As 2021 draws to a close, many jurisdictions are faced with a crisis in recruiting and retaining public safety resources. Public safety continues to see major shortfalls in telecommunicators, law enforcement, fire, and EMS personnel across the United States. This has a ripple effect starting with residents and visitors experiencing delays in calling 911 and ending with overworked and emotionally exhausted public safety personnel.
When a citizen calls 911 for a medical emergency, a telecommunicator (TC) may not have EMS resources to send because they are tied up on other emergencies. This means that a TC may have to spend an expanded amount of time with the caller, especially if they are providing Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) instructions. Imagine the TC trying to convince the wife who is performing CPR on her husband that, even though she is exhausted, she must continue CPR or her husband will die. All the while the TC knows that her next available unit is still 10 minutes away.
Many law enforcement officers who dealt with civil unrest and the pandemic are choosing to retire early and/or simply leave the industry. Those that remain may end their shift with calls still waiting simply because they have not had time to respond because they are short staffed.
Fire departments across the nation, including full-time, part-time and volunteer agencies, are not able to respond with the required units due to staffing shortages. They are not able to meet National Fire Protection Association Standards, and even with mutual aid assistance they are still often too shorthanded to properly fight a working structure fire.
EMS services have been suffering from a decade-long worker shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. EMS agencies are at an all-time low according to a survey conducted by the American Ambulance Association, with the turnover among paramedics and EMTs ranging between 20 to 30 percent annually.
In response, agencies are turning to innovative approaches to address some of these issues. These include:
- Consolidation of 911 centers, which may facilitate the creation of a larger two-tier center with call takers and dispatchers, which many smaller centers do not have enough staffing to support.
- Implementing an intelligent hub CAD-to-CAD which allows the call takers to be able to share vital information faster with neighboring jurisdictions, freeing up time to answer the next call.
- Placing a nurse in the dispatch center to handle the non-emergency medical calls and mental health calls freeing up time for the TCs to handle the emergency calls.
- Consolidation of fire departments, creating a mixture of fulltime, part time and volunteer departments. Reestablishing the criteria on what incidents they will respond to; for example, instead of responding to all medical calls, they are only responding to critical medical calls
- We are seeing changes in the type of calls that law enforcement responds to by sending non-sworn personnel to certain mental health calls and setting up online reporting for basic non-emergency reports.
- Establishing 311 centers with software to support the handling appropriate non-emergency calls, requests for citizen services and pandemic related questions and services. This reduces the call volume to Emergency Communication Centers.
Our industry continues to adopt ever evolving technologies to support the effective delivery of services. Other key public safety technology initiatives include:
- Cloud Based Solutions—Managing the operational, IT Support and security requirements of cloud deployments (cloud native, cloud hosted, web-based, etc.) and Software as a Service (SaaS).
- Mobility – Increasing use of mobile devices and social media applications will require close network and security integration and coordination.
- Big Data/Analytics – The move to Smart Cites and Open Data initiatives increases the need for advanced data analytics and reporting capabilities to include the creation of fusion centers and real-time crime centers.
- Cyber Security – Modernizing and deploying security protocols to balance business needs with the inherent risks that come with increased levels of system connectivity.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) – The integration of AI to support analytical services, i.e., Crime Analysis and Early Intervention Systems.
- Drones – The increasing use of drones and other advanced sensing and alerting technology to enhance situational awareness and command and control capabilities.
- 311/Customer Relationship Management (CRM)– Providing citizens enhanced non-emergency response capabilities and tracking of citizen requests and complaints.
- Body Worn Cameras – Increased adoption of BWC technology to increase overall accountability and oversight of direct citizen interactions.
- Build Back Better (BBB) Act, which as we informed you previously, includes nearly $500 million dedicated to NG911. Although Senate leadership had expressed a desire to have a Senate vote on the BBB Act before Christmas, an agreement to do so was not reached prior to the Senate recessing for the year. At this time the situation regarding the BBB Act continues to be very fluid and uncertain.
The paramount issue facing the industry continues to be the need to identify a source of reliable and steady funding. NENA, APCO, NASNA, iCERT and many other industry associations, as well as partners in the public safety space have actively lobbied for the passage of the Build Back Better (BBB) Act. It is imperative that the nearly $500 million dedicated to NG911 remains intact so that it can serve as a down payment on the widely acknowledged significantly higher level of funding needed to modernize the 911 network across the country.
As always, we want to extend our thanks and appreciation to the public safety community, our clients and business partners; whether they are first responders, government entities, technology and communications agencies, private sector firms, or international organizations. We also want to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of our staff, who have adjusted to the realities of the pandemic to continue to provide our clients best-in-class services and support.