Whether you’re Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) or a first line responder, you’ve likely heard of NG9-1-1. It’s the next generation of emergency services that will involve more advanced capabilities like text messaging and location tracking.
While the switch is mandatory in Canada (as set forth by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission), it will result in notable improvements in public safety. Legacy systems, built around landlines, simply lack the speed, flexibility and general functionality.
Now that the transition is underway in Canada, the critical question now becomes, “What should PSAPs consider when choosing a Next Generation Emergency Call Handling System?”
We understand that it can be a challenging prospect, especially for smaller PSAPs.
This blog post will help PSAPs understand the most important features to look for in their call handling system, as well as the broader trends in emergency communications, in order to help them make the best possible decision.
1. An Intuitive and Fully Customizable System
One of the leading considerations is choosing an intuitive and fully customizable system.
An intuitive system makes the transition much more efficient for call takers while customization ensures the system is equipped to handle your specific call flow requirements.
For example, you may need to use a couple of different user interfaces depending on the individual roles that exist within your organization. Many systems simply don’t provide this customization, which means that the system won’t be equipped to meet your unique needs.
A customizable system will also allow you to use an interface that’s similar to the one you already use, resulting in an easy transition for all call takers as well.
2. A System Specifically Designed For NG9-1-1 Call Management
Not all call management systems were specifically designed for NG9-1-1 calls. Many of them were simply modified in order to do so. However, there are a few different problems with this, from decreased effectiveness to increased costs and eventual delays caused by inevitable upgrades.
First and foremost, a system that’s specifically designed for NG9-1-1 call management will be much more effective because it has a comprehensive feature set designed specifically for NG9-1-1 management. Examples here include automatic call distribution (ACD), multiparty conferencing for a lot of people (without sacrificing audio quality), in-screen video displays and silent call monitoring.
However, there are other benefits of choosing a system designed for NG9-1-1 management such as cost.
For example, it will typically include a comprehensive feature set in the base price, resulting in the best possible long-term value. This means you’ll be able to integrate these features from the beginning (and at your own pace) without additional costs or the typical delays that come when upgrading systems.
When it comes to cost, make a point to at least consider what features are included in the base price as well as the cost of future upgrades (and the process involved in doing so).
3. Instant Access to In-House Technical Support
NG9-1-1 systems are reliable but that isn’t to say that support shouldn’t be an important consideration. Delays caused by slow support can mean the difference between life and death. That means that instant access to in-house technical support is critical.
Here are some key considerations:
- Proactive Monitoring. Proactive monitoring can prevent possible system lags and breakdowns by flagging future updates and fixing them remotely (in some cases, a tech may also be dispatched on-site as well).
Make a point to ask your vendor how support is handled and what their committed response times are for both remote and on-site service.
- Direct Line of Support. Additionally, it’s also important to avoid a monitoring service that only identifies issues instead of also resolving those issues. The latter introduces unnecessary delays.
- System Specialists Over General Support. System specialists – i.e. technicians that work exclusively with your particular system instead of a system that employs general support techs will offer the best line of support. Specialists also have instant access to the development team.
4. Hidden Costs
It’s important to be aware of hidden costs.
PSAPs should pay particular attention to the cost of future software updates given that a lot of hidden costs can be found here. To this end, some vendors simply quote the initial price without including software updates in an effort to offer the best possible price point. That’s why it’s a good idea to look for a system that offers most of its software updates in the initial price.
Hidden costs can also be found in vendors that offer basic, intermediate and advanced versions of their system.
Keep in mind that most organizations will likely want to move to the more advanced system at some point in the future (in fact, this will be important in ensuring NENA i3 standard compliance as well, the governing body for NG9-1-1 systems). The problem is that it can be costly.
Generally speaking, PSAPs should ask for a 5-year projection of all expected costs.
5. Innovation (Trends to Consider)
It’s also important for PSAPs to consider how emergency communications are changing and the impact that these trends can have on public safety.
Here are some considerations:
The legacy analog telephone lines didn’t result in any major security risks. However, the IP-based system can result in the following cybersecurity threats:
- PSAP systems can be hacked into to initiate ransomware spam as well as phishing attacks that can slow down or even stop operations altogether
- Bots can be used to flood PSAP systems with fake calls, therein ting up the system
That means that PSAPs need to evaluate how their system will address these risks.
- Photo and Video Capabilities (Multimedia Messaging)
Photos and videos have the ability to provide very helpful information by offering more detail about the particular situation at hand with personal medical information being one such example. It also reduces reliance on memory.
Photos and videos also have the ability to identify persons of interest as well.
So, keep this in mind when evaluating your system.
- Big Data
Technology has enabled PSAPs to receive more information, with text messages being one such example.
However, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are also sources of information for PSAPs. For instance, many people asked for help via Facebook instead of calling 9-1-1 during a recent hurricane in the U.S.
Social media can also provide more information about the extent of a particular emergency, therein helping call takers to more adequately assess the situation.
This will result in more advanced systems that can log, store and analyze information, therein becoming proactive instead of merely reactionary.
In fact, a team of researchers at Penn State University is already working on a coding scheme to identify social media messages that could provide useful information to emergency responders.
However, “big data” isn’t limited to social media. It can also extend to weather forecasts and even upcoming events.
Wrapping It Up
Choosing a NG9-1-1 system isn’t an easy decision. But with public safety on the line, it’s a critical one.
This is why ROCK Networks has partnered with Solacom. With 30 years of research, Solacom’s singular focus on public safety makes them different. That’s exactly why leading PSAPs and governments have also selected Solacom for NG9-1-1 call management.
Learn more about how ROCK Networks and Solacom
Are you a PSAP looking for the best-in-class in NG9-1-1 technology? ROCK Networks, along with leading PSAPs and governments, are partnering with Solacom. Call ROCK Networks at 1-877-721-7070.