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How Better Call Routing Can Lead to Quicker 911 Responses

PSAPs in Utah are cutting misrouted calls — and reducing emergency response times — via NENA-compliant technology from Motorola. A Utah tech official discusses the benefits.

911 dispatch
The ability to route calls might seem mundane when compared to the dangerous drama of fires, earthquakes and other disasters.

But for Tina Mathieu, deputy director of the Utah Communications Authority, better call routing is bringing significant progress to her work in public safety dispatch.

Mathieu’s agency oversees 29 public safety answering points (PSAPs) in Utah, and over the past year or so misrouted 911 calls have declined 50 percent because of the deployment of next-generation 911 call routing technology from Motorola.

Those 29 PSAPs each month field an average of more than 86,000 emergency calls. And that 50 percent drop translates into a reduction of more than 37 hours in emergency response times.

As Mathieu put it during an interview with Government Technology, a minute saved during a call — or even seconds — can mean the difference between losing a room in a fire or the whole house, to say nothing of the lives inside.

As Motorola described it in a statement, its technology — part of a broader trend in public safety technology — uses the caller’s location to route the call to the correct emergency dispatch center that can deploy local resources.

By contrast, legacy methods route such calls based on the location of the wireless carrier tower connected to the caller, which in turn can require a transfer to a closer PSAP and add precious seconds to wait and response times.

The Motorola call-routing technology is compliant with the i3 standards from the National Emergency Number Association, or NENA, the company said.

“NENA’s i3 standard is the foundation for interoperable, resilient next-generation 911 systems across the nation,” Brian Fontes, CEO of NENA, said in the statement. “It’s a comprehensive, consensus-based and commonly accepted open standard for next-generation 911, and we’re happy to see providers like Motorola Solutions use it as a road map to more effectively connect the public to 911.”

In Utah, emergency dispatch centers also use Motorola’s NENA i3-compliant VESTA 9-1-1 and CommandCentral Aware for 9-1-1 for call handling, and some local agencies also use Rave Smart911, designed to improve responses by enabling people to share critical information such as medical conditions or emergency contacts in advance of any emergency requests.

Mathieu said that the call-routing technology also could help in, say, a situation in which a PSAP center is flooded or damaged by an earthquake.

“We have the flexibility to go to other PSAPs and still have continuity of business at a time when people are panicky,” she said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.