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Fourth of July Emergencies: How 911 Agencies Prepare

July 2, 2019
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Celebrated in every city and town across the nation, Fourth of July emergencies drive some of the largest volumes of 911 calls that public safety agencies answer throughout the year. Members of the RapidSOS Public Safety team spoke to us about the challenges public safety agencies, 911 telecommunicators, and first responders face during the Fourth of July holiday. These challenges range from a need for additional staff members, large event situational awareness, an influx of travelers, and floods of emergency and non-emergency calls. 

We will also share insight from our public safety team on how additional data from connected devices can help agencies provide fast emergency response during one of our nation’s most important holidays.

Additional Staff

As crowds begin to gather at parks, beaches, lakes, and other outdoor recreation areas, local public safety agencies have to staff additional telecommunicators and first responders to help address the increased number of Fourth of July emergencies and calls. For example, Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Show used thousands of police officers and drone-technology last year. During Mardi Gras, Orleans Parish has to increase their staff by over 50% to around 170 telecommunicators to accomodate for 24 hour coverage for the entire week of Mardi Gras. Additional staff for gatherings allows first responders to attempt to triage issues as they arise.

Heightened Medical Risks

Given that the Fourth of July holiday occurs during the summer months there exists a higher risk of heat-related medical emergencies, such as dehydration and heat stroke, which require immediate medical attention. Alcohol consumption also increases the rate of dangerous behavior and injuries. Having a robust and prepared staff of telecommunicators and first responders can ensure timely responses for Fourth of July medical emergencies and help save lives.

Situational Awareness

Outdoor events like parades and concerts draw large crowds and create major street closures. These logistical issues require a coordinated effort between 911 telecommunicators, law enforcement, emergency medical services, and firefighters as crowds make it harder to locate a caller or to get to the Fourth of July emergency. These events require multi-agency situational awareness to ensure a timely and appropriate response from all agencies involved.

Karin Marquez, our Senior Director of Public Safety, shared the importance of Jurisdiction View, a feature on RapidSOS Portal, for providing efficient response across an agency’s community. Jurisdiction View allows public safety agencies and telecommunicators to have incident awareness for all emergencies in a given area, without manually querying individual numbers. This helps telecommunicators manage and prioritize multiple emergencies from a single dashboard. By using RapidSOS Portal alongside other tools, 911 telecommunicators can effectively manage large numbers of calls and dispatch the appropriate response based on rich additional emergency data.

Travelers 

The Fourth of July is a popular time for many to escape the city, travel to large metro-areas, visit vacation towns, or go anywhere in between. While this Fourth of July season may look different in the midst of a pandemic, people have begun traveling again. After a sharp decline in March and April, the Transportation Security Administration reports a continued rise in the number of daily airline passengers. The RV industry has also seen growth as some travelers opt for a more distant holiday experience. 

Lasting from Thursday, July 2nd, to Sunday, July 5th, Fourth of July travelers can help boost local economies, but can also put a strain on the local agencies’ capacity to appropriately handle emergencies. For a traveler, being in an unknown area can lead them to not know the specifics of their location and cause them to give the wrong address or unusable location. 

Fourth of July water emergencies pose unique complications in the dispatch center. If the caller is on a boat, getting an accurate location in a body of water can be a complicated task. Tracy Eldridge, our Public Safety Community Engagement Manager, noted that agencies using RapidSOS Portal have been able to accurately find callers located on a body of water. RapidSOS Portal gives telecommunicators an updated location every few seconds, allowing them to track the caller as they drift down current.

Fourth of July Non-emergency Calls

While accidental-dials and hangups are standard challenges for telecommunicators, non-emergency calls skyrocket during the Fourth of July due to inconveniences including firework complaints and lost animal calls. People can also mistake fireworks explosions for gunshots driving up non-emergency calls. These calls can occupy emergency communications center resources and lead to wait-times for actual Fourth of July emergencies.  

As the rest of the nation prepares to celebrate our country’s founding, 911 telecommunicators and first responders are preparing to make sense of the chaos that the Fourth of July brings with it. Additional staff, coordinating situational awareness, and accounting for callers not knowing their location puts a lot of pressure on public safety agencies. Especially on days like the Fourth of July, we’re grateful for all the emergency professionals who work tirelessly to keep us safe.

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