Social Media in 911 – This Ain't Your Daddy's PSAP

E911 is quickly evolving the model of the 911 center answering phone calls to a new multi-channel multi-media communications center environment. Both personnel, and processes will have to be modified and adapted to meet the challenging needs this new evolution in communications technology will bring forward at a rapid pace.

This past week, I sat down with Guy Clinch, Avaya’s advocate for government solutions. And we chatted about social media’s new role in Public Safety, and how governments will need to adapt to this changing landscape.

You can now LISTEN to the MP3 Audio version of this Podcast

userpic-31-36x36.png We were having a conversation the other day where you brought up some interesting observations about new technologies changing the way that government interface with citizens during emergencies. Will you recap some of those for our audience?

As in every industry it touches, digital technologies are changing how communications occur between citizens and their governments; day-to-day as well as during emergencies.
From air travel, to education, to retail sales, to the even digital conversions occurring in movie theaters, digital technologies fundamentally change the way information processing occurs.
The same will be true as Next Generation 9-1-1 introduces new forms of communications to the activities involved in emergency services.
As in these other industries, some of the changes are predictable and others not.
One area where we are already seeing an unexpected change is in the use of Social Media technologies by local governments.

What are some of the examples?

One way we see this is the rapid way in which local governments have embraced technologies like Facebook. The trend is so dramatic that a recent article in the online publication FutureGov asked, “Will Facebook profiles replace government web sites?”

FutureGov interviewed officials from Australia, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the Netherlands and the results indicated that government web sites could disappear into the ‘social cloud’.” The article asked, given the increasing desire of citizens to communicate through a social channel, “why bother having a web site at all?”
Recognizing how important this trend has become in the United States Facebook recently changed its standard user agreement as applied to state and local agencies.

I can see how this can apply to day-to-day interactions between government and citizens, but isn’t communication during emergencies a much different thing?

Absolutely, there is no question that when lives and property are on the line we need to be extremely careful.
But the fact is we have already seen cases all over the globe where citizens have used social networking to report emergencies.

As I mentioned above the impacts of social networking can be unexpected.
For instance I read in the December third edition of the Daily Press of Hampton Road Virginia, that, “two days before Hurricane Sandy brushed the Peninsula, the number of people who “liked” the Newport News Public School Facebook page grew by more than 800.” spokeswoman Michelle Price believes this increase was from people who wanted to stay on top of news about the storm.

We’ve known for quite some time how establishing a 3-1-1 system takes some of the burden away from the 9-1-1 system during mass emergencies. We’ve seen with Avaya customers including Miami-Dade County where in anticipation of Hurricane Andrew, the county effectively used their 3-1-1 center to proactively prepare the community.
Citizens contacted Miami-Dade 3-1-1 before the storm to learn where shelters were located, 3-1-1 was available during the storm for citizens to report less urgent emergencies and after the storm where to find things including fresh water and information such as how soon the power would return.

In the past many of these communications would have gone to 9-1-1, taking up resources that needed to be dedicated to more life threatening situations.

I imagine the county mangers also found benefit from the information generated …

Absolutely. By integrating the 3-1-1 system with Citizen Relationship Management, Workflow Optimization, Geographic Information Systems and other tools of government, Miami-Dade was able to have a comprehensive picture of how the storm had impacted the community.
This allowed county officials to react more effectively during the storm, expedite repairs after the storm and identify vulnerabilities that were subsequently addressed so the county is now better prepared for future events.

So this idea of breaking down silos between the worlds of emergency and less-urgent communications between government and citizens has a track record of proving value.

Yes and as we apply the multiplying force of digital technologies the synergies become even more dramatic.
It seems increasingly there’s an app for that. We’re seeing the development such things as CivicPlus’s Facebook and iPhone application, the Citizen Request Tracker application, OpenGovernment built SeeClickFix and home grown efforts including the highly successful, the City of Boston Citizens Connect application which I wrote about in a recent blog on
We’re seeing a dramatic trend towards breaking down more and more silos.

