Mark FletcherOctober 13, 2017

Public Safety Contact Centers: Evolution includes Social Media Integration

September—when we saw the impact of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria—was also this year’s very well-timed Emergency Preparedness Month. Each year, September is a terrific time to take a look at old policies and practices and consider new approaches that will not only improve the effectiveness of call-takers at public safety contact centers, but modernize and accelerate the efforts of our nation’s heroic first responders.

One of the more glaring problems that became quite evident in recent storms was the inability of many agencies to respond to the thousands of citizens desperately trying to communicate by any means possible. When phone lines failed, or were not available to them (as they were on the roofs of their homes), people instinctively reached out by any other means possible, including Twitter, Facebook, and even posting Instagram photos of their desperate situations. Read more about this in FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s article, “Firsthand Lessons from First Responders.”

Pai says, “The public is increasingly turning to social media to seek help and to get information. According to local authorities, this trend is a double-edged sword. Social media holds tremendous potential to empower citizens and fill in gaps when other options fail or are otherwise unavailable. But it also raises concerns for first responders. For one thing, public safety authorities generally do not actively monitor social media feeds as a matter of standard operating procedure. But the more daunting problem for first responders is how to collect, verify, integrate, and translate incoming social media requests to enable a suitable response.”

Recent Storm Survivors Turned to Social Media for Help

What is the lesson learned? Actually, a quite simple one. When faced with no other option to connect with people, citizens turned to what they know and commonly use. Social media connects the masses anywhere, at any time, and on nearly any device. But unfortunately, none of those individuals are employed by public safety. Our nation’s first responders are relegated to an antiquated collection of cobbled together systems, and are unable to see, monitor, or respond to such messages or take advantage of any information contained within them.

This is particularly troubling due to studies of recent consumer behavior. A 2014 survey found that 4 of 10 smartphone users said that they do not need the call function on their devices. Making phone calls was only the sixth most common use of their devices. Other popular functions were checking Facebook, surfing the Internet, reading e-mails, and sending texts.

As clearly stated by FCC Chairman Pai and Lt. General Russel L. Honore alike, social media was a game changer during recent storms, especially for the many looking for help in Houston and Naples, Florida

Current 9-1-1 Systems are Incapable and Inadequate

But for many in public safety, processing social media information with the proper geographical context, is nearly impossible using their archaic systems that are aging into extinction. Before the hurricanes, we discussed several times about how Uber can find you but 9-1-1 cannot. Let me be clear, this is NOT 9-1-1’s fault. Dispatchers do an amazing job with the tools they have, but the tools they have are ineffective. Look at any major commercial call center, and the technology would put 9-1-1 to shame. And it is NOT a matter of cost—it is a matter of not utilizing experts in recent technologies.

The Market-Leading, Proven Avaya Solution

Avaya has already been through all of the many challenges experienced by PSAPs. As the leader in contact centers and a social media specialist, we understand how to collect and deliver all of the new forms of information that public safety officials want and need.

Avaya has the market leadership in contact center deployment and technology patents. When applying this technology to 9-1-1 call centers, the solution can utilize GPS longitude and latitude, providing location aware context and therefore the ability to immediately start collecting relevant posts that have matching geotags from Twitter and Facebook. Applying keyword filters could easily bring in critical additional data to call takers and supervisors in a command and control environment.

Just as we have done in many other mission-critical industries, Avaya can help public safety to transform. Using award-winning omnichannel technology and industry leading feature functionality, Avaya has the necessary tools available for contact center agents as well as consumers to communicate via any channel. That means via text, call, or any other means of communication (even one not yet invented) through the connectivity provided by the broadband networks that are widely available today.

Fortunately for public safety, Avaya has accomplished this transformation for many others in many different industries already. We stand ready to do so again, in a standards-based, open environment that breaks the mold of yesterday’s analog legacy systems. Another piece of good news: often many showstopper changes can be avoided with simple, easy-to-implement functionality.

There is strength in masses, and together, we can succeed in this journey. Together, we can solve this problem.

Mark Fletcher

Mark J. Fletcher, ENP, is Avaya's Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions. With a telecommunications career spanning three decades, Fletch defines the strategic roadmap for Avaya's Next-Generation Emergency Services solutions while providing thought leadership to the industry. He represents Avaya on the NENA Institute Board, and was recently appointed to the FCC Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture and the FCC Disabilities Advisory Committee, where new ideas and innovations for urgent response and community engagement are brought together to deliver a smarter and safer environment.

Read Articles by Mark Fletcher


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