New Orleans Dials In Next-Gen 911 Technology

The integrated call control system improves the routing and handling of the 1 million emergency calls received every year.

by / November 5, 2014
Officials have not yet identified the cause of the 911 dispatch center outages in Oregon and Washington, which sometimes made all phone lines unavailable, and at other times left just one or two lines open. Flickr/Dome Poon
Officials have not yet identified the cause of the 911 dispatch center outages in Oregon and Washington, which sometimes made all phone lines unavailable, and at other times left just one or two lines open.Flickr/Dome Poon

The New Orleans' emergency call administration center has a faster, more efficient response to emergencies that improves the flow of information between citizens, multiple agencies and first responders.

Orleans Parish Communication District (OPCD) covers an area with a population of more than 370,000 residents. They handle more than 1 million emergency calls annually, routing requests to police, fire and EMS personnel in the field. Considering its call volume, OPCD needed a better way to connect applications and automate the flow of information. The former system required multiple computers, monitors and programs, making emergency call management often painfully slow and complex.

In 2013, OCPD was selected by Motorola Solutions to conduct the field trial of a new product, eventually named PremierOne Computer Aided Dispatch NG911 Integrated Call Control.

“We were the first place where it was used in a real field production environment with real calls coming in and being handled,” said Karl Fasold, system administrator of the Orleans Parish Communication District. “We were very happy with it through the field trial, such that we signed a contract with Motorola to deploy it sitewide.”

In November 2013, OPCD deployed the NG 911 system, which integrates telecommunications and applications in a central console, improving efficiency for dispatchers and other staff who can see current call information from EMS, fire and police departments on a single screen.

“The user can now do everything with one keyboard, from answering calls, transferring them, putting them on hold, making outgoing calls, etc.,” said Fasold. “Everything is in one application in one place and there’s no more having to switch keyboards and mice if they need to make an outgoing call or perform any other function.”

The system also automatically routes incident reports and continuously pushes updates to EMS mobile display computers and tablets and police mobile display computers. Workflow has also improved for dispatchers and field personnel. 

“First responders can act faster and make better, safer choices,” said Fasold. “Just watching the workflow, things are being handled a lot more effectively and efficiently.”

Today, the system predominantly handles voice calls made to 911. But because it’s a flexible platform that can easily integrate new applications and data sources, OPCD is working with Motorola to integrate text messages and is exploring options for working with video feeds as well as the statewide radio system, which is also provided by Motorola and uses Microsoft technology.

“This system is driven significantly by how we move the PSAP [public safety answering point] community to the next generation of 911 call-taking,” said Dan Sawicki, director of product management, Motorola Solutions. “As text and video and other things are added, it’s important to have a platform to organize that information. The benefit of having a platform supportive of these multiple applications and multiple types of content is to be able to organize and process information in a very effective way.”

Sawicki said the NG911 integrated call control system will eventually support many multimedia call types. 

“If you drive by an accident that just occurred and you take a smartphone picture and you want to zip that off to your 911 center, you’ll be able to do that,” Sawicki said. “That’s the next thing in the pipeline, to be able to send attachments and things like that into the call-taking centers.”

“It took 20 years to get from the first landline 911 calls to handling wireless 911 calls,” said Stephen Gordon, executive director of the Orleans Parish Communication District. “In the eight years since Hurricane Katrina, we have texting, videoconferencing and social media — and people expect to use all of those technologies to access 911.”

Sawicki said the ability to move from siloed applications and individual workstations and hardware to an integrated, end-to-end system is the way of the future. 

“It's almost a perfect storm right now,” he said. “You have the ability and the bandwidth to support this information, and you have the ability to bring the information together to integrate it, to add intelligence to it, and then take the relevant portions of that information and get it to the right responder.”

Fasold said the OPCD 911 operators that utilize the new system have had very positive reactions.

“They like everything being in one place, they like only having one mouse and keyboard to deal with, and they like being able to completely handle the calls as they come in,” Fasold said. “It’s a rare win-win in our world where we can make a change that improves things from a technical standpoint, and it’s also something that’s so effective that the end users experience it in a positive way.”

Justine Brown Contributing Writer