NOTE: The following is primarily transcribed narrative from Corey Nelson, I.T. Manager at ECSO, captured during a recent Tech Talk at the Rogue Techies Monthly Meeting. Some minor changes—a word or phrase here and there—were made to translate conversational to narrative format, or to clarify a concept. Enjoy!
Corey Nelson, I.T. Manager at Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon (ECSO), delivered a Tech Talk on the topic of Emergency Communications: NextGen 911.
Corey introduced his presentation by stating that, at ECSO, the goal is not to make money; the goal is to save lives.
He explained that, when they experience a service interruption (the equipment doesn’t actually go down), they worry about how many calls they’re missing and how many potential lives are at risk.
Question: How much of a problem are crank (or spoof) calls?
Corey: This is a real problem. Sometimes, callers will record a call and then, maybe 6 months later, call back and play the recording. Of course, this confuses the Dispatcher (sometimes they are listening to their own voices) but the primary problem is that this type of prank call ties up the phone lines—and then travels throughout the emergency network to police, fire and other emergency service providers.
We really don’t know why this happens. Corey’s suspicion is that the 911 service is a target to try to determine the availability of their networks; possibly testing to see: How long does it take to receive the calls? How long does it take to answer? How much of a load can the process handle? Corey’s conspiracy theory is that they’re just doing analysis to determine what’s going to happen if they start targeting these agencies and start tying up phone lines. Very quickly. Because we are limited on personnel and phone lines, you could tie-up the 911 phone system very quickly—even up in Portland, where they have more people staffing the agencies. Very scary.
And we’re not even on the NextGen 911 system yet—that’s an even scarier concept because our current systems are still analog; really hard to hack. How do you hack an analog signal, when analog connections go point-to-point between two people? When we start talking about IP, it changes everything. When we move in that direction, it’s going to be a scary proposal.
Corey explained that he is not a Dispatcher. He can tell us baud rates the serial interfaces run on, but doesn’t take the calls; he can’t handle the stress.
ECSO’s funding model is unique because they’re not a government entity. Their 911 center is a governmental agency that’s formed by ORS (Oregon Revised Statutes) under an administrative rule. And they actually have to charge for their services. So, in order for them to sustain their operation, they bill the fire and police departments directly; they don’t have a direct tax base.
Their Board of Directors, who are also their users, are the ones who approve ECSO’s budget, so ECSO is asking the people who pay them to approve their own budget. The last thing that people who approve budgets want is for their budget to go up, so it’s very difficult to get increases. In the past few years, it’s been very difficult to increase spending at all.
The Radio System that ECSO has right now is very archaic. One quote to replace it was $28 million, on the cheap end; this is for Jackson County only. The quote for the system that they need—the one that they would like to have—was $60 million. ECSO’s annual budget is about $5.8 million.
Because they’re not a government agency, they can’t qualify for grants or government loans. So they are in a unique position where they would like to become a Special District so they can get additional funding, but that requires some sort of tax base which, in turn, requires them to go out to the voters.
Question: Are you allowed to accept contributions?
Corey: Yes. We could receive funding from individuals or foundations; however, most people think that 911 is funded by government funds, so it’s confusing.
The other thing is that cell phones have a 911 Tax on them; 75 cents per phone. ECSO gets a very small percentage of the proceeds.
911 is one of those things you take for granted. You hope you never have to use it, but you want it to work well if you need it.
About 1,000 incidents are generated every day; fire, police, EMS. ECSO covers all of Jackson County and Crater Lake Park—even though that’s in Klamath County.
Corey has been the IT Manager for 11 years, during which time he pretty much built the system from a technology standpoint. There are numerous sub-systems that he helps to administer; specifically, the 911 phone system is paid for by Century Link, but he manages everything else, including fire and police vehicles in the field. So, every fire or police vehicle that is on the road, he manages the technology inside those vehicles.
THE SLOW PACE OF CHANGE
The first 911 call happened back in 1967 so we’re talking about a long time ago. And that is essentially the same system we have today; the same system for over 50 years. The procedure is the same now as it was back then: pick up a telephone and dial 911 and talk to a person. The system really hasn’t changed much. A few features have been added but, essentially, you go through the same procedure you did back then. We’ve known it needed to change for a long time, but it’s an industry that is really slow to change.
THE 911 EXCHANGE
The 911 [telephone] exchange was not a routable network 50 years ago, so AT&T could easily route calls to the dispatch agencies on their network; they picked 911 because it “had never been authorized as an office code, area code, or service code, and it best met the long range numbering plans and switching configurations of the telephone industry.”
