911 gets automated, speeding response times
By Dave Taylor
Hancock County’s 911 is about to get faster, after the installation of new software that will automate many tasks that can otherwise slow down the initial response time.
The county will be upgrading its system to add automated alerting, which will integrate with the existing system made in part by Zetron and GeoConex, which will allow 911 dispatchers to simply hit a button to send first responders whereas they now have to take time to follow multiple long processes.
“Technology inside the dispatch center is all designed to assist the dispatcher to be able to perform their tasks more rapidly and accurately,” said Daniel Yarnell, account manager for GeoConex. “An emergency call comes in, dispatcher has precious seconds to gather information and get the right people on the way to the right location.”
Under the current system, a dispatcher takes a 911 call and enters information into the computer and on different screens, then reaches over to hit a button to begin the tones that alert first responders that they’re needed. But calling out multiple agencies means taking the time to do multiple tones.
“Let’s just say it’s a wreck,” said Hancock County EMS director Damian Rice. “You’re going to have three departments at minimum that they have to drop tones for. Well you can’t start the next set of tones until the first one stops.” After the tones finish, the dispatcher announces what the emergency is and where, all while still on the line with the caller.
Under the new system, everything beyond the initial information of what’s happening and where, is automated. When the dispatcher inputs the location the computer recognizes what agencies cover that area, and once the description of the emergency is entered the dispatcher can click a button and the system will alert the correct agencies and an automated voice will send them to the correct place.
With the automation, the dispatcher is freed up to be more present with the caller and to give and receive important information. It can also help with handling call volume since there are fewer tasks the dispatcher needs to physically do.
“We’re a single dispatch center,” said Rice, “so at any given time, typically, there’s only one person in there to answer the phones. There could be multiple calls coming in and trying to manage multiple calls at the same time.”
After the initial contact with the caller, the dispatcher will still be involved with providing information to first responders, so the automated voice won’t be the only one they hear. Additional information and follow-ups will still be done by a live dispatcher, but the time savings in the beginning of the call can make a world of difference.
“If you’ve ever sat on a 911 call and somebody says I can’t breathe, they’re within seconds of losing the ability to communicate,” said Lee Canipe, from Zetron.
“These are seconds we’re talking about,” said Yarnell, “and these seconds are critical sometimes.”