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Notes from Navigator - 9-1-1 Lessons from Las Vegas

Author: Audrey Fraizer

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-05-19
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Maybe you look at Navigator as the place to learn a lot about emergency communication, the ability to pick up free advice from fellow professionals, and—at the conference held this past April in Las Vegas—the chance to walk away a millionaire.

The National Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED) sponsored Navigator is all that and more. The six days traditionally divided between workshops and classroom sessions also leaves attendees with a lot to chew on for discussion when the next conference rolls around.

“Everyone tunes into an issue affecting that particular center or the industry as a whole,” said Jerry Overton, Chairman of the IAED Emergency Clinical Advice System Program. “We talk about the day-to-day issues that arise, and we also spend a lot of time exploring ideas to solve what’s ahead.”

High on the list is upgrading the 9-1-1 system to a new Internet Protocol (IP)-based 9-1-1 system allowing the public to make a 9-1-1 call from any communication device in any mode (voice, text, or video) and to furnish additional information from both the public and multiple agencies (such as photos and medical records).

Adequate funding—always a problem—and an aging population placing greater reliance on emergency services also place high on the list.


A survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), shows that a quarter of American homes deserted landline telephone service and now rely exclusively on wireless service. Approximately 24.9% of all adults (approximately 57 million) and 29.0% live in households with only wireless telephones. The numbers will grow.

But it will take more than infrastructure changes to accommodate and maintain an effective next generation system, according to NENA Educational Board advisor Christy Williams in an all-day workshop giving insight into moving the 9-1-1 system to an IP-based Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) system.

Parochial and political perspectives must change.

“We need policy development developed at all levels,” said Williams, 9-1-1 Program Manager of the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCG). “Without that in conjunction with technical NG9-1-1 system development, our centers can’t keep up. And, we can’t address the issues on an individual basis similar to the way the current system operates. It takes coordination.”

NG9-1-1 greatly surpasses the requirements of current technology based on the amount and type of information (voice, text, or video) PSAPs will distribute to other public safety agencies. The information shared then opens issues of privacy, cost, and the ability of local jurisdictions to develop local call processing and policies.

The key is organization, Williams said. There’s also the commitment and hard work package that must be shared among committee, rather than delegated to a few.


While technology is impossible to avoid, funding won’t be easy to find. A report issued in 2008 by the 9-1-1 Industry Alliance found that next generation funding issues were directly related to the reluctance of state officials to improve 9-1-1 capabilities, a trend that could continue without viable funding strategies to sustain the migration.

NENA Past President Craig Whittington said continued cutbacks in services and personnel and state practices of diverting 9-1-1 designated funds to general funds might make it even more difficult to catch up and, hence, delay costly infrastructure demands.

“The lack of funds blamed on a bad economy is also the excuse for some PSAPs to go without protocol based on call intake programs,” said Whittington, 9-1-1 Special Projects Coordinator, Guilford Metro 9-1-1, Greensboro, N.C. “My question is ‘so when did it become OK to not do the right thing?”

Other issues Whittington sees in his travels include the daily stress that is common ground in emergency communications, coordinating center consolidations, and increasing call volumes without a complementary increase in staff numbers.

“We have people and projects coming in from every angle,” he said. “There’s never enough time in a day for anyone to get it all done.”



Increasing call volume is one of those problems agencies tackle daily. Many of the calls are not emergencies, but people looking for help with transportation, a medical condition in the absence of a primary care physician, or as the last or first resort for a city-related question like the trash pick up schedule or snowplowing. Accidental calls to 9-1-1 and prank calls are also on the rise.

“Some of these problems are beyond our control,” Overton said.

For others that are medically related, there are tools that can help.

Overton manages clinical development of the PSIAM software, a single call center platform linking nurse triage algorithms and the Medical Priority Dispatch Protocols (MPDS) and in their automated form, as ProQA. Trained medical professionals collect information from callers and use the information to determine the appropriate level of health service required.

In other words, someone calling to complain about a stubbed toe won’t get the same response as someone reporting a lightning strike that has hit the teen-ager mowing his lawn.

An actual emergency – cardiac arrest from the lightning strike – invokes the MPDS protocols. The dispatcher provides the pre-arrival instructions and dispatch life support protocols appropriate to the emergency. Callers with non-emergent calls—the stubbed toe—after triage are transferred to the medical professional who, using the assessment algorithms can recommend and find alternatives to an EMS response.

The program giving clinically based options to health care delivery has multiple benefits, Overton said. And from the former director of the Richmond ((VA) Ambulance Authority, he knows firsthand the direct positive affect PSIAM can have on ambulance transportation services.

“There are callers whose needs can be met through other avenues,” he said. “They don’t have urgent medical needs and can be safely treated using other delivery systems. PSIAM is about reducing demand when possible, and handling demand efficiently where it cannot be reduced.”

Navigator, the educational conference hot spot for emergency dispatch drew more than 1,200 professionals from 14 countries during six days of workshops and sessions held in April at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. This year’s conference drew professionals from countries that include the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, China, and Brazil. Workshops and sessions divided into seven educational tracks provided a bevy of choices suited to every level of emergency communications professional.


Audrey Fraizer is the managing editor for the National Journal of Emergency Dispatch.  For more information on the NAED and Navigator, see

Photos via NAED.


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