Select appropriate technologies to enable emergency notification and response systems to complement traditional 9-1-1 service.

Colorado and Washington’s experience with emergency notification and response systems.

Puget Sound,Washington,United States

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Lesson Learned

Select appropriate technologies to enable emergency notification and response systems to complement traditional 9-1-1 service.

Emergency notification and response systems and associated services aid a specific individual or motorist to request help from, and provide information to, authorities about a distress situation. The existing 9-1-1 emergency phone system is often overloaded by multiple calls about the same emergency and by non-emergency calls. Emergency notification and response systems are intended to provide appropriate assistance to distressed vehicles in a timelier manner by providing accurate information to emergency response operators. This report summarizes and interprets the results of two Field Operational Tests (FOTs) that included emergency notification and response system components.

There were multiple technologies available to perform the functions indicated by the project. These tests supplied several technical lessons about the function of the emergency systems. The computer system and mapping database used by emergency call-takers must display and update the map quickly and display a wide range of geographic and political attributes in the area surrounding the location of the incident. The systems attained good positional accuracy (within 100 meters in 44% of the trials). Cellular communication coverage was strong and reliable in densely populated counties but unreliable in areas of marginal or poor cellular coverage. The tested Global Positioning Systems (GPS) experienced difficulties in accurately locating vehicles when they were in enclosed spaces or "urban canyons," but were accurate when vehicles were in forested or open terrain. Operators at the call taking service center were able to locate the calling vehicle accurately (within half a city block) in 82% of the trials.

Final technology selection can be aided by evaluating user response. The test evaluations solicited user responses regarding acceptance and ease of use of the systems through a series of focus groups. One focus group determined that a purchase cost of $150 and a monthly service charge of from $5 to $20 would be an acceptable price for the notification service. In another test, users found the system easy to use and felt more secure with the system available. These users also felt that the systems would help responding authorities deliver the appropriate assistance. Some users complained about the difficulty of physically connecting the components of the system to their vehicles. Opinions about one tested system indicated a negative response with regard to its reliability.

While these tests also encountered few institutional challenges, as project partners overcame several issues early in the projects, use of the technology did pose a few. The most significant issues concerned the future deployment of such systems. Since the tests were conducted, the federal government has introduced regulations that require wireless phone systems to provide some of the capabilities that the tested systems developed and evaluated. (Specifically, the requirement that wireless phone calls be locatable within a certain distance.) These requirements and the progress of the technology have superseded some of the capabilities of the tested systems. Another issue concerned the use of private service centers to screen emergency calls before passing them on to Public Service Answering Points. The tests tended to support the concept of these private service centers to screen calls. However, the public partners of the tests did not consider the use of such centers essential while private partners considered these centers necessary.

This report highlights the successes and problems these tests encountered while attempting to develop the technologies appropriate to establishing and implementing emergency notification and response systems.

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Intelligent Transportation Systems Field Operational Test Cross-Cutting Study: Emergency Notification And Response

Author: Samuel Boyd (Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc)

Published By: USDOT ITS JPO

Source Date: 9/1/1998

EDL Number: 6326

Other Reference Number: FHWA-JPO-99-033

URL: https://rosap.ntl.bts.gov/view/dot/4062

Lesson Contacts

Lesson Analyst:

Jane Lappin
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center


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Lesson ID: 2005-00036