The public safety market is undergoing a technology transformation unlike any it has ever seen. From public safety broadband networks, to NG911, to smartphones, to wearable cameras and other devices under the Internet of Things (IoT) umbrella, technology is coming to market faster than the operational and regulatory processes can handle it. Along with this technology comes more than a pinch of marketing hype. As companies try to differentiate and promote their service it becomes more and more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. How do you, as a public safety official, separate fact from fiction and make the right choices for your agency?
With all the vendors making claims it’s important to proper due diligence which for new technologies may be different than the typical RFP process to which you are accustomed.
Understand the product maturity and your risk profile. In some cases, it is perfectly acceptable to try a new, untested product. For example, I recently saw a very cool app to help collect investigative information in a very structured manner. If it didn’t work, the worst that would happen is the investigator would have to revert to their manual process – evidence wasn’t lost, and more importantly lives weren’t lost, just a bit of time. You work through the bugs, try it again, and if it increase efficiency you have a win. On the other hand, emergency communications tools are mission critical. Whether it be secure messaging between responders or accurately identifying the location of a caller, emergency response technologies where lives are on the line leave little room for error.
Evaluate the end to end process impact. Just because a technology is cool or something is technically possible doesn’t mean it should be. A few years back a solution came to market promising to deliver enhanced information on 9-1-1 callers. The problem was it required the call takers to manually enter every call back number that was received into a web-based interface to check if data was available. The process impact was a non-starter even though the technology to look up information based on a phone number is pretty basic. Does the solution fit into any existing protocols? If not, does the flexibility exist to modify those protocols? Are any accreditations impacted?
Evaluate your exposure and liabilities. Do you have a contract with this vendor ensuring their availability (both technical and from a service and support standpoint)? Many apps attempts assume public safety agencies will adapt to their work flow without establishing service levels that meet with agencies stringent public-safety grade requirements. Even “free” solutions are usually far from costless. Are you comfortable promoting something without a contractual commitment to support your endorsement? Are you promoting an end-user behavior that is inconsistent with best established best practices (e.g. dialing a 10-digit line instead of 9-1-1 or texting instead of using a voice call to 9-1-1 when it’s not a necessity)? Additionally, because the process of deploying a solution into public safety can be long and your commitment in terms of dollars, time and operational adjustments can be significant, ensure that the company behind the solution is as committed to public safety as you are.
Check references. Where possible, always check references. If it’s not possible, question why. Again, for a nascent product there may not be references, but if the vendor is claiming to have a proven technology, find out with whom and how it was proven. Just because someone has a background in public safety or a specific technology doesn’t mean what they are selling does what you need it to do. Thankfully we are in an industry that gladly shares information. Leverage the willingness of your peers to learn about their experiences.
We are in an exciting time for public safety. The wave of technology change, driven by improved computing power, high bandwidth internet access, and open interfaces that has swept through other industries is driving innovation for us as well. Outdated processes and technologies will fall away and we’ll be able to provide a vastly improved experience to citizens. During this exciting time, it is important that we continue to apply some of the rigor developed over years of experience procuring public-safety grade solutions to this new wave of products. Personally, I’m proud of the fact that as a company, Rave has always stood by its claims and welcomes the opportunity to prove the value of its solutions and address any questions you may have.
Mobile safety applications such as Rave Guardian have garnered a lot of attention as tools that help students build a social safety net on campus and provide Public Safety with critical information such as “see something say something” tips and personal information that turbocharges an effective response from responders during a crisis or urgent situation.
One factor that is sometimes overlooked is the value an app provides to faculty and staff on campus, in hospitals, and in related facilities, as well. First and foremost, staff are specifically concerned with environmental safety, potentially more “on the lookout” for issues that might be occurring that require investigation or mitigation from Public Safety.
Safety tips to Public Safety from a concerned leader in your community have a very high value. Your staff are more focused on what should and shouldn’t be happening in their immediate vicinity. Staff familiar with the everyday workings of your environment are likelier to notice more nuanced anomalies – suspicious behavior, suspicious packages, an emerging violent situation or rioting, or just someone in need of assistance.
Staff teaching in remote locations, working non-standard hours, walking to remote parking areas, also want and deserve protection, even when the risks associated with the environment are not “panic” scenarios but instead are less specific concerns – reasonable concerns about individual safety while conducting the daily routines of your institution or enterprise.
With the number of high profile events such as active shooter scenarios, as well as ongoing threats such as erratic student behavior, many institutions have installed or been asked to install physical button devices in classrooms. While these provide a critical safety point during a panic event, they do have limitations:
- Obviously, the user needs to be in close proximity to the button, but what happens if an event is occurring in hallways or remote locations not near the user?
- Such devices limit control over who uses them; false activations may become a problem.
- The information such devices convey to responders is limited.
A mobile app provides an additional tool, carried nearly all the time as a ubiquitous device on the modern smartphone, that extends the reach of safety to connect faculty and staff to public safety resources. On college campuses, Rave Guardian provides the social safety net and connection point for inbound tips that can be used to extend the eyes and ears of public safety.
In addition to Guardian, Rave’s innovative Panic Button application can add situational awareness to panic events, notifying key responders during an active shooter or serious medical emergency – very much the mobile extension of the physical device.
So while a mobile app provides a high profile safety program that protects students in a college campus and helps parents feel more comfortable about how the institution is being proactive about campus safety, don’t forget the additional value point for the people who teach, instruct, and manage your campuses. They have a lot to contribute to your environmental safety, and they are the heart and soul of the mission of your university and a high priority for protection and safety.
For more information about Rave Guardian and Rave Panic Button, please contact us.
Whether you’ve thought about it as the ability to support text messaging, IP-based call routing, getting additional data on a caller, or something completely different, NG9-1-1 is finally becoming a reality for many jurisdictions. NG9-1-1 is formally defined by NENA as a system comprised of Emergency Services IP networks (ESInets), IP-based Software Services and Applications, Databases and Data Management processes that are interconnected to Public Safety Answering Point premise equipment. It changes the type of “calls” we receive AND provides the ability to enhance the response process with additional information about the incident. Intimately tied to the enhancements to the capabilities inside the PSAP, is the deployment of a public safety broadband network which will enable seamless data transfer to and from units in the field.
But what does that mean for those handling emergency calls for service? We’ve spent a lot of time talking about cool things that are enabled by this new technology, and even the training, recruiting and stress factors involved, but perhaps not enough about what it really means to how the telecommunicator’s role is really defined. In the traditional PSAP environment, a call is answered, triaged through a specific script and dispatched (either by the same individual or a separate dispatcher). In a Next-Gen PSAP (I’ll use the term Next-Gen to differentiate between the NG9-1-1 technology, and an entire process transformation), the “call” may come from a sensor indicating a dangerous condition. The “call” may be enhanced with other data such as nearby video feeds or building floor plans indicating locations of hazardous materials. Once the first responder is on site, additional information may flow from the scene such as wearable gas sensor data. This is just the tip of the iceberg with regard to data that will be at the fingertips of responders and call takers – from drone video feeds, to infrared optics that can look through buildings, to detailed medical histories. Already a whole new crop of aggregation, analytics and dashboards are emerging, not unlike those seen in a network operations center.
None of the scenarios listed above are probably seen as science fiction to most anymore. The real issue is how does this information change what we do. Triage is a term that is very applicable. Who will process new information, identifying what is relevant and distribute it to the appropriate parties? Many responders will tell you it is unreasonable to expect a responder running into a “hot” environment to be looking at their mobile device for situational awareness. Additionally, the traditional on-scene incident command model may be outdated. With video, drones and sensor technologies, far more information is available digitally than through our naked eye. The result is that incident commanders end up taking time to setup physically on scene in a sub-optimal environment (poor bandwidth, small screens, etc.) communicating what they see on screen over the radio or via messaging apps. So… does it make more sense to reconsider the PSAP as incident command? If so, what does that mean for the telecommunicator? Do they become a communications specialist supporting the incident commander?
