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Computerized Phone Speeds BART Response

Written by James Careless

The time frame of 24 seconds may not seem like a long time. But if you’re a 911 emergency caller contacting the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Police in San Francisco, 24 seconds can seem like a lifetime.

The delay was caused by the multiple local carrier paths used to route “911” calls to BART Dispatch…calls from more than 600 pay phones, 350 call boxes and 18 PBX (private branch exchanges) located throughout BART’s commuter railway system. It includes 43 stations and 104 miles of commuter rail track.

To slash time off this 24 seconds, BART’s telecommunications department contracted XTEND Communications Corporation to find a solution. XTEND’s answer was to replace the existing BART 911 call processing system with a computer desktop solution called “pc/psap Intelligent E911 Workstation.” By moving 911 call answering directly to a PC-based point of contact, XTEND reduced the number of steps in the 911 call-taking chain.

“XTEND’s system eliminated our local carrier (SBC) in most cases and created a ‘campus environment’ where all calls were directed thru BART’s own telecommunications paths,” Mary Steeves, BART’s Communications Manager, says. “We also replaced an outdated and difficult-to-manage 911 system.”

How pc/psap Works

Before getting into the details of this system, which is now being used by BART, it is fair to say that pc/psap did the trick. Today, it takes less than four seconds for BART to process a 911 call. pc/psap is fundamentally a software solution that integrates a department’s telephone system with its internal LAN (Local Area Network). In this way, the E911 (Enhanced 911) Automatic Number and Location Identification (ANI/ALI) data generated by each telephone can be routed directly into the 911 call-taker’s PC. By immediately having access to each caller’s physical location, the call-taker can dispatch the closest personnel to their position using BART’s Computer Aided Dispatch system.

The pc/psap approach saves time by reducing the number of steps a 911 call goes through during processing. It also improves Dispatch accuracy through its use of ANI/ALI data for each call received. Since the locations of the system’s pay phones, call boxes and PBXs are known quantities, there’s no longer any guesswork when it comes to dispatching BART police.

In addition, XTEND’s software also automatically records all incoming calls as digital files, replaying them on demand. pc/psap will even display and answer TDD text sent from deaf callers.

Structurally, pc/psap is built on “open system” architecture. In plain English, this means it can be run on any common PC/workstation operating on either a Novell Netware or Windows NT/2000 LAN. As well, pc/psap runs using mirrored servers; should one server fail, the other will take over, preventing any disruption in 911 call-taking.

One pc/psap feature is actually called “FailSafe.” It allows the department’s current database information to be backed up on each individual workstation. With this data in place, the call-taker can keep processing calls on his PC even if the network fails. In the case of BART, all four of its call-taking workstations are able to keep running locally when the LAN is offline.

If pc/psap is connected directly to the department’s PBX switchboard, rather than loaded onto PC-based integration cards, it is possible for the operator to keep taking calls should the department’s entire computer system fail!

Considerations

For departments wanting to improve 911 response without substantially rebuilding their telephone systems, XTEND’s pc/psap offers a cost-effective alternative. This is because pc/psap will work with a department’s existing telephone system and Windows computer architecture. It doesn’t require any form of proprietary equipment. As well, the software’s abilities are based on the pc/psap system using E911 location data being generated by the caller’s phones via the public telephone network, rather than having to create this data itself.

The savings inherent in these two facts makes pc/psap an affordable solution for departments wanting to improve their 911 call processing time. Certainly it did the trick for BART: Going from 24 seconds to less than four seconds is astounding.

The bottom line: It is possible to substantially improve 911 connection times with the right technology; enhancing public safety and officer response time without increasing staff or buying a lot of new equipment. “With the XTEND solution in place, we’ve greatly accelerated emergency response time,” Mary Steeves says.

James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications issues. He may be reached at jcareless5000@yahoo.com.

Published in Law and Order, May 2006

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