the “over-the-top model” we presented to the FCC in 2012. Rave also built an “over-the-top” approach, providing a simple way to “crowdsource” any additional data, validate it through a public safety approval workflow, and then keep the data updated. The data ultimately expires or is “aged” out when it becomes no longer current. Existing NENA i3-compliant interfaces allow any application to ingest the data, as well as responders and on-site personnel directly. In fact, Rave’s mobile interface provides that exact functionality. Indoor location accuracy continues to improve, and National Clearing House NG9-1-1 repositories from RapidSOS are emerging. There is now a huge need to collect and maintain floor plans as a key component of making the improved location information actionable for responders.
Improving safety, whether at a school or in a hotel room, is never a one-size-fits-all approach, but we owe it to the public we serve to identify ways to improve collaboration and communication around incidents that occur with alarming and increasing, frequency.