Many larger cities like Albuquerque, Chicago, Miami and others have taken a Real Time Crime Center approach. These centers are basically fully staffed a support centers which engage oin more complicated calls for service, providing analytical support and even taking the role of incident command in some situations. For a larger center, this is a compelling model and one that makes sense given the sheer number of incidents they can effect. Smaller centers may not have the luxury of permanently staffing such an operation and will need to look at how they quickly spin up a mini-real time crime center inside the PSAP with existing personnel.
In our work around active shooter incidents, we’ve seen this type of model already in place in many PSAPs, albeit not with the full array of technology mentioned above. Because of the short duration of most active shooter incidents, responders recognize that it is not feasible to setup on scene incident command and simply run the initial phases of their operations from the PSAP. SOPs may dictate that a law enforcement shift supervisor deploys to the PSAP to coordinate the initial response. Inside the PSAP, the incident commander can draw not only on technology assets (video feeds, structure plans, emergency notification tools, etc) but also on the 9-1-1 staff for support. Making this model work requires a new way to view the job of 9-1-1. Because of the impact information can have on the response and the fact the availability of that information will continue to evolve over the life of the incident, telecommunicators can’t view their job as complete when responders are on scene. They must view themselves as a virtual responder, providing eyes and ears and helping to triage information for those in the line of fire.
There has been a lot of buzz lately around public-private partnerships (PPP). Forums have questions like “we’re considering a public-private partnership, what lessons can you share to help us?” Sometimes these questions are based on a misconstrued perception that a public-private partnership is some form of magical entity or process. The truth is that most agencies are already involved in a number of public-private partnerships, and it’s really more of a question of how effective the partnering aspect of the relationship is and the goals of the partnership. Further, the business model providing the framework of the partnership has a huge impact on the collaborative nature of the relationship(s).
The National Association of State Chief Information Officers provides a great framework for thinking about PPPs in their 2006 paper, “Keys to Collaboration: Building Effective Public-Private Partnerships” (http://www.nascio.org/publications/documents/nascio-keys%20to%20collaboration.pdf ). Several useful definitions of a PPP are put forth in that document. The Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships defines a public-private partnership as “a cooperative venture between the public and private sectors, built on the expertise of each partner, that best meets clearly define public needs through the appropriate allocation of resources, risks and rewards.” An alternate definition for Wendell C. Lawther’s 2002 report, Contracting for the 21st Century: A Partnership Model, further defines PPPs as: “Relationships among government agencies and private or nonprofit contractors that should be formed when dealing with services or products of highest complexity. In comparison to traditional contractor- customer relationships, they require radical changes in the roles played by all partners.” Wendell’s report emphasizes that the complexity of a project requires closer collaboration than a traditional vendor-customer relationship.
By their very nature, most public safety projects entail collaboration amongst many different parties to be effective. Consider the number of agencies touched by a CAD migration project. Similarly, deployment of our Panic Button solution, while not technically complex, involves 9-1-1, responder agencies, and school officials working on joint procedures across multiple levels. The highest impact technology changes, not necessarily just the most complex technologies, often drive the most process change and improvement and thus the need for close collaboration between those deploying the technology and those using it.
The NASCIO report details different types of contractual agreements that define partnerships. Contracts are clearly a necessary component of any partnership, but perhaps the most important insight of the report is:
Collaborative partnerships are non-legal working relationships that often occur between the public and private sectors to meet a common objective or goal. Primarily goodwill gestures, collaborative partnerships are often used to provide knowledge exchange or collective leverage resources for a specified goal. – NASCIO, “Keys to Collaboration: Building Effective Public-Private Partnerships”, 2006.
Collaboration, not just a contract, is the key to any form of public safety oriented partnership. A level of trust must exist between all parties that there is a common objective or goal.
Most PPP definitions and models focus on the implementation of a solution to a well-defined complex project. In fact, the Canadian Council definition above specifically highlights a project that “meets clearly define public needs”. A different type of public-private partnership that is often overlooked is joint product development. From “hack-a-thons” to white board sessions, these are far less about the successful implementation of a specific project as taking a completely new view of a challenge and “white boarding” what is possible. For Rave, our product development sessions during our annual customer conferences have resulted in some amazing innovations that neither my company nor the attendees even conceptualized before coming. These type of open brainstorming sessions where there the only agenda is breaking the old way of doing business are empowering for all involved and, I believe, are a model of what is possible in a true PPP.
Interestingly, a technology evolution and the resulting changes to contracting approaches has actually transformed the nature of many vendor-customer relationships into collaborations regardless of the project complexity. Traditional software license models created a natural us vs them mentality. The client negotiates what is to be delivered, purchases based on that expectation, pays and then hopes that they get what they expected. The large up-front cost locks the client into the vendor for a “cycle” regardless of how happy they are with the solution. Software-as-a-Service models are dependent on an on-going relationship. Many first year contracts actually cost the vendor much more than they bring in. The vendor depends on a happy client continuing the service for their very viability.
As you look at any project or joint product development effort, regardless of the complexity, consider how you can make the relationship collaborative. A public safety agency understands their unique requirements and business processes, while a vendor often brings to the table unique technical skill, resources and a vantage point across many clients. From evaluating the people you will deal with and their vision of success, to the technology fit, to the contracting model, each aspect of your relationship plays a role in determining the success of the project. Done correctly, a PPP can truly be a 1 plus 1 equals 3 situation.
I recently asked an emergency manager I know at a large midwestern university about how she made the judgment call on late night alerting for Clery Warnings. Her comment was “well, I get complaints if I do send the message and complaints if I don’t send the message. It seems obvious that since I can’t keep everyone happy, I should err on the side of sending the message.”
It’s a common dilemma, particularly with regard to messages such as Clery warnings where the threat may or may not be universal around the campus community but our institutions are required to send the message.
The Chronicle of Higher Education’s recent piece called “Too Many Campus Alerts” on overuse of emergency notification focuses on concerns and complaints about ‘message fatigue’, the concern that too much messaging introduces something like a “cry wolf” effect with campus notifications. The fact is, on every campus, a large percentage of mass notifications come down to judgment calls where it will often seem most prudent to send rather than not send.
I work for a mass notification vendor and in the course of my work get a lot of messages myself. Personally, I’ve never really found it all that big a deal to just browse past a message that’s not relevant to me, but clearly some take umbrage. Is it that college age humans just feel invulnerable, so it becomes fashionable, almost hipster, to sneer when my university tells me about a potential threat to public safety? It’s not that hard to read and remove a message when it’s not immediately relevant – especially when it may have lifesaving potential for others on campus.
Most campus public safety officials I’ve met seem genuinely concerned both with “actual” safety issues on campus and are committed to the need for greater transparency that is, we should remember, the reason behind directives for Clery Warning messages. There are many complexities to balance here….the need for openness, the need to keep students, staff and faculty feeling both protected and secure, and the fundamental need to make judgement calls quickly and effectively.
There are certainly best practices such as saving the most urgent channels for the most urgent messages via a prioritization policy thought out well in advance as part of routine emergency and public safety planning. And let’s also face the facts: it is probably unreasonable to expect that every member of a large campus community will put the same value on our safety information.
But I also think that we need to remind the campus every now and then that our mass notifications are a core safety hygiene, and just as we may not always find taking our vitamins or brushing teeth convenient, in the long view these are the rudiments of good health and worth the effort.