[Also: At that time, phone numbers began with the first two letters of a name (ours was TU for TUxedo, or 88 on the dial), followed by 5 digits; fewer numbers appended to memorable names of famous people or local geographical places. Each exchange could handle up to 10,000 5-digit phone numbers (including zero) and thus, 7-digits, where the first two were alpha translated to numeric. There were no exchanges that began with 91 or, for that matter, none where the second digit was a 1 … and no exchanges began with the digit 1. The other n11 exchanges were—and still are—reserved for special services by the phone company; list follows.]
Telephone Company Service Codes:
211: Community Services
311: Non-Emergency Municipal Services
411: Directory Assistance; pre-Google
511: Traffic Information; pre-traffic apps
611: Phone Company Repair Service
711: Relay Service for the hearing impaired; TDD
811: Underground public utility location
911: Emergency Services (police, fire, EMS)
The first major change occurred in 1996. Why? Because everyone was getting cell phones. Prior to that, there were almost no changes to 911. And, there were some places that did not offer 911 service until the ’90s; they had to know the 7-digit emergency number off the top of their head. So, remote or mountainous areas did not have this service.
Question: How far off the coast does the service extend?
Corey: As far as the cell towers will pick them up.
THE FEDS STEP IN
In 1996, there was a Federal Mandate called E911 (Enhanced 911). This mandate enacted a couple of features that carriers were required to turn on. One of those features was that non-activated phones had to have the ability to call 911, so even if you have a phone that does not have service, you can still dial 911. The problem with that is: a lot of people still have them but we don’t collect taxes on those phones because there are no taxes to collect. So we have to provide the service for free now. If you have 100,000 phones that are free, that’s still tying up services. Another issue is: up until a couple of years ago, we were not collecting taxes on pre-paid phones. One other minor issue that was mandated: the cell phones had to provide the phone number that was calling in; it’s a Federal Mandate that you cannot block your phone number when calling 911.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Also in 2001, the Feds dictated that you had to provide address location information. Well, back in 2001, the cell phones weren’t that reliable. So the phone companies met that dictate by providing location information based on the nearest cell tower. The cell tower is divided into sectors labeled A, B, C, and D. Those sectors provide an idea of where the call came from, based upon the sectors. For example, a call might come in and be close to Sector A, about 5 miles out. In a suburb, that might include lots of physical locations, including apartment buildings, office buildings, schools, etc. This plan is a bit more useful in the woods, because you can get out there and start a search pattern but in a [densely-populated] city, the closest sector location information wasn’t that useful. Then they required a phase 2 approach, which meant that you had to get the coordinates from the cell phone; that helped quite a bit because then emergency operations was getting the coordinates from the phone instead of the triangulation from the tower. But today, they still use the same technology that existed in 2001.
In 2010, the first text-to-911 was sent somewhere in the country. Jackson County just turned on text-to-911 last year. So you can now text-to-911 in Jackson County. The call processing times are different; voice call processing is usually handled in 1-3 minutes, and a text call usually has a turnaround time of 8-11 minutes. Texting is useful in certain circumstances, like when the caller is unable to talk, for whatever reason (you’re hiding, you are unable to talk for some health reason, or you’re deaf and can’t speak.)
Currently, ECSO receives about 11 text messages per month; legitimate ones. The first thing the Dispatcher asks you when you text is, “Can you make a voice call?” because they know it’s going to be faster. When you can’t make a voice call, it’s a whole different processing script. Because the text-to-911 is a third-party solution—not an integrated solution—it’s a little clunky. ECSO was tired of waiting for the State of Oregon to catch up with the technology, so they implemented a third-party solution. The third party solution is provided by Comtech. They are a company located back east that specializes in text-to-911.
When you call 911 on a cell phone, most phones will go into Emergency Mode; the phone basically becomes a data brick and you can’t do anything else with the phone while it’s in Emergency Mode. When you call 911, the phone is getting your GPS Coordinates and sending them to the dispatch office. The phone basically sets up a closed—or locked—communication channel to the 911 dispatch office; it gets the GPS. The 911 System cannot turn on settings like GPS that are turned off; however, the carrier has a special software process that can turn on the GPS to automatically start receiving GPS Coordinates.
Once your phone enters Emergency Mode, it accesses the closest cell tower to determine which 911 center—or, PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point)—is closest to you. The problem is: that PSAP could be across a county line. So, if you are up at Lake of the Woods and you hit a tower at Klamath Falls, but you’re in Jackson County, you might make contact with Klamath’s 911 Center, and they would have to transfer your call (directly, through the 911 System) to another 911 Center; this is one of the limitations in the current routing process. The transferred call is not put into another queue; however, you do have to go through the initial interaction of announcing your current location and explaining your emergency.
Once the phone is connected to the local PSAP, the cell phone and the (approximate) tower coordinates are provided to the Dispatcher.
EMERGENCY MODE: PHASE 1 AND PHASE 2
Corey then talked about Phase 1 and Phase 2.
