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August 20, 2013
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

Text messaging comes to 911

New Orleans is the test bed for Motorola's PremierOne CAD Call Control Client product

The Orleans Parish (La.) Communication District (OPCD) recently installed PremierOne, the latest computer-aided dispatch/records management system (CAD/RMS) product from Motorola Solutions, and will be the field trial location for a new feature, the PremierOne Call Control Client. 

The new setup makes their 911 and emergency communications system far more capable than before and will provide for single-point integration, allowing them to do what the public has demanded for a long time: accept information via text message. 

A Complicated Environment
Karl Fasold is the system administrator for the OPCD, which serves the New Orleans Police, Fire, and Emergency Medical Services departments within the parish (analogous to a county in most other states). Orleans Parish is unique among Louisiana parish governments, as the boundaries of the City of New Orleans and Orleans Parish are the same. 

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OPCD is undergoing an evolution more or less forced on them by Hurricane Katrina. They presently have only 12 employees, but host 130 communications personnel from NOPD, 20 from NOFD, and about 20 from New Orleans EMS. 

The OPCD is a “political subdivision of the State of Louisiana,” established by the state legislature to “provide 911 services to the residents and visitors to Orleans Parish,” and therefore isn’t a part of the City of New Orleans or any one of the first responder agencies. 

Swivel Chair Integration
OPCD had been using a system that required call-takers to switch between two computers — one to answer the call and another to input the call into the CAD system for action, typical in the 911 center environment. 

Fasold called this “swivel chair integration.” There was some porting of data from one computer to the other, but it was mainly in the form of a text dump of basic call information. The new system uses the Motorola Call Control Client, which is one component of the PremierOne system. 

The communications center isn’t taking calls via text message yet, but they plan to start phasing in this feature. The FCC has mandated that cellular network carriers be capable of transmitting text messages to Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) by 2014. 

On receipt of a text message, the system will route it to either an idle operator or one who is on a voice call already, in much the same methodology used for voice calls with Automatic Call Distribution. Due to the Call Control Client integration, all information regarding the text messages, including the content with date-time stamps for each message, is included in the CAD incident information.

The key to the FCC mandate is that text messages to 911 will be just that, text messages sent to a destination phone number of “911.” 

Just as the existing voice call system routes a call to the appropriate PSAP, so will the text messaging system route a text message to 911 to the correct PSAP.

In any event, it’s unlikely that first responders will be rolling on anything based on a single text message. 

Preventing ‘Swatting’
“Swatting” — where prank callers fake a report to get officers to make a tactical entry into the house of an unsuspecting victim — would be too easy if the cops acted on every text message. 

Instead, text messages will be more of a conversation, and operators will have preformatted responses ready to send quickly. One of the first prefab responses is likely to be, “Is this an emergency where you can’t call on the phone?” Operators will confirm the circumstances or look for multiple reports before they start emergency personnel to the scene. 

“If this is an ongoing conversation, and it turns out to be a fraudulent swatting attempt or report, that’s something the judicial system is going to have to figure out,” Fasold said. 

Text messages may wind up being added to call data sent to officers’ mobile data terminals, or read in to be incorporated into the narrative portion of the call. 

In the field trial of the PremierOne Call Control Client, Fasold is especially enthusiastic about testing its integrated user interface, which allows an operator to use a single keyboard and mouse, or to forget the mouse and never take their hands off of the keyboard, controlling both the call handling and the CAD client. 

“We’re very excited on testing this, as ‘swivel chair’ is very painful and tends to slow getting the information to the field responders,” Fasold said. 

“We think this is going to improve our response times considerably toward getting that initial call pushed out, and we’re looking forward to it.” 

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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