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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

How assistive AI improves emergency response

Every city faces public safety emergencies, from routine traffic incidents to crime, extreme weather and more. Speed, efficiency and effectiveness are the linchpin of emergency response during these situations, and delays or misinformation during such events can be catastrophic.

The unsung heroes at these moments of distress are the personnel manning 911 call centers. Call-takers are the first line of defense, connecting residents with the appropriate resources as expeditiously as possible. Dispatchers similarly need as much assistance as possible from the tools at their disposal to determine the correct response and direct field personnel accordingly.  

While hundreds, sometimes thousands, of daily calls for service capture a tremendous amount of data that could help inform action, real-time analysis has been limited. Much of the analysis call centers do now is retrospective. While that can help anticipate where resources are more likely to be needed, it cannot inform decisions in a live situation. The inability to conduct and act on sophisticated analysis in real time is a missed opportunity to better understand complex emergencies.

Dispatchers must spot when the call they are handling is part of a bigger event, but their understanding generally is based on the call in front of them, their own experience and small pieces of additional information scattered in the wider operational data pool. For example, when searching for related data, staff can generally only view situations in which names and telephone numbers exactly match previous records. The challenge is to pick out wider critical insights from the flood of data passing through a call center without overwhelming or distracting dispatchers from their task.

Fortunately, municipal and state governments understand this challenge and are increasingly turning to more advanced technologies. Among the most promising tools to solve this problem is artificial intelligence, which IDC calls one of the technologies that will reshape the way public safety agencies work. AI has the potential to improve the efficacy of emergency response by leaps and bounds because it can utilize public safety agencies’ existing datasets more effectively. 

Of course, citizens likely would not feel comfortable if response to their most stressful moments relied primarily on an automated system. That is why public safety agencies now focus on assistive AI. It helps dispatchers by connecting the dots to give them vital insights so they can make more informed decisions -- but crucially those decisions always rest with the dispatcher. Assistive AI can play a vital part in bridging the information gap many public safety agencies face by keeping human operators at the forefront and helping them to identify similarities within a cluster of seemingly unrelated events or calls. The technology flags insights that are critical to understanding a situation that may have otherwise gone unnoticed until it was too late, such as spotting a more extensive emerging crisis by linking separate calls for service.

While increasing dispatchers’ efficiency and effectiveness is vital, it is also crucial to maintain their morale and well-being. These frontline workers are under high pressure to perform; the stress of helping citizens through life-threatening emergencies can be overwhelming, which is one reason why the national average turnover rate for dispatchers is over 15%.

Assistive AI helps by augmenting human intuition during high-pressure situations and allowing 911 staff to see the unseen. The technology also reassures call center professionals that they will keep both emergency personnel and the public safe without overlooking vital information. Teams that are more comfortable handling the tools and technology at their disposal can better focus on orchestrating strategic responses to multilayered emergencies. AI must be integrated into existing processes without distracting from or disrupting workflows.  

Public safety issues can be devastating to communities and significantly impact first responders’ capacity and performance. If these groups have better, timelier information about complex emergencies, however, they can spring into action faster. The entire community rests easier when 911 operators approach their work armed with the best technology possible, and assistive AI helps dispatchers do just that. Call centers with this advanced technology will analyze data more intelligently and be more energized while helping the people who need it most. All parties will benefit from utilizing assistive AI in the crucial work of emergency response.

About the Author

Jack Williams is strategic product manager for AI, analytics, and interoperability at Hexagon’s Safety & Infrastructure division.

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