Phase 1: The GPS coordinates are sent from the Tower Sector (A | B | C | D)
Phase 2: The GPS coordinates are sent directly from your phone.
When your phone goes into Emergency Communication mode and connects to the Dispatcher, the phone is going to send whatever GPS coordinates it has—typically, the GPS coordinates from the nearest cell tower—because it doesn’t yet have the local GPS coordinates; we hope that technology changes some day soon. That can be a challenge because, sometimes, you only have a few seconds of connectivity before your phone might disconnect.
If you stay connected to the Dispatcher, their first question is, “What is the address of your emergency?” This is because the most important task for the Dispatcher is to figure out where to send help. Not what’s going on or who’s involved, because if they have the address, at least they can send someone to that address; fire, police, ambulance.
Meanwhile, you have to verify your address three times; this can be done in a couple of different ways: they can ask you the physical location; or, they can request an updated set of GPS coordinates from your phone. The Dispatcher hits a button that sends a signal through the 911 network to your phone requesting new GPS coordinates. When those updated coordinates are sent from your phone, they are usually the most accurate because your phone has been connected for a few seconds and has had time to update the GPS coordinates. That’s the second address verification. Then the Dispatcher will ask you, one more time, “is this your location?” This third verification question is important if you happen to be out in a rural area where there aren’t street signs or other landmarks. (Remember, your phone will capture GPS coordinates as soon as it goes into Emergency Mode; this is built-into both the hardware and software modes because this is a Federal Mandate.)
This is the same process that we’ve been using for about 16 years now. [Think about that; think about all the technological advances that have happened in the past 16 years.]
There are still some challenges for the VoIP Phones. When you get an Internet phone, you have to register the physical address through the carrier; Vonage and Charter are two local carriers who use Internet phones. ECSO has to know your address because they have a whole separate process for vetting addresses. They have one person on staff whose primary job is to vet addresses to ensure they are legitimate … because, if they try to send help to an illegitimate (physical) address, it’s useless. So they have a very aggressive address verification system. How do they verify an address? They maintain a database of all addresses in the county! So when you buy a new Internet phone and provide a physical address, that address goes through a verification process to ensure that it matches a real physical address. Remember, this applies to Internet phones that are using an IP address for a base location.
WIFI VS. CELLULAR
With some of these phones, you can enable HD Calling: your call goes through High Definition WiFi; the call actually goes through the WiFi Network. If you’re in a place that only has WiFi, you can use that network instead of the cellular network. But when you do that, you must enter your home address. Note that, if you use your home WiFi Network for your base address, and you go to another location [like a bar or a restaurant] and use their WiFi Network, your phone will still use your home address as your location while you are on the remote WiFi Network.
Regardless of which address is used, the Dispatcher will go through the triple address verification procedure, as described above.
QUESTION: WHAT IS VOIP?
VoiceOver Internet Protocol: VoIP Telephone is basically a telephone that you plug into the Internet to make phone calls. For example, Charter is a local cellular provider and, when you order a phone from Charter, you don’t have a connection to a telephone company to make those phone calls. You’re actually making a connection via Charter’s Internet Service; Charter is an ISP. You can take that telephone and unplug it from the Charter Network at your house, go across town and plug it into the Charter Network and make telephone calls. When you do that, the network thinks you’re still at home making a call. You can also get an app for your cell phone that permits VoIP. Skype is a VoIP.
Question: One local business has a VoIP System, and they happen to have two different locations. When they set up the phones (on the system), the address is entered. However, the second location has five different locations on a 32-acre property. How do you find a specific building and/or office?
Corey: Some of the VoIP Providers have the ability to enter a building number in the address; this is called the ALI, or Automatic Location Information. You can program, by phone extension, a specific physical location.
Reminder: The ECSO Address Database is located within the CAG; Computer Aided GPS System. That’s where the Long/Lat information is stored. One individual is responsible for maintaining the address information for all of Jackson and Josephine Counties. On site, locally. No Cloud. ECSO stays away from the Cloud because, if the Cloud goes down, they still get 911 calls. The reason they store the information locally is: speed and performance. They also store every single common place in the county; every business name, every road name, every trail name, every mountain top; every physical thing. They use a SQL Server. The actual database is proprietary, written specifically for Public Safety; it’s not a standardized database. They call it the Location Verification System (LVS), and it was written specifically for the task of finding physical locations where people might be.
THE MAPPING PEOPLE
All the data is standard ESRI data file formats. ESRI, Environmental Systems Research Institute is an international supplier of Geographic Information System (GIS) software and geodatabase management applications; they are based in Redlands, CA and are pretty much the mapping people. So, when the Dispatcher enters the address into the system, the database quickly responds and does a local query to return results.
