Bridging the Gap Between First Responder and Citizen Caller

Are there ways to exchange information automatically, thereby improving the accuracy, speed and thoroughness of responding officers?


A Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) receives a "Good Samaritan" call: Someone has witnessed a crime in progress and took a picture of the alleged perpetrator using a camera phone. How can this be delivered to the police cruiser arriving at the crime scene?

A car hits a tree: The telematics provider calls a PSAP with details. Were airbags deployed? How fast was the car going? Was there a passenger in the front seat? This information is available to the telematics provider, but is there a way to get it to the ambulance that is en route to the accident scene? Can medical information concerning the driver of the vehicle be passed automatically?

A speech-impaired individual is robbed on the street: The individual uses a BlackBerry. Yet, how does this person call for help in a voice-centric world? How can the police officer get information from this person while being dispatched to the scene?

These are common scenarios that first responders encounter daily and that today require the use of creative communication techniques, all involving verbal exchange. Yet the information exists as data. Are there ways to exchange this information automatically, thereby improving the accuracy, speed and thoroughness of the information exchange? Can we bridge the gap — this data divide — between first responders and the citizens who need help?

Perhaps there is an even more disturbing question: After spending millions of dollars to upgrade the public safety infrastructure to automatically pass location information from a wireless caller to the PSAP, why isn't this information automatically passed to the first responder as a point on a map? (See screen shot on Page 79.) After all, this is just another form of data. Apparently, even this fundamental piece of information has been caught in the data chasm. Perhaps it is time to build the bridge across this data divide.

The first outreach to first responders

In response to President Johnson's 1967 Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice report, AT&T created the concept of a nationwide emergency telephone number on January 12, 1968. The intent was to make it possible for the average citizen to reach police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) by dialing a single, easy-to-remember telephone number.

The telephone system would automatically take care of routing the call to the appropriate facility so the caller would not have to remember the five-digit or seven-digit telephone numbers for emergency services. The emergency would be verbally conveyed; the phone number and location of the caller would be asked; and the appropriate emergency services would be dispatched.

Soon it became clear that the variety of emergency situations would require dispatching different types of resources (police, fire or EMS), and the need for an "intermediary" to handle the call became clear — thus the PSAP was created.

The first pieces of the data puzzle

As the telephone systems modernized, the ability to send the caller's telephone number became part of the infrastructure. Since having the caller's telephone number was important for public safety (if the call was dropped or disconnected, the communication path was gone without the callback number), the callback number was made available for the first time on July 9, 1978. Passing data to the PSAP was an unique event, and the concept of "Enhanced 911" (E-911) was born.

But there was an even more important piece of information that first responders required to do their jobs — they needed the caller's location. Up to this point, it was received verbally. Was there a way to pass this information along automatically, especially in cases where the caller was unable to verbally convey the information?

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