Trite, certainly – but never more appropriate for where we find ourselves today in the world of 9-1-1. How people communicate with each other has changed dramatically over the last 40 years and it turns out that our 9-1-1 environment hasn’t kept up.That is in the process of changing. By now you have heard, and maybe are even sick of hearing about, NextGen or Next Generation 9-1-1 coming down the path.
NextGen seems to suggest the future but in reality it’s happening in an evolutionary sense in many places RIGHT NOW. As someone who started his 35+ year career in public safety as a Dispatcher I have to say that I find it exciting and way, way overdue!
Depending on whom you ask you may get different technical definitions of what NextGen 9-1-1 is but I would suggest that when we take a big picture view we see simply that it is all about doing a better job of helping those in need, and providing a more efficient and safer environment for everyone providing the help. The big picture is what I want to chat about today.
For the past four decades a 9-1-1 call has been about a caller talking to a call-taker. Virtually all information related to the situation at hand, save a bit of automated location, is conveyed in the dialog of the conversation. The NextGen 9-1-1 world envisions a dramatically expanded “9-1-1 Continuum” where the 9-1-1 system enables a flow of information (notice I didn’t say the 9-1-1 voice call itself, but it’s certainly possible) between a much broader range of appropriately involved players. The idea here being that certain information is important at different times to different people as the event and response unfolds and that ideally everyone should have access to the information they need to do their job efficiently and safely and not be distracted by information that is useful to others but not them. So this means that not all of the information that finds its way to the field has to go via the ears and fingers of a call-taker to the eyes and mouth or fingers of a dispatcher to the eyes or ears of a first responder.
Now this is where it really gets interesting. Since traditionally the technology, process and business of 9-1-1 has focused somewhat narrowly on the caller and the call-taker, the circle of participants in the operation and vision of the 9-1-1 system has been small, generally stopping with the PSAP or the oversight body of 9-1-1 in a given area. Not much to be gained by involvement by the first responders. This is one of the biggest areas of change with NextGen 9-1-1. There is HUGE opportunity for NextGen 9-1-1 to positively impact the first responders and I strongly urge that as you contemplate your NextGen 9-1-1 evolution that the Police, Fire, EMS and oft-used secondary responders be invited (compelled?) to actively join in the planning and implementation process. Much of the functionality of NextGen 9-1-1 is to benefit them directly, in some cases even more so than the PSAP. Also remember that these folks are in the continuous process of upgrading their systems and processes just like we do in 9-1-1, and the big win for the public and the responders is for public safety operations, and the underlying systems used to support these operations, all to work together over time.
It’s going to be an exciting and challenging journey. I look forward to it and hope you do as well.