When a person picks up the phone to call 9-1-1 during an emergency, the expectation is that a dispatcher will pick up immediately, quickly determine the nature of the problem and then send help in the form of first responders.
In many cases the dispatchers have to work off of incomplete information, from a person who is in crisis or is making the call during a chaotic scene. There might be an answer from a coherent person speaking clearly to describe what’s happening, but sometimes all the dispatcher can hear is screaming in the background or sounds of gunfire and has to send help over with scanty details about what to expect.
What goes on behind the scenes during 9-1-1 calls to ensure prompt delivery of emergency services? Chances are that you have heard of the Smart911 system as well as Next Generation 9-1-1 system, but aren’t quite sure what the difference is between them.
About 45 million people have access to Smart911 systems today, according to a report from Rave Mobile Safety, making it the type of 9-1-1 system most individuals are aware of. It goes beyond just calling and being connected to a live dispatcher to report a crime or other emergency.
With Smart911, families, individuals and companies can set up their own safety profiles about crucial details that will be of vital importance in an emergency. People register their landlines and mobile lines with their safety profile so the details are sent to first responders on their way to the scene. The result is faster response times, promoting more safety and security in the community.
It’s up to the individual creating the safety profile to provide the information to authorities. Typically a family will list each member of the household, including each of their mobile numbers. But this will not include important details about neighbors that the first responders might need to know about, such as a neighbor who has a disability and will need help moving if the fire jumps to adjoining homes.
The flexibility of Smart911 allows families, businesses and individuals to list as much information as they want in their safety profiles. This allows them to alert first responders about special conditions, such as hazardous animals to be aware of during a rescue. Business owners can include access routes, door entry codes and even floor plans of their facility to aid first responders heeding a Smart911 call for help.
Next Generation 9-1-1
With Next Generation 9-1-1 (also referred to as NG9-1-1), the Smart911 capability is upgraded to take in even more information, based on Internet connectivity.
Advantages include improved location services (people can be found using a combination of GPS data from their smartphone along with location information from Wi-Fi networks). This is an improvement over traditional 9-1-1 systems that could only triangulate the location of the call based on cellphone tower signals.
Another benefit is that callers can provide images directly from the scene, such as sending audio and video recordings. If the caller is streaming video live, the NG9-1-1 system will provide immediate information about the scene without needing to repeat the details aloud to other responders. A picture is worth at least 1,000 words in such a scenario.
To date, the FCC says that only about 18 states are set up with NG9-1-1 services so far, with only about 15% of Public Safety Answering Points having been reported in the U.S. This is attributed to a lack of standardization in the industry and the costs of running a legacy system alongside a revamped NG9-1-1 system (to ensure no calls are lost during transition).
Staying Updated on Emergency Communication Systems
There are a lot of details to keep up with when it comes to emergency communications systems. The team at the Montgomery County Emergency Communication District is devoted to providing members of the community with useful, actionable information. Stay tuned to this blog for updates.