AI-Driven Amazon Connect is Worth a Look, Especially by Emergency Communications Centers
Posted on November 7, 2023 by Chris Kelly
A recent blog offered an overview regarding how artificial intelligence (AI) might be leveraged by public-safety and justice organizations. It’s a topic that we explored in depth during our fourth annual Conference for Advancing the Public Sector (CAPS), which was held virtually the last week of September. (Click here to view all sessions on demand, including the two AI-focused sessions.) This blog examines a particular type of AI solution, Amazon Connect, which was developed by Amazon Web Services (AWS).
AWS initially developed the platform for its own call centers, and then rolled it out to the private, i.e., commercial sector. Cloud-hosted, AI-driven, call-center solutions like Amazon Connect are used to great effect in many sectors, notably the banking industry. AWS then decided that Amazon Connect could be adapted for use in the public sector, particularly in the 911 community to handle nonemergency calls.
Before I go on, I want to stress that last point. No one in the public sector is talking about using AI to field emergency calls placed to the 911 system. Rather, the discussion centers on how AI solutions can be used to ease the burden on telecommunicators by handling nonemergency calls placed to 7-digit and 10-digit administrative lines.
Telecommunicators field about 240 million emergency calls annually according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That’s a lot of calls, which is quite a burden by itself, but one that is exacerbated by the acute staffing shortage that is afflicting emergency communications centers (ECCs) nationwide. This burden can be diminished significantly via the use of AI-driven solutions. During a CAPS panel discussion in which I participated, Jake Saur, ECC administrator for Arlington County (Virginia) Public Safety Communications and Emergency Management, estimated that telecommunicators field three times as many nonemergency calls as emergency calls. Imagine if all those nonemergency calls magically would go someplace else.
According to Saur, Amazon Connect, which his agency has implemented, makes it so. When someone dials a nonemergency number, they immediately enter an interactive exchange with an Amazon Connect chatbot, which leverages interactive voice response to “listen” to the caller and then formulate responses based on what it “hears.” Those responses are preprogrammed by the ECC based on specific keywords — Amazon Connect is completely configurable. The caller will receive the information they’re seeking — e.g., what time the fireworks start — or instructions regarding what to do next, which might include a link that will transport the caller to the entity best suited to assist them.
Amazon Connect can handle 75 languages, but sometimes the caller’s diction or accent proves problematic. In cases when the solution is having difficulty understanding a caller, it will repeat the question or transfer the caller to a human. How many times it repeats the question before making the transfer can be configured by the ECC.
The reader might be wondering, what happens if someone dials a nonemergency number to report an actual emergency? That’s a great question because this does happen. When it does, Amazon Connect will transfer the call to a telecommunicator immediately when it recognizes specific keywords.
The beauty of this in the current environment is that all these actions are performed automatically — telecommunicators no longer get involved in truly nonemergency calls. This will decrease the call volumes they must handle by orders of magnitude and ease their burden exponentially. This will improve their mental health, which is critically important given the high-stress environment in which they work and the fact that their decisions — which must be made in the blink of an eye — can mean the difference between life and death.
It also will enable them to focus more sharply on the emergency calls they do handle, resulting in better service to field responders and the public. For the public, implementation of Amazon Connect and AI-driven solutions like it means that they will get the help they need faster — often, telecommunicators that must field nonemergency calls don’t have the information the caller needs at their fingertips, which delays response.
Anything that doesn’t tie up a telecommunicator or a 911 trunk needlessly is a good — no, great — thing.
One caveat that should be noted concerns the fact that neither Amazon Connect, nor any AI-driven solution, represents a “set it and forget it” scenario, i.e., there’s a lot to implementing and operating such solutions. And the truth is that some agencies won’t possess the internal resources and expertise needed to leverage this exciting capability — but the good news is that we do, and MCP’s subject-matter experts are eager to help your agency develop an AI strategy that aligns well with your operating environment.
So, please reach out. In the meantime, I encourage you to view the AI session entitled, “Beyond Traditional Tactics: Fresh Ideas for Tackling Today's Staffing Shortages” that we presented during CAPS 2023. The session features the insights of MCP’s John Chiaramonte and AWS’s John Persano (click here to be transported to the on-demand landing page). I am confident that you will find it time well spent.
Chris Kelly is MCP’s vice president of facilities and operations services. Email him at ChrisKelly@MissionCriticalPartners.com.