Early in 2009, Chester County, PA, was struggling with an arson spree. The FBI, ATF, City, County and the fire department set up a multi-agency task force to try to solve the arsons.
But they needed more help. Along came Verint® Systems Inc
., from Melville, NY, bringing the speech analytics tool from its Impact 360® for Public Safety Powered by Audiolog™ to the investigation. The company examined call data residing on Chester County’s hard drives and utilized the word patterns from the arson calls (patterns that exist in the way all people speak). They sought out specific connections to the crime wave. The result: They “sleuthed-out” the phrase trends that led investigators to success.
“By looking at phrases in context instead of just random words bumped together,” said Bobby Kagel, Assistant Director for Quality at Chester County Department of Emergency Services, “they built a query and from that discovered the keywords ‘porch’ and ‘fire’ in many of the calls.” Based on that analysis, investigators were able to piece together the puzzle and catch the arsonist. They were able to identify related calls that reported fire damage but that did require the fire department to be dispatched because there was not an active fire at the time of the call. As a result, these calls had not been identified as related to this investigation before. This discovery enabled the supply of additional data to investigators.
The patented speech analytics solution works to assist public safety agencies in trend-spotting. According to the company, this can “help reduce crime and improve quality of life for citizens, provide sophisticated tools to aid investigators in leveraging 9-1-1 interactions in ongoing investigations, and achieve accurate and efficient call handling and dispatching for high-quality citizen service.”
How did Chester County reach out for help? It was all about call verification. Kagel explained: “When we first started 9-1-1 in 1995, we were getting 50% errors in the ANI/ALI data calls we received. We were having trouble with correct street addresses. Then we ran into a situation where we sent emergency personnel to the wrong location because two streets had the same name with the same block ranges in one of our towns. It resulted in a fire death. We put serious checks and balances into our location verification process. As the accuracy of the data improved, the location verification process stayed the same.” The county began working with the company’s speech analytics in what Kagel termed a pilot program of sorts and on Sept. 8, 2009, his county launched the location verification process.
Kagel indicated that the new system helped them create a manual based on the speech analytics and it led to operators gathering information faster and in a more accurate manner. “Before, we were asking what the address was, what the closest intersection was and the township, but it was frustrating to both callers and dispatchers. Now we’ve streamlined the process to get the information we need quicker. This system helped us to eliminate unnecessary questions.” He noted that after the county installed speech analytics, the Emergency Services Department utilized the data to build themselves static queries and also on-the-fly queries to handle any type of emergency call in a far more efficient manner.
The Chester County Department of Emergency Services handles dispatch for 45 police departments, 52 fire departments and 23 EMS organizations in a 762-square-mile area. Located in the city of West Chester, the Comm Center emergency call staff consists of 80 people divided into four platoons (shifts) called A, B, C and D, with five police dispatchers, three fire dispatchers and two supervisors on each platoon.
The Department of Emergency Services sought to do more with its call data, improve investigations, build quality, and be more proactive in the way they dealt with call procedures. “We wanted to be able to reliably see trends that we could back up with data to confirm or disprove stories and that was key,” Kagel said. “We started testing the Impact 360 for Public Safety about a year ago; we’ve had a relationship with the Audiolog product for about 10 years. But with the Impact 360 we’ve changed our process. The call times have reduced. Callers are happier. Operators are happier. Our telecommunications officers are now saying that it is much easier to verify the 9-1-1 call.”
But how did it all start? Verint Systems has worked in contact centers for many years but didn’t get involved in public safety until 2006 when it purchased Mercom Systems and its Audiolog call recorder. By 2008 the firm was looking at the public safety market and what they could bring to it.
“We noticed trends in the private sector that we felt we could bring to emergency call operators in the Communication Centers,” said Kristyn Emenecker, director of solutions marketing for Verint Systems. “Plus, with today’s increased media scrutiny and, along with the Internet, increased awareness of police and public safety procedures, we saw a need for departments to be more proactive in their emergency call handling procedures,” Emenecker said.
At the end of 2008 the company launched Impact 360 for Public Safety, a “suite” of products that included Audiolog, a system of recording and playback, and hardware and software, which involved telephone and radio traffic as well as data found on an operator’s computer screen. The suite also included quality assurance reviews, which could be turned into guidelines made into a software package that a public safety manager could put into a program. Also available is an eLearning segment that allowed public safety officers to use call recordings for education and training with opportunities to pause the audio clip and answer questions about how an operator would more effectively handle a situation, for purposes of improving emergency communications skills. Citizen Surveys for callers were also available to relate their experience, another way public safety managers could build some good will.
Emenecker said the State of Pennsylvania was the first to mandate quality assurance (QA) software, and Chester County was the first county in the state to implement QA. “We decided to go to them and we asked them for thousands of hours’ worth of call records,” Emenecker stated. “We took these records and ran them through our speech analytics program to form a model of terms that are used in public safety and specifically in 9-1-1 calls. At the time we were wondering ourselves if we could make this a viable product. We were in a proof of concept stage, if you will.”
The company had already found that the analytics worked in a number of areas including telecommunications, utilities and insurance. They were about to find out about public safety. Emenecker indicated that there were two big benefits from speech analytics on 9-1-1 calls. One was an improvement in operations by being able to find bottlenecks and identify skill issues. The other was a whole new angle in investigative use, which interested public safety very much. Putting together identity trends to tell an investigator about crime sprees was the biggest benefit.
“All along we knew the speech analytics could be a big idea but it is sophisticated technology that needed the right value proposition with the right streamlined delivery model and price point for this market,” Emenecker said. “This wasn’t a totally new product, it was re-engineered and re-launched. Our speech analytics uses computer speech technology, which converts the audio into text to automatically identify word and phrase trends.”
Verint Systems provided these capabilities by using sophisticated call processing procedures that took 9-1-1 interactions and automatically transcribed audio into data that could be mined for intelligence. The system was designed to help meet the stringent and mission-critical requirements of today’s public safety answering points (PSAPs).
The speech analytics software will reside in the Comm Centers where operators, officers and managers in public safety can walk over and use the console to check words and trends using the software with the browser.
Impact 360 for Public Safety Powered by Audiolog brought together functionality for voice and screen recording, quality assurance, analytics, scorecards, call-taker training and citizen surveys into a flexible suite. It was put together to help emergency dispatch and response operators achieve liability reduction, accuracy and immediacy, and efficient investigation analysis.
“This will be a turnkey with a server,” Emenecker said. “Public safety managers and operators will access it with their Web browsers via their own desktop computer using their Intranet.”
Is this the future of emergency calls? According to Kagel, “From our law enforcement perspective, we are creating a Fusion Center in southeast Pennsylvania and we are taking a look at collecting 9-1-1 calls at the center and analyzing them to look for trends not just in our own county but beyond. Verint Systems software could analyze these calls.” He added: “For instance, in just one scenario, we’ll be able to see H1N1 through 9-1-1 and we can do a better job of analyzing that information throughout the entire region.” Tim Burke is a freelance writer, editor, designer and photographer based in Skokie, IL. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.