Behind every dark cloud is a silver lining. While that may be hard to see, with several hundred thousand lives lost and a good portion of the population affected, even the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has provided some valuable lessons.
Administrators and directors of our Nation’s 911 centers have faced several unexpected operational challenges. Most disaster plans include redundancy in equipment, resiliency in networks, and some planed to co-locate in adjacent municipal facilities. However, having to remain inside a center while implementing social distancing separation precautions often created challenges with the physical space available and the face-to-face interactions that were expected or needed to occur between staff members.
For the first time, centers faced the challenge of establishing remote call taker capabilities, not because the center was inaccessible, but because social distancing would not allow a safe work environment due to the confined space available. This lack of physical space forced some tough decisions for Administrators and Directors. Putting individuals in remote locations created various security and IT challenges. Remote Call Takers now extended the boundary of the ‘walled garden’ of the PSAP network.
Fortunately, technology can deal with remote workers, either in a controlled facility or even a work-at-home environment where appropriate conditions exist. With the massive closures of municipal facilities and many workers no longer utilizing the office space within them, it became relatively easy to acquire these additional spaces for public safety employees temporarily. Co-located workers inside of a secure physical environment could quickly establish a secure network.
By immediately addressing additional space requirements, a proposed work at home environment could now be explored for a formal solution without exposing sensitive information to validated workforce employees but did not affect the data’s sanctity by extending its presence into the public Internet. Once an employee’s physical environment was established and verified, and the remote worker addressed privacy concerns, a broadband connection provides connectivity to voice and data, and a functional environment now exists with the information and data safely encapsulated and protected.
The conditions created by the pandemic provided an excellent to explore the advanced call handling and routing capabilities that are available in modern 911 call-taking systems widely available by many vendors. More information about the caller can now be made available to the system; therefore, more data points for intelligent decisions are possible. Many of today’s modern call taking solutions understand which operator is logged into each station. The system can then also understand the capabilities of each particular operator. Knowing this, individual calls can be routed to specific dispatchers for handling based on the needs of the event and the individual’s capabilities.
Each call taker is assigned a matrix of “skill sets”. Quite simply, these are the capabilities of that particular individual. These can be anything from s functional responsibility, such as a dispatcher, a call taker, or any other specific task. Skill sets can also apply to skills and capabilities such as spoken languages, or ability to handle text messages, or even specific incident types. Armed with all of this logic, the main routing system can easily select the most appropriate resource for the task at hand. This additional capability can be invaluable when dealing with mass call events or disparate operating conditions such as those presented by the pandemic where individuals no longer are located inside the same room.
If anything, the challenging times that 911 centers had to go through in 2020 were an excellent opportunity to start learning about new processes and procedures required for the future when the next pandemic hits. While in the past, Public Safety has been hesitant about new technology and IP in general, I believe an important lesson has been learned. Now that the concept of being a remote worker in a PSAP has been reviewed and vetted to some extent, more and more agencies will investigate these capabilities further and develop plans for the future.
To ensure that the systems can make the best possible decision at 911inform, we’ll be doing our part to ensure that additional data from the origination networks will flow seamlessly and smoothly into the PSAP. This extra data will provide further context so that proper decisions regarding resources happen quickly and without excessive analysis.
Next Generation 911.
We are at the proverbial brink of a new evolution in technology that will directly impact public safety and citizens’ well-being. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. It’s time to accelerate into the future, using new technologies to our advantage.
STAY WELL AND BE SAFE . . .
© 2020, All Rights Reserved, Mark J. Fletcher, ENP
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