ANCIENT TECHNOLOGY: TTY
ECSO still has technology in their data center that is called teletype. Recall Matthew Broderick in the movie, War Games? A long time ago, they actually had a handset that you would place on a modem [technically, an acoustic coupler] to make phone calls. That’s what teletype (TTY) is. ECSO still uses that technology today to receive calls from blind, deaf and hard-of-hearing people; maybe two calls per year.
One audience member remarked that he still has a 120-baud [NOTE: 120 is not a typo] modem that is contained within a box [a must-watch 8.25 minute video]; you place the phone handset inside and close the box to connect.
It’s gotten better; as technology has progressed, they would actually text a friend and ask them to call 911, because that was faster than trying to connect to a 300-baud modem. And, that gives you an idea of where we’re at today.
THE FLOW OF A 911 CALL
Corey had one of his ECSO interns build a 911 Data Flow Map, which shows you the flow of a 911 call. This is where all of the data goes when a single 911 call comes in. It’s an interesting map because it goes various places. ECSO has interfaces that run all over the place. Corey explained that this didn’t exist 10-12 years ago. Back then, a Dispatcher simply entered some of the data, read that data to a police officer over a radio, the officer wrote down the data on his note pad—using a pencil—and went to the location. Then he would go back to his office and write a report and he was done. During the past 10 years, this is how technology has progressed. And, Corey’s expectation is, in the next 10 years, it will quadruple.
CURRENT TECHNOLOGY; AUTOMATION
Corey gave some examples of the ECSO technology. They have interfaces that automatically alert the fire station. So, when a call comes into the fire house and all the firemen are asleep, they don’t want to listen to all the junk going on but ECSO needs to alert them—to wake them up—so they have a system that only alerts their fire station; the system gradually turns on their lights and then there’s a slow ramp-up of the sound (so they aren’t startled and have a heart attack), the doors automatically open, the stoves turn off if they’re on, and other crazy things—all automatically. And then the system reads off the call type so the firemen know which turnouts to wear (which boots to put on, which garments to put on, etc.); everything is automated. And this information might be sent to multiple fire stations, depending on the location and type of emergency (multiple alarm fire, some other massive emergency situation). [Turnouts: put on a whole fire suit for a fire; put on regular clothes for a motor vehicle accident; put on hazmat outfit for a hazmat incident.]
But ECSO has some interfaces Corey would certainly advocate. They have an interface to a system called PulsePoint, and if you are interested in Public Safety, you should consider adding the PulsePoint app to your phone. PulsePoint is a free app; anybody can download it. The application is designed to save lives. What it does is, if you are CPR Certified, and someone in your vicinity goes into cardiac arrest, the app will notify you. Studies have shown that you have something like 1-2 minutes to save a life; called the Golden Minute. You get to customize your PulsePoint app to determine the size of your area that you “patrol” with the app. The app will also notify you of the closest AED (Automated External Defibrillators); the device shocks the heart when you put the enclosed pads on a victim’s chest. ECSO had a contest to see who could find the most AEDs in the county; one group found about 1400 of them, so they are all over the place.
ECSO has more automated technology than that. They have a Twitter account (@ecsoincidents) that automatically dumps all their feeds to Twitter. And we’re going to see more of that technology deployed in coming years. One of the new interfaces Corey is working on right now is: a 911 call comes in and goes through a digital/analog converter to ECSO’s local phone system to the Dispatcher, and that’s the only call data that comes in right now. But what we’re going to see is much more data coming in.
One of the projects ECSO is working on right now is a project called Shake Alert; an earthquake early alerting system. They actually have them dispatched right now where dispatch will be alerted when there’s an earthquake. There are a whole bunch of sensors and calculations that happen when this runs but they could have up to 70 seconds of alert time, depending on where the earthquake is based and where it’s alerting from. And, in those 70 seconds, they want to do some important things. They want to alert the firemen and policemen: Get ready! Turn on your stuff! Get in your fire engines! Prepare for chaos. And, for other agencies, they want to notify water departments to turn off water in the cities so if water lines break, water isn’t running all over the streets and making travel impossible due to flooding. Turn off gas lines to minimize explosions. So they are working on trying to build a standard for that, and that’s probably another year or two away.
New standards were written in 2003; that’s when they began the NextGen 911 Standard, and it’s almost finalized, right now. Fifteen years. The standard is evolving now, and will continue to change as we move forward.
TRANSITIONING TO VOIP
The primary thing that the new NextGen 911 does is that it moves a 911 call away from an analog system to a digital, VoIP system. It also changes the call routing technology; instead of using your local tower (recall A | B | C | D) to figure out which 911 center to send the call to, it actually uses your pre-programmed coordinates to set a boundary. So the system will know if you’re across the boundary making a phone call, even if you connect to a tower in the next county over. It also adds some additional data such as your altitude; very important in large cities that have high-rise buildings. It also changes which data is sent; sending the source IP address, and including picture messages and video (video is a ways-off for Oregon, because Oregon is so archaic when it comes to infrastructure).
