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Improperly Routed 9-1-1 Calls for Service: A Technological Epidemic

06-06-2016 08:58 PM
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By Mike King, Esri Global Industry Manager for Emergency Call-Taking, CAD, and RMS • defines epidemic as "a rapid spread or increase in the occurrence of something." Is the technology gap between existing call-taking systems and the wireless evolution evidence of epidemic failure?

Sadly, it's happened again . . . in fact, it happens with too much regularity. In May, news agencies across the country focused on the death of a North Carolina man, not because of his untimely passing, but because outdated systems didn't locate his cellular call to 9-1-1 in a timely manner. Here's the issue: A citizen makes an emergency 9-1-1 call from a cellular device, and (periodically) the call is routed to the wrong Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), causing delays that can have catastrophic results. In situations like those recently reported on, lives are lost, which is a price that demands immediate improvement.

Government providers of 9-1-1 services need to carefully evaluate their efforts to end this epidemic. PSAPs are relying on outdated analog technology that hasn't kept up with digital advances. PSAP solutions are expensive, and public decision-makers face restrictive budgets fueled by citizen demands to reduce taxes. While these issues may help explain the slow response, should this be accepted practice? Let's look at three scenarios that national call-taking organizations asked Esri to consider as part of our 2016 focus on emergency call-taking:

Scenario One: A man living in Columbus, Ohio, is having a conversation with his mentally ill mother, who lives in San Diego, California. During the conversation, the mother indicates that she is going to commit suicide and then hangs up. The son dials 9-1-1 on his mobile device, and (because he is in Columbus, Ohio) his call is routed to the Columbus Police Department PSAP. The PSAP must now get the mother's address from the son, search online for the most probable PSAP in San Diego, search through the website for contact information, and transfer the call. Valuable minutes pass before the son is in contact with the right emergency call center where first responders can be dispatched.

Scenario Two: A PSAP receives an improperly routed cellular call to 9-1-1 that cannot be located on the agency's computer-aided dispatch map and is outside the locally authoritative database, making location verification difficult. Most PSAPs rely on maps using street centerline data, and this event cannot be plotted on the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) map because it is falling in "white space." How can the PSAP quickly identify locations, addresses, or coordinates that fall outside the address database or the PSAP's jurisdictional boundary?

Scenario Three: A train derailment is reported to a number of dispatch centers between Louisville, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio. Information includes reports of chemicals spilling into an unspecified river. How can a PSAP quickly assess the situation, circumstance, and environment while efficiently identifying and notifying relevant PSAPs for a coordinated response? How can public officials promptly and competently notify citizens about resultant risks? How can different agencies collaborate and share information quickly and efficiently?

In 2016, Esri launched a new emphasis on the CAD/records management system (RMS) industry and refocused its efforts in four primary areas:

  • Collaboration with our partners/providers of emergency call data systems to better understand cellular tower locations, the call-routing function, and how GIS can improve location validation 
  • Teaming with our computer-aided dispatch and records management partners to improve GIS capabilities within their solution offerings 
  • Providing thought leadership to industry and government leaders 
  • Working closely with our large user community to identify areas where GIS can provide improvements, including the development of tools and templates to assist them in architecting their GIS infrastructure following best practices

Esri has created a story map to assist the public and decision-makers in better understanding the PSAP challenges and how Esri can help. It includes links to stories, web application examples, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling on location accuracy, and Esri white papers. You can find it by viewing the Emergency Call Taking and Dispatch Industry Overview story map.

In each of the scenarios outlined above, Esri's ArcGIS platform provides tools and templates that can help PSAPs solve problems. The public safety team has embraced the FCC's challenge to build solutions for indoor routing and 3D; in fact, we've been developing in this discipline for years, including on-site testing for the past year with our partner GeoComm.

We're working with industry leaders to build a nationwide PSAP boundary map, which will speed up the discovery of appropriate PSAPs to forward calls for service that are routed incorrectly. We've tackled the issue of providing real-time analysis of CAD data and how to consume and analyze sensor data in real time. Finally, Esri leads the way in mobile solutions so that our customers can embrace GIS and intelligent mapping anytime, anyplace, and on any device.

Check out the links below for more information, and reach out to the Esri public safety team for help. For scenarios in which customers or partners want to leverage a geocoding service that works like Esri's World Geocoding Service, we suggest the same approach Esri uses; namely, a composite locator service. Composite locator service is Esri jargon for a web service delivered by ArcGIS for Server, which publishes a composite locator to simultaneously search multiple data sources for street addresses, localities, zones, or points of interest by address or name and, optionally, a category. This is core technology that doesn't need customizing. You do not need to format the input text specially, and common aliases and spelling issues are handled for you. You do need reference data with searchable attributes. Esri uses HERE data, but customers are free to use their own—we supply the tools to build the locators.

Here are some relevant geolocator links:

Locator definitionsLocator creationComposite locatorsGeocode service

Find candidatesGet suggestionsUsing categories

Here are some links to the addressing solutions we deliver in our ArcGIS for Local Government solution:

Solutions siteAddress Data ManagementAddress Crowdsourcing

Data Reviewer for AddressesAuthoring locators from authoritative address information

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About the Author
I am the Industry Specialist for Public Safety and Disaster Response Program. This includes Public Safety sub-markets of Law Enforcement, Homeland/National Security, Emergency Management, Emergency Communications, Humanitarian, Fraud Waste and Abuse, Corporate Security and Resilience, Fire/Rescue/EMS, and Wildland Fire. I also coordinate the Disaster Response Program and here at Esri. I manage the National Security Summit and National Security Showcase at the UC every year. I have been with Esri since 2000. Content I post may be from my team members and will be indicated in the by-line.