San Jose, Calif., Upgrades 911 Call Center Technology

Call center improves redundancy and simplifies retrieval of recordings.

by / February 16, 2010

Photo: The San Jose call center handles approximately 1 million calls annually/Photos Courtesy of the San Jose Police Department.

As 911 call centers begin adding new technologies like IP radio and next-generation 911 (NG911) services -- the ability to receive multimedia input like text and video from citizens -- they are being forced to consider new solutions to record and store calls and information they receive.

In 2009, the San Jose, Calif., Police Department upgraded its call center technology to improve redundancy and simplify retrieval of recordings, which can provide critical evidence in criminal cases. While the department has yet to deploy NG911 in its call center, these capabilities will be added in the future. So the current information management upgrade also prepares the department to capture and preserve multimedia content.

The call center handles approximately 1 million calls annually, including 911, 311, and seven-digit emergency and nonemergency calls. All calls are recorded.

The San Jose Police moved to new information storage and retrieval technology because the existing system was aging and beginning to fail, according to Cameron Smith, manager of the department's Communications Division.

Previously calls were recorded to a local hard drive and a DVD. The system also recorded to a network-attached storage device -- not for redundancy, but because storage space on the local drive was limited.

Now, in addition to two analog recordings, calls are digitized and recorded on a storage server, a network-attached storage device and long-term tape backups.

"The reliability of the system means there are no missing recordings," Smith said. "This is huge to a law enforcement agency. Evidence is everything in pending cases, and not being able to produce that key critical confession that was received by a 911 call taker can mean the difference between conviction or exoneration."

The department purchased NiceLog and NICE Inform software, from NICE Systems, to record and retrieve voice recordings and call data. Now those who need to access call recordings or data after the fact, such as supervisors or tape custodians -- who provide the information to the public and attorneys or detectives involved in a case -- can easily retrieve it.

"To pull a recording before, you needed client software that was licensed and loaded on a local PC," Smith said. "The new system is a Web-based solution and provides more flexibility and redundancy."

The system allows users to search for calls and data in a number of ways, according to Patrick Kiernan, director of marketing for NICE's security division. "It has very strong search capabilities."

The incident number is the most common method of searching, he said, but the system also accommodates searches based on call time or the channel on which the communication with the officer took place.

Careful Planning

Before deploying the new system, the department carefully laid groundwork to ensure a smooth transition. Before choosing the NICE products, the department contacted at least five users for each system under consideration, said Smith. "We were looking to ensure we had a good cross-section of users -- large, small, etc."

Once the new software was deployed, the department ran both systems until it was convinced that the new solution was up to the task.

"We kept the old system running for 90 days to ensure there were no lost recordings should the NICE system fail," Smith said.

While no failures occurred, he said the department had a full-time technician for the first two weeks who could tweak the system as needed.

According to Smith, training call center staff was simple. NICE trained key personnel, who then trained supervisory staff. "Most were able to grasp the basics within a half hour," Smith


Photo: The San Jose call center streamlined its information storage and retrieval by replacing legacy technology with a more reliable system for $600,000.

Looking to the Future

Although numerous hurdles must be cleared before the city can begin deploying NG911, Smith said the department will be prepared to store and retrieve multimedia data when the shift happens. A module of Inform called Organizer will let the users pull together related materials, such as voice files, texts and video.

"Anything that's stored on the network can be captured, frankly, the same way you would with Microsoft," Kiernan said. "You know in Outlook, if you do an attachment, it just goes out and you find the file and you attach it."

This means the department can store other related multimedia files -- in addition to files submitted by citizens -- in the same folder.

"Our department is in the midst of a pilot project to test [high-definition] video recorders on the officers," Smith said. "While their video will be stored offsite at a vendor storage area, again, we can use Organizer to put these files as a part of the entire package we would send to the District Attorney's [DA's] Office as a part of the overall criminal complaint. This will reduce the time and effort to file complaints with the DA's Office."

Smith said the system cost about $600,000 and was paid for mostly by a state tariff.