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By investing in assistive AI technology, facilitating collaboration and experimenting with new programs, agencies can begin addressing the multilayered challenges facing responders.
When it comes to public safety, every second counts. According to the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), 90% of all 911 calls should be answered within 15 seconds, but meeting this standard is becoming increasingly difficult.
Public safety answering points are being hit especially hard due to increasing numbers of calls in high-growth areas, more non-emergency calls and higher numbers of accidental calls from mobile phones and smartwatches. PSAPs and other public safety agencies are also struggling to retain staff, with the pandemic and increasing scrutiny of emergency services only adding to the issue. This combination of problems is leading to a resource crisis in public safety—a crisis with no simple solutions, but one that can be alleviated through innovations in technology, collaboration and policies.
How technology can help
One important way agencies can leverage technology to address the lack of resources is with artificial intelligence. For example, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems with embedded assistive AI capabilities can mine operational data to find similarities in incoming calls, alerting staff to trends and anomalies, but leaving the decision-making up to humans.
These assistive alerts fill blind spots, allowing telecommunicators to uncover related events quicker than relying on their own abilities. The technology alleviates the pressure to catch every little detail, which can reduce stress on both trainees and industry veterans as they’re facing staffing shortages. It also helps to prioritize incoming calls related to an unfolding event, enabling staff to plan and respond more efficiently, leading to faster incident resolution.
While assistive AI can help alleviate pressure on resources in real-time, leveraging advanced analytics to dissect patterns from CAD and records management system (RMS) data can help to make decisions for the future. Understanding peak call times and trends in types of calls for service can help agencies better plan operations and schedule staff to meet demand as best as possible. For example, the Santa Clara, California, Police Department leveraged CAD data to monitor vehicle burglaries and vandalisms. Because the data suggested specific patterns, the department could patrol certain parts of the city with greater intensity, leading to a decrease in incidents and calls for service.
Collaborating to streamline processes
Another solution is collaboration with neighboring agencies, which can streamline workflows and speed up response times. Collaboration is nothing new for public safety agencies, since incidents don’t stop at jurisdictional or departmental boundaries, but there are ways agencies can work together to achieve greater levels of efficiency and effectiveness beyond mutual aid.
DuPage County, Illinois, is a great example of creating efficiencies through technology and data sharing. Sixty-two agencies collaborated for a fully integrated, countywide public safety solution consisting of CAD, RMS, analytics and mobile applications. This collaborative approach has enabled faster response times, with examples of telecommunicators creating CAD events and dispatching multiple agencies in less than a minute.
While deploying a consolidated public safety solution across agencies can be a large undertaking, there are other options that can make an impact quickly. By connecting disparate systems through a cloud-based collaboration space, agencies can share and receive vital data within their own organizations and across neighboring agencies. Having real-time access to information as emergencies unfold provides greater situational awareness and reduces redundant workflows for an already overburdened workforce.
Alternative dispatching programs
As mentioned earlier, the resource crisis isn’t just impacting PSAPs. Public safety agencies of all types are facing staffing shortages and increased pressure from the public. One way they are responding is through innovations in the way they deliver services, such as by implementing alternative dispatching programs. These include mental health dispatch programs, which deploy mental health professionals instead of police officers during a mental health crisis, and nurse triage programs, which route non-life-threatening injuries and illnesses to a licensed nurse rather than dispatching an ambulance.
These new programs increase efficiencies for PSAPs, first responders in the field and other emergency organizations while ensuring callers receive the best care possible. Washington, D.C., for example, reported in February 2022 that since starting its nurse triage program, paramedics have received fewer calls and transported 17,000 fewer patients to the hospital.
In the current resource crisis, it’s more important than ever for public safety agencies to harness relevant information, quickly assess complex situations and take effective action. By investing in technology, facilitating collaboration, and having a willingness to try new programs, agencies can begin addressing the multilayered resource crisis by increasing efficiency and effectiveness. While these methods alone won’t solve all the unprecedented problems facing today’s agencies, they will help reduce pressure on staff and enable them to better serve the residents within their jurisdictions.
Bill Campbell is senior vice president at Hexagon’s Safety, Infrastructure & Geospatial Division.