I had to have it. I was going to die without it. That car with a chrome horse on the grill and a turbocharger under the hood. It was 1979, Ford had just re-released the Mustang and I had to have one. It finally arrived from the factory and it was great, except for one little thing: if the ground was icy (or even wet) that car couldn’t get out of my apartment parking lot. This wasn’t really a surprise, just a harsh reality. Not a good situation for an on-call Radio Tech.I had succumbed to overwhelming temptation (some would say seduced) and suffered the consequences that, in retrospect, may not have been worth it. In most cases seduction requires the victim to limit their view to focus entirely on the object of desire and consciously reject balanced thought or due consideration. Most times it’s not a simple oversight or case of unintended consequences – rather it’s a case of not listening to that little nagging voice…
Most of the discussion surrounding NextGen 9-1-1 is all about new features, capabilities and flexibility that come to 9-1-1 as we move to NextGen and why it’s so great. Not unlike the chrome horse or the turbocharger. This is what we all talk about when we are positioning the project for approval and funding to move forward. I would suggest that those are in fact the right things to talk about in those venues but it’s easy (and fun) to be seduced by these new and advanced things. Like most seductions there is danger in focusing too narrowly on the exciting new features and not keeping a broad view of what real, long term 9-1-1 success looks like – including all the details that require attention to get there. This discussion is about making sure we don’t forget to keep our eyes and minds open as we move forward implementing NextGen.
Over that last 40 years or so our 9-1-1 infrastructure in the US has successfully processed billions of calls from people seeking assistance. Granted many of those calls never should have happened in the first place, but that’s a subject for another day. The overwhelming majority of those calls worked just as intended and helped produce positive outcomes to often tragic situations. Unfortunately, it also turns out that there are of plenty of calls that didn’t work out all that well for a wide variety of reasons. Some of these resulted in our industry learning hard lessons, sometimes at the cost of someone’s life. Over the years, some were the result of inadequacies in the design, implementation, operation or maintenance of the actual 9-1-1 system itself.
Just like public safety agencies that change their practices when an after-action review suggests it’s warranted, so too has the 9-1-1 industry continually evolved and adopted new ways of doing things to address shortcomings when appropriate. As a result, we have formed a large body of “best practices” that help maintain high efficacy 9-1-1 service. We can’t take for granted that the new technology that underpins NextGen automatically addresses these best practices. I have observed this assumption playing out around the country – and it’s dangerous. People are so focused on implementing the new technology in pursuit of the new features that they aren’t paying attention to the reality of what it takes to assure that the system operates at the level of robustness that we have all come to expect.
Certainly, the legacy 9-1-1 system suffers insults differently than a NextGen system does, and some of the specific best practices we use today are not the same best practices that we need in the new context moving forward. Nor does the simple adoption of new technology automatically address everything we have learned and implemented over the years. That said, when contemplating a NextGen system, during system design, proposal review and system implementation each of the underlying situations that lead to the formation of a legacy best practice in the first place must be played against the envisioned new system and appropriate new NextGen best practices be confirmed or established.
Listen to that little voice. Pay attention to all of the details.