Additional Article Link: The University of North Carolina Daily Tar Heel provided some additional local commentary on the Chronicle article. Tat’yana Berdan covers the story in UNC students weigh in on Alert Carolina.
- It is not just about opt-in personal profiles… facility information displays based on the location of the caller, even if the caller did not register and can include floor plans, emergency response plans, etc.
- As an additional data gateway, it has been deployed on both IP and legacy networks on all major types of call taking and CAD combinations, and serves as a functional component of NG9-1-1 architectures.
- You can create cloud based notes on any call received, including in most cases Non-Service Initialized (NSI) phones. Call takers can view the notes and quickly see if the NSI phone is an elderly recipient of a free phone or a frequent prank caller.
- You can text back callers on dropped/hang ups. Clients using this feature report as much as an 80% improvement in closing cases. All messages are logged for audit purposes.
- Integrated with Rave Panic Button, it provides the only fully integrated application for school and corporate safety and gives 9-1-1 a scalable way to communicate with everyone at a facility.
- Smart911 is a National System and by the end of the year will touch nearly 10% of all 9-1-1 calls in the country.
- Through Smart911 Connect, which allows third party data sources to be delivered to 9-1-1, Smart911 was the first to demonstrate the delivery of real-time telematics data to a 9-1-1 center as well as data from third party apps.
- Smart911 is a product of Rave Mobile Safety, a leader in public safety software serving over 1,000 communities and 1,000 colleges and universities.
- Smart911 is integrated into Rave Mobile Safety’s emergency notification system which delivers 100s of millions of timely emergency messages per year.
- Smart911 has won awards from groups as diverse as the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials, American Business Awards, and CTIA (The Wireless Association).
- One additional bonus point – and the one we are most proud of – Smart911 has positively affected the outcome of responses across the country, helping d by delivering medical data, allergy information, language preferences, photos of missing children, enabling texting with callers who had a poor connection, and augmenting caller location information. Read some examples here.
This is the sixth post on results from Rave’s 2013 PSAP Survey to which 610 PSAPs from 50 states responded. This post covers polices around social media and internet access. See the fifth post here on NG9-1-1 implementation statuses.
Q1: Is Internet access provided at each Telecommunicator workstation? For example, can a Telecommunicator access a web browser and perform a basic task, such as running a search in Google, Bing, or another search engine?
2. Is E-mail provided at each Telecommunicator workstation?
3. Does your social media policy address access and use while:
4. Do you permit your Telecommunicators to access Social Media while on duty and at their workstation?
5. Which, if any, of the following PERSONAL electronic devices do you permit your Telecommunicators to use while on duty?
A recent advertisement from USAA got me thinking about customer loyalty and satisfaction. I have been a loyal USAA customer for 25 years. I’ve never even looked around to see whether I could get insurance or banking and investment services anywhere else. It doesn’t even cross my mind. Recently at Rave we did a Netpromoter-like survey to gauge customer satisfaction and their likelihood to recommend us to their peers. I’m proud to say our scores were fantastic and when coupled with our 99% client retention rate, are a testament to the hard work of our team; however, the question remains: how does a company deliver service in such a way that clients don’t even consider other options. Based on my personal experience with USAA, here are some simple keys to building a long-term partnership with your clients:
1) Deliver what you promise and make sure the promise is what the customer needs. At the core of customer satisfaction is a feeling that you received fair value for what you paid. One of USAA’s main products is insurance. Over the years I’ve had several occasions where I needed to call them (that one time a tree jumped in front of my car on a snowy day, the ice dams on the roof that caused a shower to form in the middle of our kitchen, etc.). The immediate response wasn’t them sending me a form to justify reimbursement. In the case of home repairs, one time they asked what the repair estimate was and sent a check before I had any written invoice. With car repairs they simply told me to get the car to the shop and they would handle everything. They truly delivered what they promised – I pay for insurance to just make the problem go away when an accident occurs. That has real value to me. Knowing that the service is just there, no questions asked. Similarly, the primary goal of a public safety application must be that it just works. When there is an emergency on campus, the button needs to send out messages quickly. When a 9-1-1 call is made, we need to deliver information we have about the caller. No bell or whistle can compensate for a solution not working at advertised when it’s needed. It hasn’t been easy, but over the years we’ve had to turn down many potential clients because we knew we weren’t the best solution for their needs. Ultimately, any relationship will go bad if you overpromise and under-deliver.
2) Listen to your customers. A large percentage of USAA’s client base is active duty military. They move often and are never near a USAA branch office (in fact, I don’t know that there is such a thing). ATM fees can be painful when the only way you have to get cash is to go to another bank’s machine. So, how did USAA respond? They reimburse the fees paid to use someone else’s ATM. Does this cost them? Sure. But, I’m sure those fee costs are off-set by the low customer churn they experience. I have no idea if the interest rate on my account is better or worse than another bank, but I know that as I travel around I don’t have to worry about paying additional fees. My bank understands and has addressed a need expressed by their customers. One of the things we have done for a number of years at Rave is host a client advisory group. We bring in our public safety clients and bounce ideas off them. It isn’t us just telling them our roadmap, it’s them creating our roadmap. We’ve created new initiatives from this process that never would have come about organically and killed ones that would have resulted in failure. I’m excited that in the upcoming months we’ll be reinvigorating that same model on our Higher Education side of the business. No one knows their needs better than the customer themselves, the key is to listen to them not just speak at them.
3) Follow the Golden Rule. As I mentioned above, when I’ve had an issue that required me to engage with my insurance provider, I didn’t have to justify why I was calling or fill out forms in triplicate before getting a response. When you need insurance it usually isn’t your best day, you just want to be treated with respect and fairness. That doesn’t mean that you don’t eventually have to do the dirty paperwork, or that you won’t have a question over why you were paid X instead of Y. Questions inevitably occur when money changes hands, but questions don’t result in conflict when both parties treat each other with respect and understanding. One aspect of our culture that I am very proud of is our customer-centric focus. Whether someone can’t remember how to perform a certain function with one of our tools, or is chasing down details on an incident, our services team treats every incident like they were the one with the Chief or Chancellor breathing down their neck for action. When respect for others is at the core of your culture, it pays dividends most during stressful situations.
Successful companies are built on long-term relationships with their customers. We are proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, but like any company need to continue to evolve and learn from others. USAA provides a great model for us to emulate, but most importantly we have a team passionate about helping our clients improve safety.
This is the fifth post on results from Rave’s 2013 PSAP Survey to which 610 PSAPs from 50 states responded. This post covers the state of NG9-1-1 implementations. See the forth post here on training and workforce statistics.
Q1: Which statement about Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) most accurately reflects your PSAP’s current position? As you can see from the chart below, most agencies are awaiting state level action.
Q2: Which statement about Text to 9-1-1 most accurately reflects your PSAP’s current position?
Q3: What single initiative would you undertake in 2013, but are unable to due to budget constraints? The word density map below shows the frequency of response terms.
Next up, use of Social Media in the PSAP…
This is the forth post on results from Rave’s 2013 PSAP Survey to which 610 PSAPs from 50 states responded. This post covers PSAP training, turnover, staffing and other work force stats. See the third post here on 9-1-1 call answer times.
First, a couple general stats of interest from the responses:
- Average Vacancy Rate = 7%
- Average annual turnover rate (percentage of staff lost in most recent 12-month period) = 9.5%
- Average percentage of your total personnel cost associated with overtime = 13%
Q1. Do you have blended call taking and dispatching roles or separate roles? 66% report that calls are answered and dispatched by the same telecommunicator. Larger centers were more weighted toward separate call taking and dispatching functions.
