IP Technology Improves 911 Responses

As virtual PBX and IP communications become more widespread, businesses as well as the general public are becoming more aware of its many benefits. Some of these benefits mean that people who need immediate medical attention or a quick response from firefighters or police officers can now get it, thanks to the technology.

Virtual PBX (private branch exchange) and IP technology can help out in emergency service communications. Virtual PBXs provide a caller’s key information to a 911 calling center. Often, callers are in a large campus or big facility, and finding them otherwise could be difficult. The level of mobility found with IP phones can compromise information about the caller’s location, as well. Other calling options are coming as technology improves.

For instance, in one Texas region, Brazos County, its new 911 initiative will soon give callers the option of communicating with emergency operators via text. Video as an option is perhaps about 10 years away for the region.

Patrick Corley, Brazos County Emergency Communications District executive director, complains the current system is based on technology that is about 50 or 60 years old.

“With the introduction of wireless calls and now voice-over IP calls and potentially texting, that adds a whole new element into the mix,” Corley told The Eagle. “So the new system we have is IPbased, and it is made from the get-go to handle these new technologies that are also IP-based.”

Brazos County has two 911 call centers—one in Bryan and the other in College Station, which is home to the expansive Texas A&M campus. Bryan and Brazos County contract with the Brazos County Emergency Communications District for dispatch services. The communications district manages 911 infrastructure for College Station police and fire, and Texas A&M police and EMS—all of which have their own dispatchers.

Because all calls are displayed on the same computerized dispatch system, communication among the departments is faster and easier. Call volume is important to consider, too. Just look at this data on calls made to 911 last year: For Brazos County, the 911 center got 61,132 calls in 2013. Some 75 percent of them were wireless. On the other hand, the College Station Emergency Communications Center received 32,371 calls in 2013. Some 85 percent of them were wireless.

Nationwide, an estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 a year. About one-third of these are wireless calls. Another key statistic is that about 38.2 percent of all U.S. households are wireless only—based on CTIA data from December 2012. That percentage is likely heading upward, so technology at 911 centers needs to respond to the trends.

In addition, staff at 911 centers have a demanding job and often are underappreciated. “People just kind of take for granted that when they call 911 that they’re going to get help, but there’s a lot that goes into the background of making that happen and the execution of getting that help to where it’s needed,” Corley told the newspaper in Texas.

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