July 4th | 9‑1‑1 | Fireworks – A Perilous Combo?

Back in 1980, when I was a police dispatcher in Sparta New Jersey, I can remember that inevitably every year on July 4th at about 8:00 PM, nearly every line on the phone would light up. For the most part, the conversation would go something like this:

Me:      “Sparta Police, dispatch”
Caller:  “Uhhm . . . yeah . . .  Can you tell me what time the fireworks start?”
Me:      “Same as last year sir, at dusk, usually right around 9:00PM”
Caller:  “OK . . . Thanks”

Not every call asked this, there were some interspersed inquiries:

Me:      “Sparta Police, dispatch”
Caller:  “Uhhm . . . yeah . . .  Can you tell me where I can WATCH the fireworks?”
Me:      “Probably in the sky . . . ”
[OK, so maybe my snarky attitude wanted to say this, but of course I remained professional]

The SAME call scenario then repeated for nearly the next hour, over and over and over. Much of the time, every available line would be lit, and every caller had the same question. In a way, it was almost comical.  The residents of these 3 tiny municipalities, a total population of 30,000, were under my care, but I was unable to help them in an emergency as I was tied up answering these calls. There I sat, all by myself, hoping and praying that no one was experiencing a REAL emergency and needed a real response for help. In an effort to break up the monotony, at times, I answered the phone with:

Me:      “Sparta Police, dispatch . . . the fireworks start at dusk”z
There was usually a long silence and they would respond, slightly confused
Caller:  “Uhhm . . . Thank you?”

Eventually, just as this rash of calls started to diminish, the next wave started to come in:

Me:      “Sparta Police, dispatch”
Caller:  “OK, hi . . . so . . .  there are a bunch of kids with fireworks over on East Shore Trail”
Me:      “Ok, can you tell me what any of them are wearing or which way they are heading?”
Caller:  “Nope, but they are raising hell over here and I am trying to sleep”

But that was 40 years ago, and times were very different. The communications technology was in its infancy, and everything was written down on punch cards, and time-stamped on a time clock (ka-chunk, ka-chunk). There was no 9‑1‑1 in my center, just POTS lines on a 1A2 Key system. Heck, while 9-1-1 may have existed somewhere in NJ back then, I didn’t know of anyone in the State that had it; and as for caller ID? Yeah, right! Ha ha ha! That was still a far-off fantasy. Back then, we worked under the bare minimums. Today, with four decades of techno-babble under my belt, quite a bit of self-taught programming in BASIC, QuickBasic+ and a little bit of C+, my favorite new word has become ‘workflow’ or scripting. At the core, a program is based on a flow chart. A list of actions and decisions that happen in a logical predefined order to create some effect or outflow of data. I quickly realized that when workflow was applied to nearly any problem, the resulting solution was often both effective and innovative. I may have automated a monotonous task.

The number of times I typed:
to do an NCIC check, has to number in the tens of thousands. . . .

or it may have just provided consistency in the data entry. In fact, some of the most innovative ideas are simply a combination of tasks strung together to solve a problem.

This is where AI can directly lend itself to enhance any industry – through automation. There should be no great surprise, as industry has realized this back when Ford implemented the Assembly line. But, before I get too deep into this particular topic, I want to make one thing perfectly clear to my readers, while artificial intelligence can greatly assist in making decisions, we are not talking about totally autonomous AI. Realistically, we are likely still a long way off from true artificial intelligence. This is because common sense is not always a binary decision. But, one thing that we can benefit from today is the mathematic probability and the assistive advice that AI can provide. This is where we need to start to change our thinking, especially in areas of public safety or critical life affecting decisions, such as the medical field.

I’m liking this to the change in thinking that has taken place with testing in schools. When I was growing up, calculators still we’re still uncommon. Bringing one into a test would be considered ‘cheating’. Now, along with the text books that are required for a particular class, advanced engineering courses require a scientific calculator, and often suggest several models. Keeping this frame of thought in mind, let’s revisit the first example I mentioned previously in this blog, but this time, I’ll apply some assistive AI logic, and present this solution in the form of a simple flowchart:


The simplified logic here is fairly easy to understand. When a call arrives, the following decision points are considered.

