A New Lifeline for York County, SC

The Journey to Integrated Text-to-9-1-1

"We are a lifeline to those we serve." This is the vision of the York County Department of Public Safety Communications (PSC) and one they don't take lightly. Yet, in the face of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1), their means to provide aid takes new shape to ensure the safety of their community.

Roughly 250,000 people make their home across York County's almost 700 square miles. To answer their calls for help, York County operates the Department of PSC as its primary PSAP, which employs 36 telecommunicators at 13 positions. These individuals manage 278,000 9-1-1 and administrative calls per year, dispatching to two police agencies, 18 fire departments, EMS and other vital departments. It also has four secondary PSAPs, which use one-button transfer to municipal police departments within the county.

As one of 12 counties within the Charlotte, North Carolina, metro area, York County hosts urban communities amid a heavy rural backdrop. Yet, despite the varied paces of living, time remains of the essence when PSC staff and area first responders work to protect all their citizens.

"PSAPs deal in time," confirms Ralph Merchant, York County's 9-1-1 Operations Manager and retired Air Force fireman. "Our goal is 60 seconds from the time the phone rings to dispatch." It's this reason York County discovered its first step to Next Generation needed improvement, because Calltakers needed a better way to manage citizens' texts to 9-1-1.

An Airbus DS Communications customer since 2009, York County Department of PSC has been relying on the company's latest Call Handling innovation, the VESTA® 9-1-1 solution, for almost two years. An over-the-top application enabled Text-to-9-1-1. Yet, many problems existed with that approach.

One, an extra PC was required at the desktop and limited Text-to-9-1-1 calls to two positions. Plus, the maintenance coupled with another means of authentication took up valuable time. Ralph says, "We were not where we wanted to be with ease of use and operations. We needed something that would reliably process the text calls into the dispatch center." York County found the answer in Airbus' integrated VESTA® SMS solution.

Using their familiar VESTA 9-1-1 interface, York County Calltakers now seamlessly manage Text-to-9-1-1 calls from one application. This integrated process has removed the need for the added equipment at the desktop, provided more Calltakers Text-to-9-1-1 access and shortened response times.

John Carter, York County's Electronic and Communications Manager and 18-year employee, sums it up best. "The integration has made it easier for our telecommunicators to do their jobs." Yet, Ralph and John both affirm getting to this first step in NG9-1-1 requires its own steps.

3 CRITICAL STEPS FOR IMPLEMENTING TEXT-TO-9-1-1

In the process of implementing Text-to-9-1-1, York County Department of PSC took careful and smart actions to ensure their immediate and ongoing success.

  1. 1: They looked at existing processes.
    According to Ralph, they didn't want to reinvent the wheel. So, they looked at their own processes, as well as those of other PSAPs, to "blend" into them.

  2. 2: They informed their neighbors.
    Knowing neighboring communities, like Charlotte, have yet to implement Text-to-9-1-1, York County understood how important it was to inform nearby PSAPs of their plans. John explains, "We wanted to make sure they knew we were going live with Text-to-9-1-1. We didn't want to blindside them." At the same time, York County wanted PSAPs that do accept text messages to know they were compliant to receive them should they need to transfer them.

  3. 3: They educated the public.
    The York County Department of PSC posted information about the new Text-to-9-1-1 service on social media, as well as in local and regional papers. For instance, they informed readers of The Charlotte Observer to text 9-1-1 if they were in York County and afraid to make a phone call. Situations where Text-to-9-1-1 is ideal, per the article, include home intrusions, domestic violence threats and any potential dangerous situation where silence is safer. Their educational efforts paid off when a woman contacted 9-1-1 by text message to report threats from her husband, who was in another room. She needed assistance from police, and using the VESTA 9-1-1 solution with integrated Text-to-9-1-1, Calltakers were able to transfer her message for response.

John gives a last bit of advice for PSAPs beginning this process. "Do your homework. Look at the technology's ability to meet your needs and improve your operations. Investigate the technology until it ultimately proves its reliability. Make sure you have a reliable network and user interface to process your critical text messages. Until the integrated solution, we didn't have this."

For more information on the VESTA 9-1-1 solution with integrated Text-to-9-1-1, email us at VESTAMarketing@airbus-dscomm.com, call 951.719.2100 or visit www.Airbus-DSComm.com.