How 9-1-1 Can Manage the Ebb and Flow of Call Loads
Mission Critical Partners' Glenn Bischoff authored this article, which originally appeared in Urgent Communications.
An adage regarding the stock market goes something like this: over any 20-year period the market delivers a return on investment of about 10 percent, but every 20-year period — regardless of when it begins or when it ends — contains peaks and valleys that are driven by market conditions that change often, and often substantially.
Emergency communications centers are getting creative as they figure out how to handle a tremendous volume of 911 calls during an acute staffing shortage.
This adage just as easily could be applied to 911 call volume, according to Brian Fontes, chief executive officer of the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), which estimates that 240 million emergency calls are made to the 911 system each year, or 657,534 every day. Fontes said that the COVID-19 pandemic provides a good example of the ebb and flow.
“Anecdotally, fewer 911 calls were made resulting from car crashes because many people were working from home or had lost their jobs, so there were less cars on the roads,” Fontes said. “On the other hand, this was offset by an increase in domestic violence calls stemming from the fact that people were confined in close quarters with others for long periods of time.”
Call volume also fluctuates significantly based on where emergency communications centers (ECCs) — also known as public safety answering points (PSAPs) — are located. “911 always has been a local issue,” said Brian Tegtmeyer, coordinator of the National 911 Program, which is housed within the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). “If your center is located in a college town, for instance, your Thursday night is going to look a lot different than another center’s that isn’t in a college town.”
Tegtmeyer, who previously was director of DuPage Public Safety Communications (DU-COMM), a large ECC that serves Chicago’s western suburbs, agrees that 911 call volume is holding steady overall with short-term fluctuations driven by local conditions. Statistics contained in DU-COMM’s 2021 annual report support this notion. Between 2018 and 2021, 911 call volume increased an inconsequential 2.5 percent; however, between 2019 and 2020, call volume decreased by 10.4 percent but then increased by 12.6 percent between 2020 and 2021.
So, 911 call volume nationwide is holding steady — and that’s a huge problem in the current environment, which is being impacted greatly by staffing shortages from coast to coast. The big conundrum? How to handle emergency calls in alignment with industry standards when there are far less telecommunicators available to do so.
“The irony is that ECCs are getting more efficient, but staffing shortages are getting in the way of that,” said Jackie Mines, a Mission Critical Partners senior communications consultant who is supporting the National 911 Program on several initiatives, including assessments of the current status of geographic information systems (GIS) and computer-aided-dispatch system interoperability, as well as a pilot project that is testing strategies and tactics for achieving data integration across the public-safety ecosystem.