• . Do I have a Call Taker Available?
• . If I do, then deliver the call. If I don’t, then determine if:
• . Is it July 4th between 20:00 and 21:00?
• . If not, que to the call takers, but if it is, intercept and play an informational message about where the fireworks are, and even direct them to the web for more information and safety tips.

Ideally this could eliminate many of the calls from tying up call takers, but those that need to speak to them are placed in queue, or routed elsewhere

This is done easily as once we play the message, we ask if they need further assistance, and disconnect, queue as needed, or even branch further to other common information resources.

Plan 9 from Outer Space?

Now, here is where we can really get a little far out with a solution.

By prompting the caller with an IVR, we can ask them if they’re calling from a mobile device?
(remember, in many markets this is a 80% – 90% of the call volume)

If the caller is on a text enabled device, we can clear them off the 9-1-1 line while offering them a more informative and interactive experience by simply pushing a web link to their device. Once the citizen clicks on the link, very simple HTML 5 technology can be embedded in the webpage that can extract their specific location, after they agree to share it, and then based on the response provide geo-targeted information that would be relevant to the caller.

This is a great transition into NG311 services, something that I’m getting asked about nearly every week. I’m convinced that the biggest success factor for a government 311 service, is the user awareness programs and publicity created by agencies. This could significantly reduce the number of  ”Information calls” into the 9‑1‑1 system, while providing a public resource, and an excellent EOC environment during disasters, as the basic premise of 9‑1‑1 call taking utilizes identical infrastructure on the backend.

I believe that this is one of the areas where Avaya brings technology to the table that a normal public safety vendor does not. They have the luxury of focusing on a very narrow use case of emergency services requests. But as communications evolve and become more multimedia in nature and omni- channel, the communications architecture embedded within public safety must involve with it or it wil lbe left behind, again. Those that want to play it safe by remaining stagnant, are actually depriving constituents of modern communications that could save lives.

To the current Sparta Chief of Police Neal Spidaletto, I remember you back in the early 80’s running around the house like a little terror, driving your Dad crazy. Congrats on your appointment as Chief, I am sure Joe is very proud of your career and accomplishments.
please tell ‘Baby Face Joe’ that Fuzzy says he still looks great and as distinguished as he always did. Always a great friend, and I cherish the many shifts we worked together.

Please remember to follow me on Twitter @Fletch 911, check
out all of our other podcasts at http://www.Avaya.com/APN

Listen and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, and
SoundCloud, as well as our featured content on the iHeart radio network.

Testing 1-2-3 . . . PART Three – Location

By: Mark J. Fletcher, ENP
Chief Architect Public Safety Solutions – AVAYA

In PART Two of this blog, we discussed the Emergency Call
Network, that segment of the PSTN dedicated to emergency calling and connecting the PSAPs together on a regional basis. In this section, we’ll cover the mobility that modern networks provide to Enterprise users, and clearly one of the most challenging pieces of information for 9-1-1 call takers to obtain.

We learned that the Selective Router in the E911 Tandem office was responsible for connecting callers to the right PSAP. That decision is made based on the Caller ID presented with the call. Initially, this was a very valid best practice, as the network was well documented, and changes were well controlled and performed by the service provider.

One Number – One Address
Telephone numbers rarely were co-located in multiple locations (with a few
exceptions) therefore the telephone number was an excellent data point usable for determining the location of a device, and the network was designed around this fact. In the mid 80’s, the Northern Telecom DMS 100 was introduced as a digital central office platform, and AT&T introduced the ESS 5 with similar capabilities.

With these new digital switching platforms, the layout inside the Central
Office radically changed from one that was mechanical stepper-motor-based to one that used a digital switching matrix, and with this automation fewer and fewer CO’s were staffed with technicians, as the building role became merely a wire center with a cross connection point for dial tone to street pairs. With the digital evolution these switches brought was a new series of custom calling features.

A Star is Born
Customers did however get some very new features, like Caller ID and feature ‘STAR-codes.’
Missed a call? Dial *69 to be connected with the last number that called. *72
along with a telephone number would forward any calls to the new destination, and depending on the services provisioned in the CO, various other features became available to customers. Many of these features took advantage of Caller ID information that was now available with the call. For the very first time, the called person could know the identity of the caller displayed on their telephone device. Caller ID (better known as Automatic Number Identification or ANI) now provided 911 centers with information about who was calling, or at least the number they were calling from. Now, if a silent call came in, or there was a question about the address and location, the original color could be easily reached. 911 centers also played games with the electrical properties on the phone lines, and it was common practice not to pass any answer or disconnect supervision from the PSAP. This providing for a simple way to keep the line open simply by
not hanging up on the public safety end.