Q2: What is the composition of the PSAP’s workforce?
Q3: What type of shifts does your telecommunications staff work?
Q4: What Telecommunicator shift length do you believe to be ideal for achieving operational efficiency, effectiveness (employee performance and cost), and an adequate work-life balance?
Q5: If your answer to the ideal shift length question was different from the actual shift length utilized in your PSAP, please select the reason(s) for not changing it.
Q6: How many hour of training are REQUIRED per year for a Telecommunicator?
Next up, NG9-1-1 and New Technologies…
This is the third post on results from Rave’s 2013 PSAP Survey to which 610 PSAPs from 50 states responded. This post covers call answering performance. See the second post here on 9-1-1 call volumes and use of scripted protocols.
What is the performance standard or goal for call answer time (i.e. time interval from call receipt at PSAP to first Telecommunicator answering)?
Note: Respondents met the call answer performance standard in the most recent 12-month period on average 87% of the tine
What is the performance standard or goal for call processing time (i.e. answer to call dispatch time)?
Note: Respondents met the call answer to call dispatch time performance standard in the most recent 12-month period on average 96% of the time
Next up, training, turnover and other workforce statistics…
This is the second post on results from Rave’s 2013 PSAP Survey to which 610 PSAPs from 50 states responded. This post covers 9-1-1 call volumes and dispatch volumes as well as the use of scripted protocols. See the first post here on the respondents funding and oversight models.
When we look at the average number of emergency calls processed per day per position versus the number of primary call taking positions at the PSAP we see clearly that the smaller PSAPs are not at the same utilization rate as the larger ones; however, there is also an interesting peak of “business” around the 5-7 calls position point.
As expected, most dispatched calls are for law enforcement. The “other” category included such things as animal control and miscellaneous after hours municipal services.
Most agencies utilized EMD protocols, but far fewer use scripted and structured calls for Fire and Law Enforcement response. For those that were not using scripted protocols for either Fire or Law, about 60% stated they were currently evaluating moving to using them.
Next up, performance statistics…
In the early summer of 2013, Rave conducted an anonymous survey on 9-1-1 operations, work force management, and technology initiatives. 610 PSAPs from 50 states responded to the Survey, with 96% being primary PSAPs and 4% secondary. Due to the survey methodology, we could never assign a true confidence interval and sampling error to the study and thus it languished and wasn’t ever published. I recently dusted it off and pulled out the data which is unambiguous and provides clear trends and insights, if not always 100% statistically accurate. Over a series of posts, I’ll share the results. First up… some basic information about 9-1-1 funding models and oversight on the agencies that responded.
What entity is responsible for oversight of your PSAP?
For how many jurisdictions (i.e. towns, cities, counties) and agencies (i.e. law enforcement, fire, EMS, etc.) does your PSAP provide service? This provides a good picture into the average size of agencies responding representing a broad spectrum.
Time. Time is the single most important variable when we look at mitigating the impact of a mass or active shooter incident. Despite the current discussion over whether there have been 15 or 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook (depending on your definition of a school shooting), we can all agree that there are too many. Preventing further mass shootings on school campuses, in businesses, places of worship and elsewhere will require a multifaceted approach and should be a top priority. We also need to spend considerable effort on mitigating the consequences when one does occur, as we are unlikely to ever fully eliminate their occurrence.
Researchers and law enforcement agencies have studied active shooter incidents from every conceivable angle – the frequency of attacks, the location of the incident, the predisposition of the shooter to committing the act, the number of victims, what caused the resolution of the incident, etc – but one indisputable fact is that the longer the incident lasts, the more casualties it will produce. According to a 2012 NYPD study only 16% of the 230 active shooter incidents reviewed ended without applied force – either by PD, security, bystanders or the attacker. That is to say, until someone – law enforcement officer or otherwise – confronts or challenges the shooter, he keeps firing shots. By reducing the notification time of bystanders on scene and responding police officers, the attacker has a smaller window to kill and inflict injury.
In another study of 84 active shooter incidents occurring between 2001 and 2010, researchers J. Pete Blair and Hunter Martindale found that in just over half of the cases (51%, or 43 out of 84), police arrived on scene while the shooting was still ongoing. In 49% of the cases, police arrived after the conclusion of the incident. In those cases, either the shooter stopped the attack by committing suicide, walking away, or victim intervention stopped the attacker. The breakdown of the resolution of these 84 incidents is depicted by the following graphic:
While the recommended actions taken by bystanders and law enforcement differ, both serve to reduce the target potential for the attacker. The first two elements of the now familiar “Run > Hide > Fight” guidance for bystanders directly impacts the number of targets through a combination of fleeing and restricting the attacker’s access to more victims by initiating lockdown procedures. As the attacker runs out of targets, it is a reasonable assumption that he will attempt suicide (40% of the 230 cases reviewed by the NYPD). If he does not, then at least he has fewer targets, and the police have fewer bystanders impeding their ability to contact the shooter. When evacuation and hiding are not viable options, then the guidance is for bystanders to forcefully attack the shooter with whatever improvised weapons they can find.
Minimizing the time interval between the first indication of an attack and bystander and law enforcement notification and intervention will limit the number of casualties. I’ll call this the reaction time. How can reducing the reaction time be accomplished most effectively? In addition to training school officials, students and first responders, we at Rave believe strongly that technology plays a critical role. Leveraging the unique features and widespread use of Smart911, we have developed Rave Panic Button to enhance school security. By arming school (or any other industry) employees with a smart phone based app that, when activated, does several unique things. Firstly, it dials 9-1-1 to allow for a verbal exchange of information between the reporting party and the 9-1-1 call taker. Secondly, it automatically launches the Smart911 viewer at the 9-1-1 call taker’s workstation. The Panic Button viewer displays a profile of the school, including floor plans and access points, key procedures, contact information of administrators, and much more. Because the app is integrated with Smart911, any landline, VoIP device, or hard-wired panic button can also be tied into and used to trigger the system.
Lastly, Panic Button provides a real-time notification and communications platform for collaboration among school officials, employees, 9-1-1 and first responders. The app can be configured to send all users an automatic message the moment that someone activates the system. This immediate notification, and subsequent hosted in-app messaging platform, affords everyone on scene with the ability to take immediate action – Run > Hide > Fight – or whatever their procedures call for. Responding officers are provided with situational awareness that they simply do not have today. It is impossible for every officer to be familiar with the layout of every school or commercial facility in his or her jurisdiction. Simply knowing the access points and layout of the campus allows for more rapid contact with the aggressor, which, in turn, leads to a faster resolution and lower number of casualties. All of these features reduce the reaction time of both bystanders on scene and responding law enforcement personnel.
As Rave continues to support public safety agencies and educational institutions across the country, we are constantly developing and enhancing the capabilities of our solution stack. Panic Button is just the latest example of how we translate the needs of public safety into functional software and smart phone applications. Frankly, Rave’s collaboration and industry involvement is what prompted me to leave the public sector and join their team, and assisting with the development of products that make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis is extremely rewarding for all of us here.
We see a lot of requests for proposals for various safety applications, and many have this question: “Does your solution have an app?”. Umm… well, yes. Lots. In fact, one of our apps (Rave Guardian) is probably more widely deployed than all other campus safety apps put together (ok, end of the self promotional horn tooting). Does that give me a higher score on the RFP? Then yesterday I saw an announcement from the new head of a government agency outlining their strategy as “building more apps”. What is wrong with both of these scenarios? An app is not a strategy.
Let’s first define an app. While app is short for application and can apply to any type of software which performs a function, most folks now mean software designed to run on a mobile phone, more specifically smartphones. Apps are typically downloaded onto a phone via an app store, the two biggest obviously being Apple’s iTunes or Google’s Play Store. They can be self contained, meaning all the functions and user experience run natively on the device or they can leverage a mobile data connection to interact with other services on the web.
