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Cyberattacks, 9-1-1 Bots, Corporate Partnership & More - Public Safety Predictions for 2017

Author: Todd Piett

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2016-12-16
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2016 was an eventful year for public safety, with the rise in civil disobedience, increased targeting of and violence against police officers, and the changing face of the terrorist threat. On the technology front cyber security, drones, digital surveillance, and body cams took turns in the spotlight. So what’s in store in 2017?  Here are some predictions, some safe and others slightly riskier, for what we’ll see next year.

A deliberate cyber attack will cause an outage on a NG9-1-1 network – We’ve already seen “accidental” cyber attacks, 9-1-1-systems-indicted demonstrating E9-1-1’s vulnerabilities, and malicious Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks attempting to extort money. Telecommunications standards bodies and emergency communications associations like NENA and APCO have been sounding the alarm bells for years and are working aggressively to improve the 9-1-1 system’s overall security. In 2017, an intentional probing attack against a NG9-1-1 network will bring this issue to public attention. The fallout will be positive, with both tangible learnings and enhanced scrutiny on network security.

Personalization will hit emergency communications – Today’s consumers expect personalization from their credit card company, ecommerce sites, and hotels, but the emergency communications they receive are still generic and untargeted. Untargeted messages can cause complaints and prompt consumers to deactivate emergency communications. For example, IPAWs/WEA is perhaps the clearest example of untargeted communications. In 2013 an Amber Alert message woke up all the residents of New York City at 3am. Many recipients responded by deactivating such alerts on their phones, lessening the system’s reach in the future. Something as simple as a quiet hours function, the ability to opt-in our out of different types of alerts, or only broadcasting the alert if a device’s GPS showed movement in the past hour could have improved this notification’s effectiveness and caused less confusion.


9-1-1 is not immune to this “one size fits all” treatment. While advances in Text-to-9-1-1 have improved support for the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, few PSAPs support any sort of specialized treatment based on other physical or cognitive disabilities, knowledge from previous calls, or even address specifics such as an apartment number or unique access instructions. Yet many individuals would gladly provide that information to 9-1-1 or allow PSAPs to access it from other systems given the opportunity. From location-based alerting, to personal information about a 9-1-1 caller, to communications based on an individual’s special needs, in 2017 consumer expectations for communications and new technologies will combine to create a much more personalized experience with emergency services. Smart Cities initiatives, aimed at digitizing resources and making information more readily available to citizens will provide the data “fuel” to help drive some of this personalization into 9-1-1.

Collaboration between corporate security and local law enforcement will increase - Leading emergency management agencies are already coordinating with local businesses to leverage private emergency assets (e.g. beds, heavy machinery) or identify risks (e.g. hazardous materials, critical infrastructure). As firms recognize the costs of business disruption from natural or man-made events, they are also aggressively investing in risk mitigation and hiring professional security personnel, many of whom are retired from public agencies. As both sides recognize the value of coordination, we’ll see more collaborations like the cursory programs we’ve already seen in emergency management. Disaster response is not just about your streets anymore – it’s also about the businesses in a local area, and how you can work with their security resources in an emergency. For example, here’s an interesting article about the Ritz Carlton hotel in Charlotte, NC and their response when Black Lives Matter protests turned violent in September. Meeting ahead of time with the businesses in your region to learn their internal response plans and coordinate their efforts with yours can be a huge force multiplier, and will become more common in 2017.

Alternative handling of EMS callers and the cognitively disabled will hit the mainstream – Two significant trends will drive changes to the procedures and laws governing the dispatch of responders and what actions they take on-scene.

First, the abuse and overuse of the emergency medical system for non-urgent care issues will prompt procedural changes. From frequent fliers using ambulance transport as a taxi service to non-critical medical issues treated at extremely high cost in hospital emergency rooms, our current emergency medical response process creates a huge cost burden. Lowering these costs will require major changes to response procedures and arcane transport laws and regulations. Many agencies are already revising how they triage medical callers to divert emergency room transports, whether through using taxis or Uber or by sending social workers to patients. The huge cost of unnecessary emergency room visits will drive similar changes across the country.

Second, law enforcement officials are reporting more and more interactions with the mentally disabled. Without time or proper training to address these cases, many officers must choose to either just ignore issues or lock up people who may be a risk to themselves. In 2017, we will see more social workers dispatched in support of law enforcement across the country to address this issue.

Body cameras and privacy laws will collide – As more agencies deploy body cameras, and more people call for quick disclosure of captured video, the likelihood of violating the privacy of someone captured on camera increases. Whether a child on video is inadvertently not redacted, or a person engaging with the police is exposed as an informant of some type, at least one lawsuit will emerge where privacy and transparency collide. As these conflicts begin to move through the court system, agencies will adapt both technologies and systems to better balance the often competing needs for openness and privacy.

Bots will come to 9-1-1 – A bot is a software application that runs automated tasks (scripts) over the internet. If you’ve used Siri on your iPhone or had an instant message conversation with support on a web site that felt “scripted,” you’ve already interacted with a bot. As natural language processing technology improves and computing power becomes cheaper, chat bots in particular are moving into more applications. In 2017 we will see bots make their debut in 9-1-1. The most natural entrée for bots is to start call triage on calls that are still in queue. A simple initial deployment could be a bot that asks a caller if the call is an emergency and prompts them to leave a voice mail if it isn’t. Bots with a bit more sophistication could let callers identify the type of emergency and route EMS or Fire calls to a secondary PSAP, or even identify need for a language line translator so proper resources could be teed up when the call taker gets to the call. The arrival of bots in emergency call handling will deliver cost savings and operational efficiencies but will also cause an uproar as the inevitable error will cause a response delay or worse.

And so will the Internet of Things – The Internet of Things (IoT) is a catch-all phrase for devices that can connect to and transmit information through the Internet. Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, and NEST are a few common consumer names for systems that connect devices at home, but orders of magnitude more IoT-enabled devices are being deployed in health care and industrial settings. It’s not hard to imagine scenarios where these devices should connect to emergency services, and 9-1-1 will be the front end of that communication. These types of connections may manifest in numerous ways.0 Emergency notifications might be published to a home speaker system. An implanted heart monitoring device might broadcast when an individual suffers cardiac arrest through a base station connected to a mobile broadband network. Whatever the form, 2017 will see the IoT start to hit 9-1-1.


As Chief Product Officer for Rave Mobile Safety, Todd Piett leads marketing, product management and development for Rave. Prior to joining Rave, Todd was responsible for launching new products for Unica Corporation where he helped drive their successful IPO. Previously, Todd was VP of Product and Marketing for iBelong, a portal provider targeting affinity organizations and a Program Manager at Dell Computer where he launched Dell’s branded ISP.



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