Equipment for PSAPs

As we come to the end of September, National Preparedness Month, I’d like to emphasize two tools that Public Protection Answering Points (PSAPs) – Many 911 operations centers – can use: one to alert their communities, and the other to alert the FCC to local public safety marketing communications issues. These tools – emergency notifications and the FCC’s new Public Protection Support Center – can help general public safety communicators carry out their lifesaving missions.

Crisis Alerts

As part of National Preparedness Month, Ready. gov educates Americans to make an emergency communications plan, which includes learning how to get emergency alerts and warnings through local officials. But are nearby officials ready to fully leverage alerting systems to warn their towns? One emerging best practice is perfect for PSAPs, who field incoming crisis calls, to also have a means of sending out critical information to the general public.

Here’s an example of how alerting can support incident response: This past year, an anonymous 911 caller documented an active gunman in an elementary school in Seminole County, Florida. Officials placed the school on lockdown since police responded. It turned out that the call was a hoax. Before the hoax had been exposed, however , news of the intended shooter was distributed via social media marketing, and concerned parents converged within the school. Public safety officials did not have a tool to counteract incomplete or inaccurate information on social media. Regardless whether the shooter had proven actual, the cordon of armed police combined with the influx of parents complicated the situation, and an even more dangerous occurrence could have resulted. But imagine, however, if the police and other emergency supervisors could have used targeted alerting to tell parents that all was okay – or, in a different scenario, delivered them instructions about where they might safely gather?

All of us used this incident as one of the case studies in a recent workshop we held on how local emergency authorities can leverage the use of alerting techniques. Panelists supported the proposition that will state and local emergency management offices that fully integrate alerting, 911, social media, and other emergency marketing communications functions into an integrated whole are far more effective in notifying their towns about danger than those that silo these functions or do not use alerting at all.

There is an effective tool already available that will local public safety officials can use for alerting. The Integrated General public Alert and Warning System, or even IPAWS, maintained by the Federal Crisis Management Agency, is an integrated entrance through which authorized public safety entities, including PSAPs, can initiate notifications. The alerts may be sent through the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which usually delivers the information via radio, tv, and other media, and/or Wireless Crisis Alerts (WEA), which are delivered to consumers’ cell phones. Most PSAPs across the country are not taking advantage of this important information dissemination reference. I encourage state, local, and tribal emergency managers to consider assisting direct participation in IPAWS from their PSAPs. It is not difficult to obtain consent, and some PSAPs have already done so.

Public Safety Assistance Center

The second important tool is a new one created to specifically accelerate issue spotting with the 911 system by itself. To ensure that PSAPs and other public safety organizations have an efficient way to request support and information from the General public Safety and Homeland Security Agency, we have launched the Public Safety Assistance Center (PSSC). This one-stop web portal can be used by public safety stakeholders to notify us of communications issues ranging from 911 support outages and fraudulent 911 calls to tower lighting outages and interference affecting public safety radio systems. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for public safety agencies to reach us online to convey problems with communications issues. (Of training course – as always – our 24/7 Operations Center remains available by phone at all times for safety-of-life issues. ) Additional details about the PSSC are included in a Public Discover issued today.

I really hope that PSAPs and other public safety stakeholders will consider using these sources and provide us with feedback even as we continue to work together to improve community crisis response.

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