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Q&A: 9-1-1 Industry Alliance Faces 9-1-1 Overload Challenges & More

Date: 2011-08-20
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An interview with 9IA Executive Director George S. Rice

The 9-1-1 Industry Alliance (9IA) recently named George S. Rice, Jr. (pictured, right) as its new executive director. With 25 years of professional background in public safety and professional services, Rice is now helping to tackle a major issue impacting public safety, the 9-1-1 overload issue. 9-1-1 Magazine’s Randall Larson spoke with Rice on why he is dedicated to public safety and how the alliance is working to ensure that no 9-1-1 call goes unanswered.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: Prior to joining 9IA, you served for five years as the executive director of APCO International, the world's oldest and largest nonprofit professional organization dedicated to the enhancement of public safety communications. Why did you decide to head 9IA?

RICE: I very much enjoyed my time working with APCO International.  It was both personally and professionally fulfilling. My charge there was to modernize the organization’s structures, enhance its outreach processes and external image, all to provide the base on which to build a program services and policy development setting to greater serve the members and the field of public safety communications.  I feel that these goals were in large part achieved, and that the stage has been set for the next leader to take up the charge and continue to move the mission forward.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: As the new executive director of 9IA, what are your near-term and long-term goals for the organization?

RICE:  My initial goals for 9IA are similar to those set for APCO International.  We will strengthen the association’s systems, and build the infrastructure to enhance and sustain our efforts. Under the guidance of a new strategic plan, developed by the board and membership, our intent is to be the voice of industry for matters related to public safety communications and emergency response technologies.  We will be a tireless advocate for sufficient funding of emergency communications agencies and programs.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: When you were named executive director of 9IA, you said that you believe the organization can help ‘further the evolution of emergency communications systems and technologies for the benefit of all.’ How does 9IA plan to do that?

RICE:  Industry executives have a unique perspective on how technology can be advanced in service of public safety. Working in partnership with our public sector association partners, we intend to ensure that new and existing features, services and products are crafted and delivered to the market in a manner that helps public safety professionals fulfill their missions.

 9-1-1 MAGAZINE: In June, 9IA announced that it’s hosting a national workshop on the issue of 9-1-1 overload. Why is 9-1-1 overload such an important issue to address?

RICE: We are seeing that during routine emergencies, major weather events, mass shootings and other incidents, 9-1-1 centers all across the country are being overwhelmed with more phone calls than they can reasonably handle in a given period of time. This unfortunately means that some 9-1-1 calls are going unanswered.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: According to 9IA, more than 260 million calls are made to 9-1-1 each year. This is a pretty large volume of calls and it keeps going up from year to year, right?

RICE: Yes. A significant reason for the large volume of 9-1-1 calls is due to natural disasters and weather-related events. During the winter of 2010, for example, snowstorms on the East Coast severely taxed the 9-1-1 system. Call volume numbers continue to climb due to our increased mobility too – everyone is connected. In many areas, wireless 9-1-1 calls account for more than half of all 9-1-1 calls.  Some PSAPs have even reported that wireless calls make-up 70 to 80 percent of their 9-1-1 call volume.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: I do know this is a problem. I think many of us have experienced this issue where you are on the freeway and witness a car accident. You call 9-1-1 to report it, but so does everyone else on the freeway, tying up the lines for someone who may be trying to call 9-1-1 to get help for a heart attack victim or other life-threatening incident. How common is this problem?

RICE: Unfortunately, the 9-1-1 overload problem has become increasingly common throughout the United States. Some PSAPs have reported that for every one car accident, a dispatcher will receive seven to eight 9-1-1 calls.  This results in people being put on hold, receiving a busy signal or not getting through at all. Many PSAPs are underfunded and understaffed due to budget constraints and call-takers simply cannot answer the calls fast enough. Just this past May in New Orleans, more than 15 percent of calls to 9-1-1 went unanswered due to staffing issues. Additionally, there are technical issues which sometimes can result in callers receiving a busy signal.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: Also, what about non initialized wireless phones? Originally meant to allow those without access to a cell phone the ability to still call 9-1-1 in an emergency, they are now becoming hugely problematic to PSAPs, correct?

RICE:  This is really disastrous for public safety since these phones are pretty much untraceable. I read one news report a while back that cited a case where harassing calls to a Michigan PSAP came from the same non initialized phone for an entire year. We are seeing a huge spike in fraudulent calls to 9-1-1 from these phones.  I know that the FCC is examining this problem and PSAPs and wireless carriers are exploring ways to block these calls.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: What can be done to help alleviate the 9-1-1 overload problem?

RICE: That’s exactly what we hope to learn at the workshop in October. It’s a complex problem with no easy solution. We think we’ll find that the answer includes increased funding, more staffing and better technology. 

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: Tell me about the workshop itself. What are you hoping to accomplish?

RICE: We are hosting a national workshop on October 4-5, 2011 in Washington, D.C. Our goal is really to engage public safety decision-makers and government officials in a national dialog on this important problem. The workshop will feature prominent speakers, working sessions and panel discussions intended to drive a national dialog that will hopefully help alleviate 9-1-1 overload situations.

9-1-1 MAGAZINE: Thank you George for taking time to talk with me about 9-1-1 overload and best of luck to you and 9IA. We’ll keep close tabs on this issue, which is of great importance to our readers.

More information on the upcoming workshop can be found at





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