Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) come in as many colors and flavors as the public safety agencies and communities they serve. Most of the time when you hear about a PSAP, it’s in reference to a traditional answering point, or one that serves a municipality, county or state. Existing right beside them, functioning in the same way, are non-traditionals. “Right now, non-traditional PSAPs are going to be universities, large schools, hospitals and airports,” explains Elizabeth “Liz” Phillips, assistant director, University of Kansas (KU) Public Safety Office. “We are unique in many ways and in many ways we do all the same things.”
Even browsing the extensive list of PSAPs produced by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), it’s hard to tell how many nontraditionals exist. “Probably more than we expect,” says Ty Wooten, Education and PSAP Operations Director, National Emergency Number Association (NENA). Wooten has unique experience in this area as he was the director at the Indianapolis International Airport for several years.
“There is an assumption they are a secondary and not a primary,” he says of non-traditionals. Many times this is not the case.
Protector of the Jayhawks
During the turmoil of the Vietnam War, the University of Kansas, along with Kent State and UC-Berkeley, administrators struggled with maintaining student safety during the unrest that rocked their campuses. With a large population of Black Panthers and a sizeable Native American presence, KU needed to address the changes in their environment. The city agreed. “It was in the late '60s, early '70s that [the city of] Lawrence (Kansas) said you aren’t giving any taxes, so you need to provide your own law enforcement,” explains Phillips. “State legislators passed a law that started the police department at the university. Then we started our own PSAP.”
Lawrence was the pilot city for Southwestern Bell’s basic 911. Located on the main campus of KU, this non-traditional PSAP has one administrator, one supervisor, and eight 911 operators, with two more positions pending. In fall 2013, 27,939 students were enrolled with their campus positioned directly in the middle of a city of 92,000. The main campus is around 1,000 acres. Phillips, who spoke at APCO 2013 on a panel titled, “Non-Traditional Communication Centers and NG911” told the audience, “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and acts like a duck, you figure out the rest.”
One if by air, two if by sea
Another non-traditional PSAP, the Port of Seattle, serves not only the seaport but also Seattle-Tacoma International Airport with over 33 million people traveling through their jurisdiction every year. “While we are considered a non-tradition, we function more like a traditional,” explains Kathy McCaughan, communications manager. With 16 full-time dispatchers, two shift supervisors and one IT support person, the Port of Seattle PSAP is located in the airport and serves as primary for landlines and wireless calls that fall into their jurisdiction. They also serve as a secondary PSAP to cell phones for King County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office.
Seattle has 53 miles of seawater shoreline and the port ranks eighth largest in the U.S., hosting 21,000 jobs. Sea-Tac ranked as the 15th busiest airport in the U.S. in 2012, serving 309,597 aircraft operations and moved 283,500 metric tons of air cargo. In addition, this non-traditional will be offering services to a local jurisdiction in the near future.
“Our customers have a different dynamic,” Phillips explains. KU’s community is younger, with an average age of 22 to 23, has a higher education level, and less poverty issues than those facing the population served by traditional PSAPs. “Our whole community is a little different. We have kids that have never been away from home before,” she explains. “We have individuals to whom the whole culture seems strange. The things we think of as being pretty routine if you were born in the U.S., are kind of weird.”