So, back to the original statement… why is an app not a strategy? An app is simply a mobile interface for performing some function. Ideally that function is solving a problem for the user. You are applying technology to a challenge, hence the name “application”. Google maps is a good example. The problem being solved is making it easier to find something. You access it from your desktop computer via a web site (a web “app”), via a mobile friendly web site (maybe the same site accessed from your web site that is responsive to the device viewing it), or via an app on your smartphone. The app is merely taking advantage of some unique capabilities afforded through the mobile operating system (e.g. access to your GPS location) to make the “problem solving experience” smoother.
When an RFP asks “does your solution have an app” it is not clear what problem they are trying to solve. Is there a problem with cell coverage that requires a function to run natively and operate without a data connection? Are they trying to make the experience of sending a notification easier from a mobile phone? Are they trying to enable students or citizens to more easily interact and share information with responders? A mobile app is a means of solving a problem, and often a very powerful one, but the key is to understand the problem. A strategy addresses a “customer” need. That customer might be a lost traveler trying to find the nearest gas station or a deaf caller trying to report a car accident.
There are a number of reasons this is important for public safety to get their hands around. First, don’t spend money on apps unless you understand what you are trying to accomplish. Just getting an app is not a strategy. Second, remember that an app is just one way to perform a function. I’ve been working in a standards group looking at how apps interact with public safety. Looking at apps in a vacuum is short sighted. If history has taught us anything, we know that technology will evolve faster than we anticipate and in ways we can’t guess.
An app on my iPhone might be all the rage today, but in 5 years people might wonder at how clunky it was to click buttons with your finger while they speak into a voice enabled cloud. Driven off a wristband that uses 2-factor authentication based on their voice and DNA finger prints the user may simply say “get me to the nearest 4-star rated steak house” and have the route visually projected in front of them. If they say “that looks good” the route is projected via Bluetooth to their driverless car and they are instantly taken to the restaurant. There may be no concept of an app, just access as you go services without any downloads or click through interfaces.
So how strategic is it really to say your strategy is to build (or buy) an app? Be wary of those trying to sell you a service on the grounds of the service being delivered as a phone app. Instead, make sure you are buying something because it solves a problem you have.
OK… I’ll admit right off the bat that given the myriad of issues we face in public safety, patent reform does not bubble to the top of the to do list. Having said that, as a vendor, I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about intellectual property and over the past couple weeks patent reform has been a hot topic in the news. It also has big potential impacts on our industry.
Congress is debating the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act to reform parts of the patent process (http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/09/senate-patent-reform-bill-delayed-yet-again/) while the Supreme Court is taking up a case called Alice Corp v. CLS Bank. At first glance, you’d be hard pressed to see why any of this applies to a public safety practitioner, but the reality is that both the legislation reform and the court case could have far reaching effects on innovation in our industry and others.
At the core of the Supreme Court case is the fact that many technology patents are around ideas and processes, not physical machines. The court has previously ruled that “mental steps” are not patentable, but an innovative process to solve a real-world challenge that happens to have logical steps that are implemented by a machine is patentable. What does that mean practically? Every software patent issued over the past couple decades describes a real-world challenge and has a machine (computer) executing steps to solve that problem.
The cost of software development has dropped drastically over the past 10 years, but the true cost of innovation has not. Between open source libraries, powerful programming languages, off-shore development and new development tools it is possible to create applications faster than ever.
The cost today is not the “coding” but the workflow and design around what will be created. Innovative companies must spend significant effort and resources to identify the core issues the software should solve and how best to solve those issues. That takes time and effort. It’s not just about sitting down and writing software code. In fact, many studies show that developers actually only spend between 18 and 25% of their time actively “coding”, the rest is spent fixing bug/issues, collaborating around requirements, and designing how they’ll meet those requirements (and some admin time). Adding in product management and design specific roles, and you see that the investment in “mental steps” around any successful product is significant. I estimate Rave’s investment in design to be about 3 to 1 vs actual implementation.
So what does that mean for public safety?
The patent system is broken, and is creating perverse incentives around product development that in many ways discourage investment in innovation. Without innovation by vendors, the vision of NG9-1-1 and FirstNet will not be fully realized. For many, there is huge financial value in letting others take the risks in innovative research and then rapidly copying their approach.
Without proper protection for those willing to make that investment in research (which entails lots of trial and error), there is an incentive to wait and see what others do. Often this “fast follower” approach involves infringing on existing intellectual property with the full knowledge that it is not worth the effort of the “first mover” company to pursue the issue. For others, there is a financial model in attacking legitimate companies with a portfolio of only partially applicable patents. Often called patent trolls, these entities don’t have a vested interest in the success of an industry, and very often don’t have valid claims, but hope that legitimate vendors will pay them to stop impeding business.
I’m not sure how the Supreme Court will handle the current case, or how the legislation currently working its way through congress to reform the system will ultimately be implemented, but adding friction, risk and costs to a system does not result in a better or more cost effective solution. In fact, many would argue that the costs and complexity of our current system are biased towards larger firms.
On the flip side, a strong patent system that is effective in protecting intellectual property rights is a key underpinning of the successful innovation in an industry. One of the great virtues of capitalism is rewarding those that are willing to take risks and make bets on the future. For years, the U.S. patent system protected small innovative companies from being over-run by large pocketed rivals, and prevented incumbents who invest heavily in innovation from always having a less cost effective financial model. I’m hopeful we’ll come up with changes to the system that recognize the value of hard work and innovation to our industry, while also simplifying what can be an archaic and painful process.
In preparation for our upcoming Whole Community Preparedness Conference, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we in the emergency communications business can learn from other industries.
Smart911 was born in no small part out of some of the concepts in place in commercial call centers around customer understanding and experience. In my quest for seeing what other industries are doing, I kept coming back to the challenges facing the U.S. military in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.On the news we see videos of bombs dropping or maps of troop movements. We hear stories about last minute mission approvals from across the globe going down to the soldier in the field in seconds. We see pictures of tents in the middle of the desert filled with monitors streaming situational data and racks of secure radios.
The flood of data coming into a tactical command center sounds a lot like what we experience in a PSAP and are wrestling with as NG9-1-1 increases the number of inputs. The demands on a broadband wireless network must be even more stringent than what we are envisioning with FirstNet in terms of security, resiliency, and the ability to be quickly deployed. What lessons can we learn in terms of communications and command and control from a decade of combat experiences from our military?
It turns out the Army has been doing a ton of work in this area under the heading Capability Set 13 (CS13). CS13 is “a package of network components, associated equipment and software that provides an integrated network capability from the static Tactical Operations Center (TOC) to the dismounted Soldier” (http://www.army.mil/standto/archive/issue.php?issue=2012-09-26). The goal is to allow units to utilize advanced satellite-based systems — augmented by data radios, handheld devices and the latest mission command software — to transmit voice/chat communications and situational awareness data. Sound familiar?
