NG911 Data: Preparing Emergency Communications Centers for Multimedia and More

June 25, 2019
multimedia data blog post

Perceptions of additional data in the public safety community have evolved significantly. What began as skepticism for many has shifted to overwhelming acceptance of the life-saving potential of supplemental emergency data.

Still, many agencies harbor concerns about the implementation of data from connected devices into emergency response workflows. Technology limitations, agency liability, and impacts on telecommunicators all pose questions for agency leadership when evaluating NG911 solutions.

The consensus is that emergency communication centers (ECCs) want to receive data from connected devices, but there are concerns over how to prepare for this change.

RapidSOS hosted a presentation with D. Jeremy DeMar, Director of the Springfield ECC, on how agencies can embrace additional emergency data. An expert in the role of multimedia data in the ECC, DeMar shared strategies for overcoming challenges to the use of NG911 data. Read on for practical lessons for ECC leadership, and watch the recording for the full session.  

How NG911 Data Can Save Lives in an Emergency

First, let’s cover the basics of what NG911 data is and how it can help telecommunicators save lives.

Forward-looking public safety leaders have anticipated the arrival of additional data sources in the ECC for years. The proliferation of connected devices and apps has appealed to public safety agencies as potential sources of life-saving emergency data. But limitations with 9-1-1 infrastructure restricted the data sent to ECCs, forcing telecommunicators to manage emergencies with little data beyond a voice call. Few could have imagined how quickly the availability of NG911 technology has grown following key breakthroughs.

Over 3,000 agencies nationwide have access to NG911 technology today through the RapidSOS Clearinghouse. This rich data pipeline provides ECCs with data from sources including Apple, Google, MedicAlert, Uber, and more. Telecommunicators across the country are saving lives today with data from the RapidSOS Clearinghouse.

Understandably, many ECC leaders are mobilizing to prepare their agencies for the effects of data from connected devices. The paradigm shift from voice-only to data-based emergency management impacts all areas of the ECC, from leadership to technologists to telecommunicators. Clarifying the definition of NG911 data can address the concerns of public safety professionals and point leadership to priorities for empowering their agencies.

NG911 infrastructure includes IP connectivity, redundancy, location-based routing, and response determination. It also removes the data restriction of legacy 9-1-1 infrastructure and opens the door to a wide variety of emergency data types including text, multimedia, demographic information, sensor data, and even non-voice emergency notifications.

Examples sources of potential NG911 data include:

  • Mobile apps transmitting profile data and crowd-sourced information
  • Connected car devices sending occupancy and crash data
  • Wearables connecting telecommunicators and EMTs with real-time health data
  • Smart home devices sharing sensor data and alarms with 9-1-1
  • Images and video from the site of an incident in-progress

This real-time sophisticated data completely transforms the way public safety professionals manage emergencies, enhancing situational awareness and improving emergency outcomes.

Considerations of NG911 Data for Emergency Communications Centers

Successful implementation of NG911 data requires support for ECC staff, including resources for technology, training, and emotional support. With a proactive approach, agencies can overcome the challenges of change and empower their staff with better tools for saving lives.

This section will cover guidance from the presentation on the challenges for implementing NG911 data and solutions for ECC leadership to address them.

For years, the chief barriers to adopting NG911 technology have included:

  • Complacency
  • Lack of government mandate
  • Ambiguity around oversight
  • Shortage of funding

There is a running joke that for some public safety professionals, NG911 means retirement. It is normal to be apprehensive about change, but misperceptions around NG911 have exaggerated the concerns around what amounts to modern, more powerful infrastructure for emergency response. With a proactive approach, ECC leadership can ensure smooth transitions for processes and people as new technology arrives in the center.

“I’ve had folks express concerns about the arrival of these technologies, having operated in an analog only environment for so long. What’s vital is that folks understand how these things are going to arrive and evolve. We need to be thinking about it now, not waiting for these technologies to arrive.”

D. Jeremy DeMar, Director of Springfield Emergency Communications Center

Quality assurance (QA) programs must evolve to factor in the nature of new data sources. QA should apply to all emergency communications, including police calls, fire calls, radio transmissions, and how telecommunicators are logging information. A formal program, clear priorities, and timely reviews are all characteristics of effective QA. APCO and NENA have provided a detailed resource for ECCs on how to establish a QA program.

Funding has historically posed one of the most substantial barriers to widespread NG911 adoption. RapidSOS has helped address this issue by making NG911 technology accessible at no cost to ECCs. Any agency can access NG911 data from the RapidSOS Clearinghouse with RapidLite – a free, web-based tool. RapidSOS works with technology companies to fund the connection of user and device data to public safety agencies. While not a coverall for all the benefits of NG911 mentioned above, RapidSOS provides over 3,000 agencies nationwide access to NG911 data from connected devices and apps today.

Multimedia Data and Telecommunicator Mental Health

One of the most significant impacts from multimedia data will fall on the Thin Gold Line of emergency response: 9-1-1 telecommunicators. While mental health challenges are not new for telecommunicators, receiving multimedia data in the ECC can create additional concerns for PTSD. DeMar has written a comprehensive research paper about introducing multimedia information in the PSAP for additional reading on the topic.

In the webinar, DeMar and RapidSOS’ Tracy Eldridge shared best practices for supporting the mental health telecommunicators. Read on for practical steps ECCs can take to care for telecommunicator well-being and resiliency.

Critical incident stress management consists of a facilitator-led group process conducted after a traumatic incident. The process should begin 24 to 48 hours after an incident and typically involves peers as well as professional clinical workers and counselors. The goal is to provide an early intervention to support recovery through a phased approach: fact, thought, reaction, symptoms, teaching, and re-entry.

Resilience training coaches telecommunicators to be strong but flexible, leading to faster and more effective recovery. Several organizations including the 9-1-1 Institute and the Healthy Dispatcher provide resilience training. Common steps to encourage improved resiliency include exercise, a healthy diet, mindfulness, community, timely assessments, and rest. Agencies can create wellness programs to help with many of these factors.

Knowing the signs of PTSD can help agencies respond promptly to incidents and provide proper care for effective management. Agencies should observe for and educate telecommunicators on characteristics of re-experiencing, avoidance, arousal and reactivity, and negative change in cognition.

Investing in these programs can help mitigate the mental health risks of multimedia in the ECC by providing enhanced support for telecommunicators. At the same time, agencies should be mindful of who has access to multimedia data and may opt for additional training or dedicated roles responsible for reviewing footage.

Prepare Your PSAP to Receive Next Generation 911 Data

The conclusion from DeMar is that NG911 technology is coming, and ECC leaders should embrace the change in order to effectively operationalize solutions and begin using life-saving technology as soon as possible.

RapidSOS provides access to NG911 data at no cost through RapidSOS Portal. Within a matter of weeks, any agency can start receiving data from sources including Apple, Google, Uber, and MedicAlert directly on telecommunicators’ screens. To sign up your agency, request access today, and your administrator account will be reviewed in two to four weeks.

Agencies can also access NG911 data from RapidSOS through integrations with their existing public safety software. You can view a list of our partners and request a free consultation to understand your integration options.

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