IOT & 911
There are some challenges with NextGen 911. One of the challenges we’re seeing is with the IoT, where everything is connected, and the expectation is that your refrigerator will now be able to call 911 for you. Or your Nest is sensing too much heat in your home so call the fire department. Or your Google Home is transmitting voice that sounds like a domestic dispute so we need to call 911. The problem is that when those devices are calling 911, we’re not able to talk back to them to get additional information. And the bigger problem with NextGen 911 is the security because we’re going from an analog technology to a fully digital IP technology.
When they wrote the standard back in 2003, they said that we need firewalls that can handle a specific bandwidth. Well, one gigabit of bandwidth nowadays isn’t enough to handle any kind of Denial-Of-Service (DOS) attack. And, unfortunately, some of the specifications in the standard have not been updated. So when you look at what they’re trying to deploy, the vendors are declaring that their technology meets the standard, which is correct, but those standards are so archaic that they can be easily overcome with today’s technology. So hacking or some denial of service attack can severely impact the 911 network.
We’re probably at least five years away from appropriate technology in the state of Oregon.
Question: How many people are (physically) working on this issue?
Corey: The Office of Emergency Management in the State of Oregon has about 25 people engaged in this issue. There’s also a lot of politics and a lot of money involved.
Question: How many people would you prefer to have working on this issue?
Corey: If we didn’t have the Office of Emergency Management working on it and we had a task force that had enough authority from local agencies that knew what was going on, Corey thinks they could get the job done with fewer people. The problem is that there are contracts in place; Century Link owns the contract for all of the transport mechanisms in the State of Oregon. And, for us, what we’re using to transport our data right now is two T-1 Lines; barely 3 megabits. And then, we start talking about pushing data and voice and pictures and video down that pipe, we realize that the current technology simply can’t handle that much data. We need a really robust high-speed fiber network throughout the State of Oregon, and it’s simply not there yet.
Question: How many trunks are connected to the system?
Corey: We use all standard analog lines; that includes both administrative lines and 911 lines. We have thirteen 911 Lines; all single, copper pairs, no trunking. When you think about it, we can’t answer more than 13 calls at a time; we only have thirteen 911 Dispatchers answering the phones. There aren’t any Primary Rate Interfaces (PRIs) going back to the telephone company. We have single pair copper for every line coming in.
Question: Do you have any idea how long the average 911 call takes?
Corey: We have some benchmarks set, and we really have three different types of calls that come in: Fire Call, Police Call, and an EMT Call; they are pretty much treated differently. Some calls are combined types, but for the most part, if we talk about the three call types, the longest one to process are usually the fire calls and most of that is because people calling in fire emergencies are observers that see smoke in the distance and it takes a really long time to determine where the base of that smoke is.
We try to dispatch within 90 seconds. We use a scripting program for medical emergencies that we are required to follow. The script asks a series of pre-programmed [canned] questions, and the answers to those questions guide the dispatch as to what kind of response we send as far as what level of health care is needed. It’s a complex process. There’s a huge difference between someone who has fallen on the ground and can’t get up versus someone who’s in cardiac arrest. So we have to follow protocol that gets us to the end point. Do we need to rush with lights-and-sirens, or can we take our time getting there?
On the law side, it’s really driven by the expertise of the call taker and how well they can gather the information. On balance, our goal is 90 seconds. The real question is: how long is the phone line tied-up? On average, 7-10 minutes. However, if we get a fire on the freeway, we might get 90 calls in minutes because everyone who’s driving by the fire calls 911. In that type of a case, the Dispatcher will answer the phone with, “911. Are you calling about the fire?” Because, at some point, we’re receiving so many calls that the phone lines are clogged and we’re trying to process the calls as fast as possible. And we do have some resources when we see those spikes in call volume: supervisors will jump on the dispatch desk and help with incoming calls.
Our Dispatch Center currently has 16 positions. Each position has four computers, three keyboards, four mice, a foot pedal, 9 monitors … it’s a big, complex screen with all kinds of stuff on display. Typically, the staffing level goes from five to nine people, depending on the time of day because we don’t need as many Dispatchers in the middle of the night. The manpower is continuously moving; people taking breaks and lunches and shift changes.
PIE IN THE SKY
Corey talked about his Pie In The Sky. “First, this is my opinion of it; it’s not a popular opinion with the Dispatchers, right now, because my opinion is that the Dispatchers are going away.