I’ve been working on an APCO project trying to define how NG9-1-1 and FirstNet interoperate and that sounds like a pretty good definition! The first Division to deploy this is the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division. “Imagine you’re a Soldier and you need information on a given area, or you want to see where units are located to your left and right,” Brig. Gen. Walter E. Piatt, deputy commanding general for support, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry) said. “You don’t want to have to come back to headquarters; you don’t want to have to force a transmission over a radio net just to get that. You want to have that information readily available. (This network) allows us to do that on the move, and allows us to do it dismounted as well.” (http://www.army.mil/article/97910/First_unit_readies_for_Afghanistan_with_new_network/ )
BGs Flynn and Grigsby writing in AUSA Magazine about mission command and driving institutional adaptability made a bold statement about the need for information, that easily translates to our PSAPs and First Responders, saying “In today’s information-dominated environment, how we connect, acquire and distribute information is as powerful a determinant of unit performance as the ability to fire ballistic weapons systems or maneuver forces” (http://www.ausa.org/publications/armymagazine/archive/2012/02/Documents/Flynn_0212.pdf ). If the Army views information and their ability to effectively acquire and distribute it as critically as the ability to shoot at the enemy, shouldn’t we in public safety take a hard look at how we can better incorporate it into our operations?
They went on to highlight another key learning for public safety agencies that should also ring true to those looking at implementing new technologies, “The Army has been fairly effective at producing and providing technology solutions to our formations but dreadful at providing the supporting education and training down to the user level. This is exacerbated when commercial off- the-shelf products are introduced to fill mission requirements because the institutional support is not planned for or available.”
We have a lot to learn from the military’s experience, but one key takeaway is that without a holistic approach including technology, education (both industry and the public) and effective hiring and training, any public safety project is doomed to failure. Ensuring our responders are armed with the information they need to more effectively respond and protect themselves is too important a project to fail.
In addition to our Whole Community Preparedness Seminar May 6 in Boston, we also have an upcoming webinar where Mark Fletcher, Bill Schrier and I will discuss the changing role of 9-1-1 as NG9-1-1 and FirstNet become a reality. Hope you can join us:
“NG9-1-1/FirstNet and the Changing Role of 9-1-1 ” on Wednesday, April 9th at 2:00 EDT https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/603477159
Based on our 2013 survey of over 600 PSAPs across all 50 states, here is the reported status of Text-to-911 projects.
One general personal safety issue — one could argue that it’s the central issue around protecting students, faculty and staff on any given day — is that colleges and universities confront personal safety threats that are not always urgent, critical, life-threatening events that require Public Safety or Emergency Management to intervene. How do we protect the community as it goes about the routine business of conducting ordinary campus life?
- Navigating campus facilities and parking areas at all hours of the day and night
- Transportation system safety (buses, trains, etc)
- Risks in surrounding neighborhoods for off campus populations
- Special features of the specific campus location
- Potential medical complications from drug interactions or allergies
- Social interactions that might turn dangerous:
- Date rape and other forms of sexual violence (often occurring within a victim’s social circle)
- Excessive drinking or partying
- Dangerous celebrations after, e.g., sporting events
- Hazing and bullying
- Stalking and other threatening behavior directed at an individual
Keeping the campus safe is a formidable task when you consider that threats and risks are often not apparent until an individual’s risk escalate and require direct intervention from public safety. And in our campus communities, some sub-populations we serve are at higher risk than others and may have special vulnerabilities.
Personal safety technology can provide obvious benefits during the escalation – the idea of a panic button to reach out immediately to police and campus safety. Media coverage of problems and events, even Clery Early Warnings themselves in some cases, generate awareness but also have a potential side-effect of making our communities “feel” less safe.
But “everyday risks” simmer below the attention of public safety until something more drastic occurs, and often campus safety does not have the staffing to watch over individuals who are going about the mission of the institution on a daily basis – living our lives, doing what we do.
Universities find they need a suite of safety programs to address the more amorphous risks that define the idea of “personal safety” in the campus environment. These include Clery warnings, safe walk programs, bluelight devices, community tip lines to involve the community, smartphone applications, cameras and surveillance equipment, and education programs that teach the community self-protection strategies.
Rave has lately been focusing on the friction points that deter people who don’t perceive themselves at a high risk level. One example is the use of location-aware personal contact messaging and precautionary timers in the Rave Guardian App Version. Many students already rely on roommates and close friends and family to be on the watch. Rave has focused on building a friction-free interface to update the user’s personal network with a convenient messaging interface with multimedia support.
Students and faculty can use these features to inform their personal networks about everyday situations that fall below the threshold of intervention from public safety – going to a party with friends, walking alone late at night, dating a new acquaintance, and similar events. Apps give the user power and control in hand via the ease of use of a modern smartphone interface provides, which in turn makes it easier to ask our social network to watch over us.
Our institutions certainly require comprehensive safety awareness, programs and technology to provide robust support for the community. These form the basis of preventive safety that tries to head off problems before they require police or other administrative attention.
UPDATE: Since the initial publishing of this blog, the FCC has issued proposed requirements for indoor location that include z-axis. There has been widespread debate about the technical feasibility of such an aggressive timeline but it is great to see recognition of the issue: http://www.fcc.gov/document/proposes-new-indoor-requirements-and-revisions-existing-e911-rules
Dispatching isn’t about location, it’s about getting resources to the incident as quickly as possible. We recently had a situation where Smart911 was instrumental in helping save an individual that was unable to communicate their location. In itself this is not an unusual use case for our service, in fact we recently had a call from an individual living in a rural area where simply providing the home address for a mobile caller turned out to be the difference between life and death (see post here about the FCC location accuracy requirements and why it is not uncommon to get poor E911 location in rural areas), but the fact that the individual lived in a more urban environment and had provided detailed instructions about how to get to his apartment got me thinking.
The picture below shows our old New York City office. The red circle represents a “3-D” 15m accurate location bid. Clearly today we don’t get any indication of the vertical axis, but even allowing for a z-reading you can see the difficulty in locating a non-communicative caller. What you may not be able to easily see is that that circle actually overlays two different buildings with separate entrances. In fact, a typical 25m hit would have covered 3 separate entrances. What you definitely can’t see is the complexity of entrances and stairwells inside the building. The fourth floor for example is (if I remember correctly) actually accessed via a private stairway in the third floor. Imagine the time lost getting to a caller when you start in the wrong building, then eventually get in the right building to start guessing floors, and only to find the floor you actually want to get to is inaccessible.
This is not a hypothetical situation. Late last year a heroic NYC Fire Dispatcher stayed on line with a stroke victim for nearly 8 hours trying to get responders to the callers location (http://pix11.com/2013/06/16/fdny-dispatcher-stays-on-the-phone-for-eight-hours-to-help-a-stroke-victim/#ixzz2swr1rkfJ ). The E9-1-1 call location showed the address as East 71st Street, while in reality she was on the other side of the wall at East 72nd Street. Given that stroke is an extremely time sensitive disease process, this delay no doubt negatively impacted this person’s morbidity / quality of life. And remember, the “accuracy” might have been within a few meters and yet still did not provide a useful address.
What’s my point? Lately we’ve become very focused on improving location accuracy. The real need is to improve the ability to get resources to the caller quicker – that involves using improved wireless location-based services, but also things like keeping accurate floor and access instructions up to date and available, as well as providing the call taker with the home and work address associated with a given phone number and access instructions. Let’s not solve an issue only to find it really didn’t fully address the problem.
Ok, I admit I’ve always wanted to go to CES 2014 (the premier consumer electronics and tech show held every year in Las Vegas), but when the folks at NENA asked me to participate in a panel on Broadband and emergency communications I have to admit I first thought “Umm… why?”. My job is to address emergency communications challenges –whether those are about getting a message out in a mass notification or making sure first responders know about an individual’s circumstances by delivering relevant data. What does that have to do with cool new consumer toys? But of course I said yes :).
