MCP Insights

Using data to improve emergency response outcomes

Posted on June 27, 2018 by Kevin Murray

All fine restaurants have two things in common: they use the best ingredients in their recipes and, more importantly, they have chefs who know exactly what to do with those ingredients.

The public safety sector is on the cusp of an incredibly exciting new era, one that will be driven by a torrent of rich data and more precise wireless location coming into 911 centers. This data potentially will have a spectacular impact on emergency response—but only if it is harnessed effectively.

When the “data tsunami” is contemplated today, it generally is in the context of Next Generation 911 and the nationwide public safety broadband network being implemented by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). But there also is much discussion these days about integrating crowd-sourcing applications—such as the Waze traffic-navigation app—and social media into the emergency response environment, as well as the convergence of the “smart cities” concept and public safety. The idea is to leverage the millions, perhaps billions, of sensors already in place in communities today, from video cameras to motion detectors to gunshot-location systems to wearable devices, and use them to evolve 911 centers into proactive hubs that can prevent emergencies instead of simply responding to them. This data can generate unprecedented situational awareness, which when integrated, prioritized and operationalized into the PSAP, will improve emergency response outcomes and keep first responders safer. This is no small consideration.   

Here are a just a few examples of what might be possible:

  • A person suffering from dementia becomes disoriented, but is tracked and quickly found thanks to his wearable device.
  • The device worn by a person suffering from diabetes activates an alert that instructs him to drink some orange juice, or triggers the dispatching of an ambulance, depending on the severity of the event.
  • The data generated by crowd-sourcing apps, embedded road sensors and traffic cameras enable officials to monitor conditions in real-time and take appropriate actions—e.g., closing roads and redirecting traffic—as needed.
  • Integrating such information into the public safety environment would enable 911 telecommunicators to make better-informed decisions regarding which apparatus to dispatch, and to change traffic signals to clear their path to the incident.
  • Biometric sensors worn by firefighters will enable incident commanders to remove them from the line well before they succumb to heart attacks, heat stroke and other debilitating conditions.

While all of this sounds wonderful, it is vitally important to note that generating this rich data is the easy part of the endeavor.

Unless this data can be analyzed and acted upon by telecommunicators, it has no utility. As in a restaurant, the ingredients will lay on the counter, and it won’t matter a bit as to how great those ingredients are.

For data to be effectively leveraged in a public safety environment, agencies need to put in place the following:

  • A way to generate data (again, that’s the easy part)
  • A way to verify, store and access the data. Regarding access, it is essential that policies be created and multifactor authentication be implemented to ensure that data can be accessed only by authorized personnel. Ideally this would be done before data starts flowing into the facility
  • An automated way to analyze the data
  • An automated, analysis-driven way to act upon the data
  • Building dispatch protocols surrounding the data, and preparing and training telecommunicators on how to embrace the new sources and uncover their value

At MCP, we call this the “circle.” Unless these elements are in place, the full value of the data will not be realized; indeed, it could be argued that the data will be useless. But if such elements are in place and the data is fully realized, the results will be unimaginable.  

To demonstrate how this might play out, let’s do a deeper dive into the above example concerning the diabetic by presenting the following hypothetical situation:

  • His wearable sensor monitors numerous biometric conditions.
  • The 911 center automatically receives an alert from the device that the diabetic’s heart rate has increased, while his blood sugar has decreased. This triggers an automatic response based solely on these two factors, which is to call the diabetic to instruct him to drink orange juice.
  • Fifteen minutes later—time is another factor in the analysis equation—the 911 center has received another automatic alert that the diabetic’s condition is unchanged. That triggers a second automatic response that results, based on this combination of three factors, in a call being placed to a pre-designated family member to make him aware of the situation.
  • After another 15 minutes goes by with the diabetic’s situation still unchanged and no word received from the family member, an ambulance is dispatched automatically.

The result is that the diabetic avoids fainting, which could result in an injury-inducing fall, or worse, a coma, which obviously could be life-threatening. But this excellent result never would have happened if the circle had not been in place. The wearable device generated reliable, actionable data that automatically was analyzed and, based on that analysis, an automatic response was initiated that got the diabetic the help he needed faster—and when lives are on the line, every second matters.

Any scenario like the one above is going to require a lot of pre-planning by the public safety agency. It’s going to require the agency to analyze its current work flows and then determine what needs to change to incorporate data—an enormous amount of it. Policies will need to be examined and then adjusted. Training regimens will need to be updated. Staffing and hiring practices will need to be reexamined. Most importantly, a plethora of plans will need to be written that define emergency responses based on numerous factors and combinations of factors. It will be a ton of work, but when the ingredients come together in the way that they should, just as in a fine restaurant the results will be magnificent.

This effort may be beyond the internal capabilities and resources of some agencies. MCP’s subject-matter experts are eager to lend a hand in helping you navigate the migration from the voice-centric past to the data-centric future.

Let’s evolve 911 together.

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