AUTOMATICALLY ACCESSING ALL AVAILABLE DATA
“Some of the things that I’ve seen … some of the things that we want to give the public that we can’t do, right now, include: when you are involved in a car crash where the car has OnStar, all of that data that is captured … Did air bags go off? … Was there a rollover? … How many occupants were in the vehicle? … we want all that data so that someone who is responding has some idea of what to expect. Because if it was simple crash like a fender bender without air bags being deployed, that’s quite different from a head-on collision with multiple air bags going off, multiple rollovers and multiple people. So, that data is available from the OnStar perspective but we don’t have access to it at dispatch—and, even if we did, we don’t know how to evaluate that data.
“As we continue to go forward with this data, we’re talking about receiving video feeds, text messages, and pictures. How do we interpret that data? How do we determine what to do with that data? And, how do we show the Dispatcher a picture of a mutilated person in a vehicle? They’re not used to seeing that kind of thing; they’re not mentally-prepared to see that stuff. They’ve been hearing it for years; we train them to handle that. But now, we’re going to start showing them pictures.
“So, as we go forward, I think we’re going to see this transition from a person doing the call processing to a computer managing that task.
“We all know by now that our phone is our identity. Most of us carry phones most of the time. Most of us do business all day long; making phone calls, checking emails, surfing the web. When you call 911—in the future—a computer will answer the call, and this computer will be able to instantly query all the information available from your phone.
“First, the dispatch computer will get your location information. And that location information is going to be pulled from your phone. (Remember, this is all theoretical.) It’s based on mapping information. Is this a residence? What street are you on? Is this a commercial location? The dispatch computer will have all kinds of information about that location. If it’s a business, what kinds of hazards are at this business? Is this a place that processed chemicals? Is it a gas station? It’s going to start processing, based upon blueprints; it’s going to know the layout. It’s going to know about smoke alarms on the premises. It’s going to know all the information, including threat levels and whether there have been previous calls from this address. It’s also going to know whether there have been previous calls from this phone, and the kind of calls that have been made. What were the last calls made from this phone? Possibly, has this phone put anything on Twitter or Facebook? We can do an analysis of that information. Has this phone recorded something negative towards someone else? There might be text messages, photographs … it might be able to analyze the last 10 photographs you took. And, we’re talking real-time because the computer’s looking at this and, at this time, you haven’t even talked to anybody yet.
“It’s going to start querying databases, because you’ve all had pizza deliveries and Amazon deliveries; it knows what you’ve ordered and where it was delivered, who your known associates are, and how many times you’ve dialed-in. How many times have you been arrested? And remember, you haven’t even been connected yet. But then, once it connects, does it start recording your phone call? Does it start turning on the camera and recording the activity to capture the situation? When you think about technology and how it’s changing, if the FCC mandates it, they (the carriers) have got to do it, right?! People may fight it, but it will happen. How long until, because you initiated the call, people can see exactly what’s going on at the scene.
“But now that the call is actually connected and a computer is listening, we can start doing a situation analysis. Is there a car running? Is there a dog barking? Is there a person crying? Are there gunshots? It could automatically dispatch, based on all that information before you’ve even said a word. You have automatic triggers: As soon as gunshots are heard, you automatically dispatch police. We have the location. We know who you are and have some information about you from your phone. We need to send help right away.
INTERACTIVE HUMAN INQUIRY
“Now, we’re going to have a conversation to fill in the pieces of data that we don’t have; what’s going on? The computer’s going to know what information is needed so we can ask a series of very guided questions to get what’s needed before we actually dispatch help. It can also do a voice analysis of the caller; are they under duress? Are they calm? Are they lying? We can do keyword analysis that might change how dispatch occurs.
“And then: trending. Are we seeing trends of this type of call all of a sudden? It will start looking at a large data set very quickly. And, since it’s a computer, it can process thousands of these calls every second–way beyond what a human can manage.
“We also talk about, as soon as those keywords are triggered, deploying drones. So we can then watch the scene in real time from different locations … all this when we’re only a couple of seconds into the call.
“One of the nice things about this is: that computer will process the call just like every other call whether it’s somebody being killed, robbed, shot, doesn’t matter. And it will then go on to the next call. It won’t call in sick, it will not behave poorly, it will not cost you any extra money or benefits, it will run forever, and you can scale up or down, you’re never going to run out of people, and you can have more processing power thrown at it.
“My expectation is: as soon as someone comes out with something that’s going to save a ton of money, it will be adopted. Eighty-five percent (85%) of our budget is personnel. As soon as there’s a solution that permits us to put ten more officers on the street if you go to this automated dispatch system, it’s going to be a no-brainer.”
Question: What about our privacy?
Corey: Remember: Once you’ve called 911, you’ve initiated the call; your privacy goes out the window. That’s why the carriers have the ability to turn on your GPS and everything else. It’s not like they’re doing this before you call 911, it’s you initiating the call.