We can see the positive opportunities, but what about the challenges? For instance, don’t these new technologies also carry costs and the liabilities such as needing to adopt new skillsets?

That is all very true. There will be many challenges not the least of which is weeding through the chafe that comes with what will be massive volumes of new communications.

You and I have spoken many times about the concept of “Information Anarchy.” By that I mean the possibility that when so much information floods into government, especially in dramatic situations such as Hurricane Sandy, that it will be easy for government become overwhelmed.

The situation of T-M-I or too much information, is a real challenge.
For example, Google the exact term Hurricane Sandy and you will render more than 58 million entries.
During the event, Facebook saw a 21,962 percent increase in instances of the term “hurricane,” and Twitter registered over 400,000 mentions of “Sandy” in just one hour during the storm.
Equally eye opening, the Instagram tag #Sandy accumulated more than 484,600 photos, while the term #Frankenstorm garnered roughly 38,000.
6:49 Preceding the event cell phone carriers advised, “text don’t call once Hurricane Sandy hits,” because so much information was anticipated to flood public networks, they would be rendered ineffective.
So there is a critical need to apply new tools that will allow governments to manage through the deluge of information.

Especially to weed out what will be important and actionable …

Yes. We might think that we can follow the pattern of education programs that showed people how to dial 9-1-1 and in those communities where 3-1-1 exist, educating the difference between the two systems, but we know from vast that experience that people will be people.

Especially in time of crisis, we can’t expect everyone to act rationally and use one system for life threatening situation and another for less urgent. So new tools are required to avoid the anarchy of the information. The good news is that the foundations for such tools already exist.

At Avaya we are no strangers to these concepts. We have been dealing with these types of challenges throughout our history. Now allow me to be clear. I would never make the comparison between the lifesaving mission of the Public Safety Answering Point and the challenges faced by a commercial call center.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t lesson to be learned from Avaya’s experiences serving those types of customers.
One of those fields of expertise is Avaya’s invention of multi-media in the contact center more than two decades ago.
Commercial organizations have been using Avaya technologies to process multiple mediums including text messaging, email, web services and other non-voice communications since the 1980s. So as multimedia becomes relevant to the PSAP, unlike many who have served only the traditionally insular world of 9-1-1, Avaya already has vast expertise over many years of experience.

I can see how that will be valuable, but I still feel uncomfortable comparing the mission of the 9-1-1 center to that of the commercial world.

Again, there is no comparison in the missions. Selling Duck Boots over the phone has no relevant comparisons to saving lives.

I’m just saying that lesson can be learned and technologies can be applied from the commercial world.
An example is volumes of communications.

Avaya technologies that provide errorless processing of hundreds of thousands of communications each hour by commercial customers on days such as Black Friday at Thanksgiving are relevant to the inevitable world that will be faced by government as NG9-1-1 becomes a reality.

Governments will need vendors who have seen the unexpected from the digital transformation in other industries and who have developed methodologies and skillsets to come up with solutions.

With Avaya you have a comprehensive package that includes a company who is providing critical communications in the majority of traditional 9-1-1 centers, as well as fail safe communications across the entire public safety communication chain of care.

This extends to Avaya customers in police, fire and emergency medical dispatch operations. Other examples include Healthcare and critical care institutions including Avaya providing mission critical communications to eight out of the top ten healthcare providers in the US.

As well Avaya has references for customers in emergency and non-emergency government communications from Miami-Dade, to New York City, to states, cities and towns across the country, to proving Avaya’s competence at sites of the management of dramatic emergencies including Galveston County Texas.
Avaya’s experts in critical communications are ready to help governments across the globe manage the challenges and opportunities that the digital revolution is bringing to government

Guy’s Podcast is Avaya Tech Talk and is available at
and you can follow him on Twitter @glinch

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Thanks for stopping by and reading the Avaya CONNECTED Blog on E9-1-1, I value your opinions, so please feel free to comment below or if you prefer, you can email me privately.

Public comments, suggestions, corrections and loose change is all graciously accepted 😉
Until next week. . . dial carefully.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Fletch911


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