How has Citizen Engagement in Public Safety Changed Over Time?

Picture of Tara Gibson By Tara Gibson

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citizen engagement public safetyAs we take a look back at the last decade it is clear that communities have changed and evolved for the better. With the increasing risks of severe weather events and natural disasters as well as active assailant incidents and even domestic terrorism, emergency managers have an extremely important task when it comes to protecting community members and recovering after an emergency situation. There are many obstacles emergency management teams may encounter, which is why planning and preparing for any emergency is key. To adequately ensure citizens remain safe, communities have relied on additional resources and technology developments that have positively impacted 9-1-1, emergency managers and first responders.

Citizen Engagement: 9-1-1 and First Responders

Public safety officials such as 9-1-1 telecommunicators, law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency management personnel are on the front lines to ensure communities stay safe. Although these members are well trained and have the means to protect citizens, there have been challenges that make their job harder. These challenges include a steady decrease in dispatchers, sworn police officers and volunteer firefighters, as well as social issues such as domestic violence incidents and citizens with mental illness and/or struggle with substance abuse. As technology continues to progress, 9-1-1 and first responders are relying on helpful tools to protect the community.

Dispatchers are seeing an increased number of calls from mobile devices, which at times can be difficult to pin-point. They receive about 240 million calls every year and, in some areas, about 80% of these calls are made from wireless devices. With new technology 9-1-1 teams now have access to accurate location data which speeds up response times and ultimately saves lives. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that a one-minute improvement in response time by simply having the specific location of a mobile call would save more than 10,000 lives each year.

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Some 9-1-1 centers are taking advantage of critical communications platforms which allow for first responders to handle, dispatch, and respond to emergency calls more efficiently. First responders such as firefighters can have access to live video streaming of an emergency situation to have a better understanding of what is going on before they arrive on scene. For example, a trained fire officer can see different colors of smoke, figure out the type of fire (e.g., chemical) and allocate the proper resources.

Within a robust critical communication platform, dispatchers can flag callers and put in detailed notes associated to the phone number, which helps first responders by providing more insight and decision-making. Citizens can also create their own safety profile associated with their phone number so that when they call 9-1-1 the dispatcher has all relevant information relating to the individual and their family. For example, they may have a mental health issue which requires law enforcement to approach the emergency differently than they may usually.  

Text-from-911 is another tool that can help somebody in need who may be concerned about making a phone call for assistance. The person may be in a domestic violence dispute and worry that calling 9-1-1 may escalate the argument or assault. After initiating a call to 9-1-1 and hanging up, the telecommunicator can set up a two-way text message conversation to ensure the citizen is safe, or determine whether they need immediate assistance.

Citizen Engagement: Local Government and Communities

Government leaders such as mayors, city managers, county executives, and other local leaders share an important responsibility in protecting their community. They must incorporate plans for protecting vulnerable populations in case of a severe weather event, funding emergency preparedness initiatives, and developing plans to address domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health emergencies.

In the past there have been many reports of false news that spread quickly around a community. When disinformation is shared it can cause panic for the residents and visitors. One study found that 6 in 10 links get retweeted without someone reading anything about it except for the other person’s summary. A MIT study found false news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true stories. By leveraging citizen-provided data, emergency management teams can easily communicate with community members quickly and can squash rumors keeping citizens informed of relevant and important information.

Related Blog: Public Safety Predictions for 2020

If an emergency strikes a community, it’s important for government officials to have a good understanding of their vulnerable needs population. Gone are the days of a paper-based vulnerable needs registry, as technology has developed a more efficient way to keep track of those with access and functional needs. A vulnerable needs registry is a database containing important information in regard to citizens who would require support before, during, and after an emergency. This information includes the number, location, and needs of the registered citizen, which would allow for emergency managers to allocate the correct resources during emergency response.

Polling technology is another useful tool for local governments to utilize in the case of an emergency. Issuing a poll collects information, responses, and real-time locations from a select group of residents. For example, a poll could be sent out to a specific neighborhood after a gas leak to find out if they need help.

Citizen Engagement and Critical Communications Technology

By implementing a critical communications platform, emergency managers, 9-1-1, and first responders would have the ability to handle, dispatch, and respond to emergencies more effectively and efficiently. The technology tools mentioned throughout this post highlight the importance of how reliable emergency alerts, 9-1-1 data, polling data, and vulnerable needs registries could make the difference when saving a life. If you’re interested in learning more, click below.

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Written by Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12 education, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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