Chatbots are already in use in other industries (shopping assistants; tech support; online chat sessions that direct your inquiry to the appropriate CSR), so it makes a lot of sense, considering the volume of calls.
FollowUp: But you’re still going to need people to train others and report malfunctions in an erudite manner…
Corey: Yes, but it would be one-tenth of what you’d see in the field now. Human backup that you can switch to.
Right now, we have around 56 call centers in Oregon. We don’t have that many counties. We have 3-4 call centers in some counties, and that makes no sense at all. What you’re going to see is consolidation to possibly only three (call centers) in the U.S. Because it doesn’t matter where you’re at, you don’t need to know local geography if your computer can reference map data. They’re going to package all this information and send it to a police officer or fire department or ambulance service, and that data package is going to have so much data in it that it will give them the information they need to do their job better. There will be no way you will want to go back to humans because they can’t give you the same quality of data.
While this is pie in the sky right now, it’s almost inevitable that someone will come up with something close to this in the future. We’ll see a consolidation of processes that the Feds will push down to our level within the next decade.
Question: You talked earlier about radios and communication… So you’re responsible for all the police cars in Jackson County?
Corey: Yes; essentially. We have radio towers all across certain mountain tops in the Valley and those towers are licensed frequencies that we talk on. I’m sure you all have heard of scanners that broadcast police calls. Those are our primary method of communication, but the secondary method is the communication in the cars. Most of the guys would prefer to use the computers in the cars because: 1) nobody can hear about it over the radio (because there aren’t any scanners listening) and 2) they get all the relevant information like mapping and call info; the data is all there for them to see. They can run DMV photos, they can run [license] plates, do everything right there and it’s convenient and easy for them to access.
Question: Medford Police and Ashland Police have to give you money to assist with expenses?
Corey: Yes. We charge them. Actually, Medford Police and Ashland Police have their own radio systems that they own but we maintain those systems. Even though they are on our board, we are still treated like a contractor. Medford Police, Ashland Police, Sheriff Department, all fire departments; we maintain mountain top radio towers all over the place. And, we have some geographical challenges in this valley; some peaks and valleys don’t get very good coverage. So there are incidents where we can’t get radio coverage.
Question: So the computers are all using WiFi in the cities?
Corey: No. We are strictly cellular; it has to do with the challenge of going in and out of WiFi networks because the emergency personnel are moving all the time. It’s easier to stay on cellular because when they get a call via WiFi in the station, they drive out [to the scene of the emergency] and lose the WiFi connection. There might be a strong signal; however, there’s no data being transmitted and that’s typically about the time they’re trying to get the call detail information. So we discourage them from connecting via WiFi, unless it’s a temporary situation, because of that issue.
We have numerous types of connection methods; routers, some vehicle gateways, internal network cards, and different methods to get connected to the Verizon network. In some cases, we’ve switched some of our carriers to U.S. Cellular because the city of Shady Cove has no Verizon coverage and we have a couple of community service officers that work out there and, along with the fire department, they all need access.
Question: Do you think that you should text-to-911 in the future?
Corey: I don’t think so because of the lag time. The problem with text is that you send the text, we get the text, and back-and-forth. Our Dispatchers are doing 10 different things at once; it’s not like we have a dedicated Dispatcher that’s sitting there answering text messages. They’re still answering 911 calls and dispatching emergency help. [Think: context switching speed.] You simply don’t have the same level of communication that you have with voice. You can’t detect the urgency and you can’t get some of the information you might get when you’re talking to somebody interactively.
Question: What about a situation where you can’t talk, like a school shooting or a domestic dispute where it’s not safe to talk?
Corey: The most important thing to provide if you’re texting is: your address. Because that’s what we need to know first. We can send a police car immediately and then have the police officer assess the situation and call for backup. So, text your address and the type of emergency. The dispatch operator will ask if you can make a voice call because they may want to get additional information like: Is there an active shooter? What does he look like? And, trying to send that kind of information via text is not the most effective method of communication; voice is simply faster. So, if you can text the address and the nature of the problem, that will save quite a bit of time.
As soon as the Dispatcher receives that information, they’re going to open a call and start the call processing but officers are a bit apprehensive to jump on those calls until they know it’s a legitimate call. They might have a lot of things going on at the time, and might not be able to prioritize. There are a limited number of officers in the field.
Question: How do you know if it’s a legitimate call?
