May 7, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
New York City is undertaking an initiative to streamline its call taking process when a citizen dials 911. Under the old process, when someone called 911, a police department call taker would get the person's information and determine what type of incident he or she was reporting. If it pertained to a fire, a conference call was initiated with the fire department and the same information was repeated. Then the fire department representative would forward the information to a dispatcher who would deploy the appropriate response.
The unified call taking program will streamline the process through improved technology and training. It also will enable the police call taker to handle both fire- and law enforcement-related phone calls, and the information will be shared electronically between the departments and dispatchers. The goal is to eliminate the time it takes to process the information and therefore get emergency response to the incident faster.
"With unified call taking, we are able to have the police call taker input information directly into the fire dispatch system," said city spokesman Jason Post.
"We've cross-trained [the police] on the fire department codes, and we have combined their systems so that the computer-aided dispatch software can talk to each other," Post said.
The program is part of the city's Emergency Communications Transformation Program, an initiative to enhance call taking and dispatch operations for its police, fire and emergency medical services departments. According to a statement, under the program, the agencies will benefit from upgraded computer dispatch systems, improved integration and data sharing, and new 911 telephony networks and software. Annually more than 180,000 phone calls are made to 911 in New York City.
"By cutting out the middleman in the process, we will shorten the time it takes for the fire department to begin its response to emergencies, which could save lives," Bloomberg said in a statement.
The next step in the program is housing the police and fire call takers and dispatchers in the same building. Post said the city expects that to be completed by fall 2009.