The Biggest Takeaways from Day One of the NENA Conference 2023
Posted on June 20, 2023 by Glenn Bischoff
MCP was out in force yesterday at this year’s National Emergency Number Association (NENA) Conference 2023. Here’s a snippet of what we learned:
AI is coming, so get ready
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are gaining traction in many sectors, and the 911 community appears to be on the cusp. Motorola Solutions showcased a new AI-driven solution that is designed to reduce the burdens on telecommunicators and relieve their stress. It transcribes 911 calls in real time and translates them, too, if necessary. The transcriptions immediately are available to supervisors wherever they are, provided they have an internet connection. The AI functionality will hunt for keywords to alert supervisors of potential issues to improve quality assurance.
Meanwhile, an educational session explored how several emergency communications centers (ECCs) use AI to handle nonemergency calls that arrive via administrative lines. If a telecommunicator determines that the call doesn’t require an emergency response, they can transfer the call to an AI-driven chatbot that will provide the necessary assistance. Again, the idea is to reduce some of the burdens on telecommunicators – in this case, it is estimated that 10-20 percent of calls received by ECCs do not require an emergency response, for example, calls requiring animal control. In addition to the centers already leveraging this approach, several others are trialing it.
FCC issues rulemaking notice on advancing the transition to NG911
Another educational session focused on the recent notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). After receiving requests from the 911 community and the National Association of State 911 Administrators, the FCC issued the NPRM to establish the demarcation point for Next Generation 911 (NG911). Much like the FCC did with the King County decision related to wireless, they are proposing that the 911 authority will determine the demarcation point for their area, and all originating service providers (OSPs) will be responsible for connecting in a timely manner. Demarcation points establish the relative responsibilities of OSPs and 911 authorities, i.e., the OSP has responsibility for emergency calls up to the demarcation point, while 911 authorities have responsibility thereafter. If the ruling is finalized, this will lift a burden for the 911 authorities and allow NG911 to be implemented in a timelier manner.
California has an interesting approach to CAD system interoperability
In an education session, Brian Tegtmeyer and Kate Elkins of the National 911 Program shared a high-level overview of the Program’s recently published computer-aided dispatch (CAD) interoperability assessment report, a project that MCP supported. Tegtmeyer kicked things off by sharing an anecdote that illustrates the importance of CAD interoperability – two fire departments in suburban Denver have implemented such a capability and are shaving two minutes off response time as a result. But he and Elkins quickly added that CAD interoperability is moving forward slowly, plagued largely by a lack of funding and industry standards, as well as an unwillingness of some agencies to share data.
CAD interoperability is mostly about improving the ability to dispatch the closest available resource and eliminating the need for emergency communications centers to relay information via phone calls, a process that takes valuable time and is error-prone. Today it is achieved primarily through CAD2CAD interfaces that generally are effective but challenging and costly to implement. An equally vexing aspect is that such interfaces result in one-to-one connections, which is very limiting. However, the California Office of Emergency Services (CALOES) thinks it might have a solution. It has launched a project that it hopes will eventually interconnect all 450 CAD systems that exist in the state. CALOES is creating a data lake containing all CAD data in the state. The data still would be owned by the entity that owns the CAD system and would be accessed based on permissions established by each data owner.
CAD systems would connect to the cloud-hosted data lake via secure Internet Protocol connections. The solution complies with the Emergency Incident Data Object (EIDO) standard, said Budge Currier, CALOES’s assistant director of public safety. Several early adopters are working in a non-lab environment to develop the necessary application programming interfaces and resolve nomenclature issues. According to Currier, the “aha” aspect of this approach is that it moves CAD interoperability from one-to-one to one-to-many. He added that the expectation is that some ECCs will be sharing CAD data via this solution sometime this fall.
Staffing continues to be a nightmare
The results of a staffing study jointly conducted by the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA) and the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED) were presented during an educational session. Of the 774 responses received, the average vacancy rate was 25 percent, with one emergency communications center (ECC) reporting that a staggering 83 percent of its positions are unfilled. “How in God’s name are they surviving as a center,” said Ty Wooten, the IAED’s director of governmental affairs. “It has to be crippling.”
Wooten added that the problem is pervasive, and no area is immune. “It affects all regions, every state, both rural and urban areas, and the size of the center doesn’t matter,” he said.
Compensation and job stress are the primary culprits. “You can work at Jimmy John’s and get paid $22 an hour, work regular hours, and have no stress,” Wooten said. “It’s difficult to compete with that when you’re paying less for a job with lots of stress.”
However, while staffing challenges are ubiquitous nationwide, some centers are fully staffed. How? We hear that it comes down to leadership and culture.
One state is taking an innovative approach to recruitment. It was reported that the North Carolina 911 Board created a 30-second, professionally developed video with good production values to recruit potential candidates. Indeed, it is well done. Click here to watch it.
Remote 911 call-taking and dispatching is here to stay
Not long ago, allowing 911 telecommunicators to work remotely was unthinkable, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed that. Now some emergency communications centers use this approach to relieve the current staffing shortage plaguing the 911 community from coast to coast. In an education session, it was reported that the ECC in Arlington County, Virginia, is doing just that by establishing 10 remote positions held by trained telecommunicators with at least one year of experience. The ECC has worked through various policy issues to have access to its staff remotely, even to handle overflow situations, by paging the team and asking for assistance. This is an example of “meeting their staff where they are” and working to overcome difficulties in getting staff members into the ECC.
Coping with change is as easy as 1, 2, 3
Change is as inevitable as it is uncomfortable – and plenty of changes are coming to the 911 community. Examples include Next Generation 911 (in most places) and regional consolidation (in some places). The key to coping with change is adaptability, resilience, and perseverance, all of which can be learned, according to NENA's keynote speaker Cassandra Worthy, who has developed a three-part process for achieving this, which she has dubbed “change enthusiasm.”
The first is the “signal” phase. This is when the emotional responses to the change occur: fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, and grief. These responses are natural, and Worthy advised 911 center managers to let staff members express them as the first step of the journey to acceptance. In fact, continual two-way communication explaining why the change is needed and how the migration is progressing is necessary because it engenders trust.
The second is the “opportunity” phase, which is when people mull whether to be resentful or excited regarding the change. The third is the “choice” phase when people have to decide if they will get on board. “You can be bitter or better – it’s your choice,” Worthy says. In this final phase, the negative emotions transform into positive emotions such as hope, anticipation, excitement, joy, and gratitude. But there often are speed bumps. “You’re going to experience setbacks that will push you back to the first phase,” she says. “But that’s okay because the more cycles you experience, the greater the resiliency will occur.”
During the Q&A portion of the keynote address, an attendee asked for advice regarding an ongoing regional consolidation that was causing some angst amongst staff members. Worthy told him to start by showing empathy and acknowledging that his staff members fear that “their world is going to be turned upside down.” After that, she suggested stressing how the consolidation is a tremendous opportunity to pool resources and strengths to improve operations and work/life balance. The idea is to keep sharing why “better” is indeed better over and over until they get it.
Another attendee offered that despite ample communication, some staff members have decided to choose “bitter” regarding changes that are occurring in their 911 center, and asked what could be done about that. “Then you have to explain that the bus is moving forward and that they have to decide if they’re going to get on board,” she advised.
Things have returned to normal at the NENA 2023 Conference
This appears to be the best-attended NENA national conference ever. Several sessions literally were overflowing. It’s great to see people attending in person and learning from experts who share valuable information.