Corey: If you give them enough information in the text and indicate that you can’t make a voice call, and tell them what’s going on, they’re going to start a response right away. But then they’re going to continue the conversation. So don’t think that, because you’re still conversing with the Dispatcher, there isn’t help coming. They can always send help right away. The call taker will receive data and, as soon as that call gets entered into the system, the Dispatcher is going to send help. Now, that help is going to be started – it could be a fire truck or a police car – but they’re going to want additional information; do we need more vehicles, more fire trucks, etc. But at least someone is going to get things started right away; the caller is told that help is on the way. Then the Dispatcher will request more information and try to keep the caller calm enough to get more information about the situation. A lot of times, the process of getting more information is not about the person who may be hurt but to give the caller something to do until help arrives. This information-gathering process gives the caller a job—a purpose—and keeps their mind off what’s really going on. The scripting process is really drawn-out on purpose. By giving them something to do until an ambulance arrives, they can stay calm and focus on providing information instead of listening to dead silence.
Question: Can the Dispatcher talk the caller through the CPR Process?
Corey: Absolutely. The medical protocol that we use is a complex protocol; it’s a scripting process that we pay a lot of money for, and it’s a really good protocol. Essentially, when you call 911, it says, “What’s the problem?” And, we might get a caller that announces, “My husband has fallen,” so we go through the process of someone falling. Then we learn that he fell because he’s having chest pains; that’s a whole different process. So this protocol guides the Dispatcher to getting the correct answers to the questions that will help move the process in the proper direction. For example, there’s a whole process in administering CPR, including guides and counters and beats and how often to count. But, honestly, most people who have been trained in CPR can’t do it correctly, so if you’re trying to talk someone through the process over the phone, it might take so long that it might not be effective. At that point, you’re probably doing that for the benefit of the caller and not the victim; it gives them something to do while they’re waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
What’s more important is the AED (Automated External Defibrillators) because you’re trying to get the heart shocked into the right rhythm. If you can get the heart started the correct way, you’re more than likely going to save them versus having someone do chest compressions. [NOTE: At approximately $1500.00, AEDs seem expensive–until you consider that a helicopter ride to a hospital might cost upwards of $10,000.00.]
The Pulse Point app I spoke about earlier does not work in a residence; it’s only for public locations, due to legal liability. The other thing that Pulse Point does is to alert you to police and fire calls; it broadcasts locations and mapping information. It’s something we subscribe to that pushes the data out.
Question: Can you call 911 and place the call anonymously?
Corey: No. Your phone number is public record. You can state that you do not want to give your name; however, there is no way to block your phone number. If you have a concern about disclosing your phone number, call the non-emergent number. The same people are answering those calls but your phone number is not transmitted. 541-776-7206.
NOTE: 911 calls are answered before the non-emergency number calls are answered.
Observation: It must be a challenge to find people who have the compassion necessary to handle all kinds of emergency situations and still have technical skills.
Corey: Yes. It’s a tough job. We’re always hiring. Training takes about 18 months. It’s a stressful job. You work nights, weekends, holidays, Christmas, New Year’s Eve; you won’t be with your family on those days. And, because the job is seniority-based, the new-hires work the crummy days. There are some benefits like working 4/10 and getting 3-day weekends, but because people get sick and other team members must take on extra loads, they get extra shifts. They might get one call that’s a suicide and the next call is someone complaining about a dog barking; all calls must be processed in a professional manner. And, they never get closure; that’s the hard part. The Dispatcher only goes as far as the police go; they never get to hear whether the person lived or died, or what happened because they’re moving on to the next call.
Question: What about mental health assistance for the Dispatchers?
Corey: We do have two counselors that come in… actually, we have multiple chaplains that come in and are always there; especially for critical incidents. We do compensate them well. The pay range starts at around $50,000 per year and can go as high as $120,000 per year; all with good benefits. The education level is high school diploma. But it’s a difficult, thankless, hard job.
Thanks to the 911 Staff (Dispatchers and Administrative Personnel) and the Emergency Service Providers (Policemen, Firemen, EMS Personnel) for all that you do while keeping your cool!
Thanks to Corey Nelson for taking the time to prepare and present this superb Tech Talk on NextGen 911. You have empowered us, Corey!
PREPARE YOURSELF AND YOUR LOVED ONES BY:
- Learning how to administer CPR: American Red Cross
- Obtaining an AED Device: Philips HeartStart
- Storing in your contacts list the non-Emergency Phone Number: 541-776-7206
- Administering CPR
- AED Procedure
BEFORE YOU CALL 911:
- Know your present address!!!! This is the most important piece of information you can provide; mile marker number on the highway; I-5 Exit Number; mountain top name; landmark; intersection within a city; street address; store name and location. Example: “I’m located at <address> and someone is having a <type of emergency>. ”Practice this with your family members!
- Use the non-emergency number when you don’t have an emergency: 541-776-7206. This connects to the same people; however, this permits the staff to prioritize calls. Put this number in your phone contacts list.
The history of the Telephone: https://bebusinessed.com/history/history-of-the-telephone/
Vetted By: Corey
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