Looking back, my short stay at CES was a great experience. We in public safety cannot ignore consumer technology trends and really need to pay much closer attention to them. We can try to pretend that our 40 year old landline based infrastructure is enough, but that’s really akin to taking an ostrich approach – stick your head in the stand and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Traditionally, we’ve waited to innovate until citizens demand it. Given the pace of technology innovation, that approach will leave us in a mode of continual catch up. Walking around the show floor and listening to the keynote speeches, it’s impossible to miss the trends: everything is going to be connected and Moore’s law continues (computers and getting more powerful and smaller). As amazed as I am at the technology coming to a lapel pin, baby onesie or watch near you, I was equally stunned at the lack of knowledge in the broader consumer industry about how 9-1-1 works.
So… here are my big takeaways:
As an industry we need to do a better job educating other industries. When carriers were in control of communications and devices that could connect to 9-1-1, it was pretty easy to manage both expectations and the reality of connections. Guess what? We’ve lost control. We’ve lost control because ever-advancing technology has so drastically lowered, if not eliminated, the barriers to develop a device or app with two-way communications capabilities.
I spoke with dozens of vendors producing products ranging from door locks and home monitoring systems controlled through an app on your phone to glucose and heart monitoring apps. All saw that the natural evolution of their solutions was a “call for help”. When you really dug into what that meant, the answers were scary. The most common answers were “we’ll just push a message into 9-1-1” or “We’ll automatically text message a trusted friend”. Really? Who does that friend call when they get your alert, and what does that 9-1-1 call taker in a different area do about the resulting request? How do you “push a message” to 9-1-1 and to which 9-1-1 center? How does the 9-1-1 call taker process that information and translate it into an appropriate emergency response (if one is even warranted)? How do we ensure that 9-1-1 call takers aren’t overwhelmed by the vast array of information that might be headed their way?
We need to make sure those creating products for consumers understand what we do and how to engage with us. These technologies are amazing and the innovation can have a huge impact on our ability to recognize and respond to emergencies, but only if we engage the broader industry community. Clearly the folks at NENA are leading this charge as participation in the CES session this year showed. They need our support. Also, through our Smart911Connect platform, we have begun to engage a broad spectrum of entities wishing to deliver data to 9-1-1 and are excited about the doors it has opened.
Embedded devices and extremely small form factor computers will revolutionize first responder tools, and drive the need for better collaboration and communication. Intel’s CEO demonstrated an amazing array of products that will come to market in 2014. Moore’s law continues to hold true, with Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showing a chip that looked the size of a nickel that was a fully functioning computer containing not only a processor rivaling my laptop but Bluetooth and wifi as well. Coupled with a new wave to micro-monitoring devices, the possibilities for public safety and first responder tools are near limitless. Imagine the badge of the future that not only includes one of these mini computers. Linked to other nearby badges via Bluetooth, wifi (or FirstNet), sensors for detecting temperature, mini cameras, sound sensors and even CO2 levels you could create a mesh network of computers that are constantly evaluating threats based on heat, the location of shots fired, CO2 levels, the lack of proximity to others, etc. The possibilities are limitless, but without effective command and control and communications the potential benefits will not be fully realized.
Seeing all the amazing innovation at CES was thrilling, and a little scary at the same time. We are in a period of rapid and immense technology change. We in the public safety industry need to embrace innovation, but temper that embrace with good old fashioned common sense and a bunch of redundancy!
Recently, issues with E911 location accuracy have been all over the news, even hitting the mainstream press like the Wall Street Journal and USAToday. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, recently stated at the APCO Emerging Technology Conference “ you call 9-1-1 from a wireless phone indoors, cross your fingers”.
Clearly, location is the most valuable single piece of information needed by 9-1-1. It determines to where the call is routed, and is the basis of dispatching resources. With over 70% of calls now coming from wireless, we are increasing dependent on E911 technology to determine the location of callers (see a brief primer on the different types of technologies in this post). With that in mind, the FCC created location accuracy standards. The infographic below gives a hint at the root of the issue for wireless location callers:
There are two separate standards based on the technology used by the wireless carrier to provide caller location. Increasingly, carriers have moved off the network-based methods to GPS technology. GPS chips have become standard in most phones and are heavily utilized by commercial applications. While the standards for the different technologies are scheduled to merge into one standard by 2019, it’s important to note that whether a carrier utilizes Network-based technologies (essentially trilateralization – or using the signal strength from cell towers to determine a users position) or GPS technology, there are pretty significant gaps in how often an “accurate” location must be provided.
Recent reports from a number of public safety entities have highlighted that these accuracy standards are not being met, particularly for indoor callers. The network-based approach has a distinct advantage over straight GPS approaches in indoor location where satellite signals have difficulty penetrating (it is important to note that many carriers today use a hybrid of GPS and network technology called A-GPS). Interestingly, according a recent CTIA report titled “Setting the Record Straight”, a founding organization of the http://findme911.org/ coalition is a technology provider that has significant intellectual property around the network based approach and suffers financially as other technologies are used. The report also claims that the accuracy reports being circulated are not completely factual, highlighting that many of the results were prior to re-bids being performed to get better location data.
Leaving the spat around E9-1-1 location technologies aside, and the accuracy or lack thereof of various reports, I’d like to look at some of the core issues around location being delivered to 9-1-1 that we’ve run into in deploying Smart911 and some of the cool solutions being developed by Rave and others to address those challenges:
Multiline VOIP PBX Calls – If you work in a PSAP with any large campus in the area you’ve probably struggled with the accuracy of PS-ALI data. Callers often display as being at the main IT office even though they may be several buildings (or more) away. Existing solutions are expensive, and many communities are reluctant or unable to enforce expensive PBX upgrades, or unwilling to place penalties, on businesses in their area even where legislation exists. One approach we’ve been working on with Avaya and Conveyant, is to leverage the existing network capabilities for routing calls but reaching “over the top” or around the network directly to the PBX switch itself to get accurate caller location. The advantage being that there is no lag or expense in provisioning new lines or changes as well as the ability to provide much richer data than can be pushed natively through the 9-1-1 network (e.g. floor plans, on-site security personnel contact information, etc.).
Accuracy of indoor location – As highlighted in the reports on location accuracy issue put forth by California, parts of Texas and others, indoor location is particularly problematic. As we near 40% of the U.S. population being “wireless only”, more and more 9-1-1 calls are being made from home over wireless networks. Not only does this mean the x-y (or lat/long) coordinates are less accurate, but there is no z-coordinate on callers. In other words, you may see that a caller came from the general area of a tall apartment complex when a call comes in with 50m location accuracy, but will not really be sure of which building and will have no indication of which floor the caller is on. There are a couple of interesting solutions here. At it’s very simplest, Smart911 provides the callers registered address or addresses. Telecommunicators simply match the ALI data with the nearby Smart911 addresses for a good starting point on where the caller may be in the event they cannot provide their location themselves. There is also an increasing amount of work on indoor locations using wifi, Bluetooth, and even light spectrum. In our testing, if properly configured some of these can provide a good augmentation to existing 9-1-1 location data when delivered in an “over the top” method such as Smart911 and matched with existing floor plans.
Remote Areas – as you can see in the infographic above, significant gaps are built into the standards for rural areas. In fact, up to 40% of counties EXEMPT from any form of location accuracy standard the network based approach (this is primarily due to the fact that there tend to not be enough towers from which to triangulate, or they are all in a straight line along a main road). Clearly, a hybrid approach of technology is necessary to get as much coverage as possible in remote areas. Similarly to the indoor location model, a pre-registered address can often be very helpful in identifying a wireless callers location. In a recent incident, this simple address data was credited with saving the life of an epileptic caller in a rural community who dialed 9-1-1 from her cell phone while at home.