Location, Location, Location
Without a service address, it’s impossible to send any help at the time of an
emergency. To solve this problem, 911 centers begin taking the ANI (phone
number) they were receiving with calls, in making a query back into the carrier network database that routed the call. This ALI Automatic Location Information added location to the context for wireline calls, however the cellular industry didn’t catch up, and continued to report only Phase 1 location information, which was the latitude and longitude of the radio tower the cell phone happened to connect through. With the white density of cell towers, compared to today, the effective service areas were quite large spending several miles. When cellular towers were installed on mountaintops they often lined up with political borders, once again exasperating the location problem if you’re located across the state lines hitting a remote tower due to height and proximity. This problem remained for many years, and only began to be solved as devices started to contain GPS radio receivers, but there was still an underlying problem at the network layer level.

Can You SEE Me Now?
As the density and placement of cellular towers increased, Basic radio
coverage and interoperability became commonplace. Carriers started to
interoperate with each other, and cellular handoff became a commonplace feature spanning the entire coast. Making a call with simple, but making a 911 call remained problematic. Don’t get me wrong, calls could be received and routed quite simply, however since the 911 network is a legacy analog based network, and no data channel exists to pass information on, 911 centers went into making a query to the cellular carrier asking them what visibility was available out of their network. Despite the device itself having an excellent location awareness, due to Wi-Fi fingerprints, access points, cellular towers, as well as a GPS signal when outside, the location of you what is the network looking in, and what the device had (known as handset-based location accuracy) was simply unavailable to the PSAPs, and no mechanism existed to communicate anything other than a voice path between the caller and the call taker.

Google Can Find Me . . .
Yes, I am well aware that Google, Domino’s Pizza, and a plethora of other
services are you able to locate your cellular device with incredible accuracy; in the first responders at 911 that are trying to save your life, cannot. The primary reason behind this is that because the device is utilizing an application. Also, the application has access to the device-based  location information held in the memory. This particular location information uses all of the data points that we discussed earlier, and that information is communicated back over the Internet to the host application. Once again, this is where the train goes way off the rails.

The information that is contained within the device is like having a trans-Atlantic Ocean liner that is landlocked in a lake in the middle of Kentucky. Regardless of the level of luxury, the number of passengers it holds, or the amazing abilities contained within the ship, without any use cases or access to the ocean, you’re going to have a rusting pile of steel in just a few years.

Unfortunately, this is the exact state at our Legacy PSTN network exists in
today. Consumer-based technology, the information age of the Internet, and the digital transformation that has occurred in commercial businesses, have connected the world at levels never before conceived. The devices we carry our hands and our pockets, are capable of blinding fast speeds and connectivity levels never dreamed of before. I can call, I can video, I can text, and I can email anyone on the planet; except 9-1-1. My daughter, halfway around the world on a beach in Waikiki with her boyfriend can transmit real-time high definition video from her handheld device to my handheld device 4,882 miles away with practically zero latency, but if she had a medical emergency and needed help, she would be stuck with a voice call and location inaccuracy about half mile or more if she called 911.

In any commercial enterprise space, despite be vast amount of digital
information we have available about the emergent event, the situational
awareness about the emergency, or even lifesaving information about the caller, no matter what the technology is at the origination point, the network in the receiving agency are relegated too low fidelity text based information. Why? I’m not sure I’ve gotten a good answer to that . . . . yet. But I know a few young entrepreneurs that took the problem head-on, and drove a paradigm shift change in an industry that was half a century old and very much stuck in its ways.

In Part Four of this series, we will dive into over-the-top applications, that
utilize the Internet in the open connectivity that exists nearly everywhere to take a short cut around the technology roadblocks that lay between citizens who need help, in the public safety first responders that can provide that help.

Please remember to follow me on Twitter @Fletch 911, check
out all of our other podcasts at http://www.Avaya.com/APN

Listen and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, and
SoundCloud, as well as our featured content on the iHeart radio network.

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