While there are lots of options from a technology perspective, I want to emphasize the most important aspect of caller location – a well trained telecommunicator. Effective use of available technology coupled with proper interrogation techniques is key. As the tools available to our call takers evolve, so too must the training and procedures. As the vendor community continues to iterate and work with our clients on new features, it’s important to always couple technology and process. One without the other is a recipe for disaster.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here’s a quick list of things (with a public safety bent) I am particularly thankful for…
- We live in a country with an open election process. For all its flaws our system is basically sound and gives us a voice in how our country is run. 1.6 Billion people, or 23% of the world’s population have no say in how they are governed. See the infographic below from livescience.com
- In contrast to many countries of the world, our rate of violent deaths is relatively low, and especially considering the very suspect statistical reporting of many countries, our population lives in relative safety from violence. When you consider the extremely low rate of deaths from accidents/fires/falls, etc., the United States is one of the safety countries in which to live. This cool tool lets you compare and see death rates and various causes across the globe.
- We have a national emergency communication system. We sometimes take for granted the fact that we can pick up any phone, dial 9-1-1, and get help immediately. This is not the case in many countries around the world. There may not be a number to call, there might not be anyone ready to answer 24×7, and the response time could be hours or require you to tell them how much you are willing to pay for them to come to your aid.
- We have caring, hard working and dedicated individuals protecting us – in law enforcement, fire, EMS, emergency preparedness, public health and the military. For this, I am most thankful, because without those folks the other items in my list would not be possible.
Since the early days at Rave, we have been actively involved in location based services and are one of the only companies to have direct interfaces to location networks across the leading U.S. wireless carriers (Note: all location queries are only available on a strictly opt-in basis). We are often asked about how the different technologies used to locate wireless subscribers actually work, so I thought we’d share this primer on location technologies:
First, there are a number of factors that effect the accuracy and availability of location services:
- Handset technology
- Network technology
- Local network build out specifics
- Physical obstructions
Each of these factors intersect to determine the accuracy available for a specific subscriber in a specific incident; however, in general there are 4 methods by which a subscribers device may be located and which will determine the accuracy of the result returned to Smart911 by the carrier. These methods are:
GPS (Global positioning satellites) – Based on the amount of time it takes signals to travel between the phones GPS chip and satellites, a very precise position can be calculated. While many of today’s phones have GPS, many still do not. Additionally, GPS requires line of sight to the satellites meaning it may not be available indoors and is adversely effected by obstructions. The first location fix using GPS also requires the network to turn on the GPS chip remotely and have it search for satellites it can access. This process can take from 30 seconds to 1 to 2 minutes.
A-GPS (Assisted GPS) – This method is very similar to GPS but utilizes the known location of towers in communication with the handset to “jump start” the process of finding satellites and determining the handsets location. The result is a shorter time to the first location hit and often a very precise hit even when the handset has line of sight to fewer satellites.
AFLT (Advanced Forward Link Trilateration) – This method determines the handset location by measuring signal transmission time between a minimum of three cell towers. This method is less precise than GPS methods but is less susceptible to physical barriers.
Cell tower or Cell sector – The subscriber handset location is determined based on the data observed by the cell tower serving the phone. Each tower has defined geographic “sectors” of service, and based on the sector the handset is in the tower is able to get a coarse location fix. There are also Enhanced Cell Id methods that improve the accuracy of these fixes, but are still less accurate then other methods. Cell tower location does provide extremely fast, low latency location returns and is available as long as the mobile device has coverage.
The chart below provides a general overview of the accuracy of each of these methods. It is important to note that the latency times are those seen by the network. They do not indicate the amount of time from pressing the “update location” button on Smart911 and when a response is seen. Because Smart911 always requests the most precise location from the carrier, the response time is often a mix of the different methods.
It might make sense to provide 2 comparable objects for each line item. 500-5000 meters are drastically different sizes.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, several incredible documentaries have been aired that combine video, still images, and audio recordings that paint the story of the last 24 hours, and seconds, of his life. I can’t help but imagine how the events of November 22, 1963 and subsequent days would have unfolded differently in 2013 with modern technology and social media.
This past week I have been utterly amazed by the amount of footage and number of firsthand reflections that The History Channel and others were able to compile for their special programs and tributes. The video, despite the technology available at the time, was enhanced in vivid color and clarity, practically transporting me back in time to those late November days in Texas. In one of the specials, during an interview with bystander Abraham Zapruder about what he had just witnessed as he was filming the President’s motorcade in Dealy Plaza, news anchor Jay Watson of WFAA-TV in Dallas asked, “Do you have the film in your camera?” “Yes,” replies Zapruder. Watson then says, “We’ll try to get that processed and have it as soon as possible.” In that instant, I was shocked back into the present and I began to wonder how the events might have played out today.
Part of the picture seems pretty clear to me. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube would have been simultaneously flooded with immediate firsthand accounts of the events, images, video, as well as expressions of shock and grief from around the globe. Misinformation, false accusations, and conspiracy theories would have begun instantly. In fact, it was approximately 15 minutes after the assassin’s shots were fired before WFAA-TV in Dallas interrupted its regularly scheduled programming to break the news. Today, news outlets would have scrambled to keep pace with the everyday citizen posting online, rather than be the source of the breaking news. Ultimately, traditional media outlets would regain their position as the more trusted source, but reactions and commentary online wouldn’t slow down for quite some time.
If this sounds familiar, it should. We saw all of this 7 months ago here in Boston on Marathon Monday. In fact, I was one of the first members of my team to realize something was going on down on Boylston Street. What makes this remarkable is that I was on a flight from Minneapolis to Los Angeles and happened to catch some of the first bystander Tweets of two “loud bangs” near the finish line. I IM’d my boss to be sure he was aware, and then I tuned into the news coverage at my seat. The Twitter floodgates opened with more reports of the explosions and initial reports of the injured and killed. Photographs followed almost immediately thereafter. Eventually, television caught up, but it took no less than 5 minutes. If my ability to consume all of this real-time at 32,000 feet in a commercial aircraft doesn’t epitomize our significant technological advancements since 1963, I don’t know what does.
We live in a time of unprecedented interconnectivity thanks to social media and the instant sharing of photographs and video from devices not much larger than a deck of playing cards connected over wireless data networks with speeds inconceivable just a few short years ago. This new reality can be harnessed for good, such as the rapid dissemination of critical information or calls for aid, as we have seen recently in the Philippines and following this weekend’s Midwest tornadoes. It can also lead to confusion through erroneous reports, regardless of the intent, and even complicate or hinder an investigation.
However, I am much less certain of the psychological impacts of social media, and this doesn’t apply only to JFK’s assassination. The rapid and detailed dissemination of news through social media connects us to tragedies to which we never would have been previously. This translates to our being subjected a greater number of horrific events with greater intensity than we were even just a few short years ago. Does this new connectivity put us into sensory overload? Does it desensitize us to events that should spark an emotional reaction? I think yes to both.
The outcome of our collective desensitization and rapid replacement of the previous tragedy with the next one is that we quickly forget. I’m not sure we are ever given sufficient time to fully recover or are permitted to go through all stages of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Stages of Grief, if you subscribe to her theory of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. It seems that there is never quite enough time to fully recover. It’s possible too that with the amount of information shared online, that a reaction to a negative event could just as easily be replaced by a positive or more light-hearted story. In either case, it would seem that there are short-term benefits to “moving on” more quickly. Without sequestering volunteers and shielding them from social media and the Internet in order to examine the long-term effects of connectedness on our psychological healing process following a certain tragedy, I’m afraid it might be some time before we truly understand the impacts.
The bottom line is that the way we consume information and breaking news, and interact with it through social media, has been dramatically and forever changed. If there is any doubt over how the world would have reacted online on November 22, 1963, simply drop in on your Facebook or Twitter feed this Friday and multiply the number of references to the JFK assassination by at least several million.
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