Making 911 Independent and Equal
ECCs that are independent and equal to other local first response systems help improve equitable outcomes.
Why is this essential? The mission and function of ECCs across the nation have transformed from simple information transfer stations to critical points in the public safety incident life cycle where resource deployment and tactical decisions are made. The leaders of these agencies need autonomy to address issues that affect the greater public safety mission of a jurisdiction that has proven practically and politically difficult when ECCs are in a subordinate position (usually within or to police and/or fire). An experienced emergency communications professional should be in an equal position to fully inform elected officials, governing bodies, and the public without fear of recourse or concerns about being minimized or questioned by other public safety agencies.
Under current practice, ECCs are often neither independent nor equal to other first response agencies. It is critical that these centers and their 911 professional leadership receive greater autonomy in deciding what the response to a call for service will entail.
Currently, ECC staff are tasked with classifying a call, while the partnering response agency (e.g., EMS, fire, police) dictates what the response will be, who will carry it out, and what tools will be used. While trained and supported 911 professionals have expertise in translating need to these other agencies, the current system does not leverage the reality that the 911 professional is the first responder most relationally proximate to the emergency before help arrives on the scene. The nuance and insights gained in a call, interpreted by a trained and supported 911 professional (see chapter five on the workforce), offer tremendous value for ensuring that the right response is deployed at the right time (see chapter seven on the right response).
Furthermore, EMS, fire, and law enforcement agencies are often understaffed and overtaxed and responsible for advancing a mission and vision outside the direct scope required to effectively handle and dispatch calls for service. The current practice of tasking these other agencies with the call-taking and dispatching functions can introduce additional burdens and divert front-line and executive-level staff members’ attention to the core mission for which their agencies are responsible and should be held accountable.
We therefore envision a 911 system in which the ECC has greater authority in designing and directing the response, with this recommendation helping to meet this objective. The 911 professional has taken the information in and should be empowered to help define and direct the response. The ECC in which the 911 professional works should similarly be empowered to craft and monitor the related policies and governing practices, rather than simply having to follow another agency’s operating procedures. This will further allow the other agencies to redirect time and attention currently spent on leading in the creation of a response plan to collaborate here and then to direct more resources to the response.
Consolidation and/or independence have been under consideration by many ECCs in recent years. Consolidation is sometimes seen as controversial because it can be viewed as running counter to local control. A perhaps less controversial framework is the shared services model, designed to cut costs through leveraging resources across ECCs. In recent years, several jurisdictions have consolidated and/or become independent, including Nashville and the District of Columbia, which both consolidated all emergency communications (e.g., police, fire, and EMS) into independent city agencies that report directly to their respective mayors. Other examples include New Orleans—whose ECC became independent after its struggles during Hurricane Katrina—as well as those in Tucson, Arizona, and Camden, New Jersey.
Making ECCs independent and equal departments offers the opportunity to encourage specialization, greater focus, enhanced prioritization, and progress toward excellence across agencies for mission advancement and alignment. The independence and equality of agencies also allows more opportunity for the public to better understand the role of each agency, the associated governing practices and structures, and as such can create more straightforward pathways toward achieving full accountability and transparency.
Another critical part of this recommendation is empowering local leadership. The geographic and cultural differences across this country are vast, and local agencies have on-the-ground knowledge that federal and even state-level agencies lack. There is an opportunity for federal support and guidance (see chapter nine on national support), while leaving ECCs under local leadership where they are best positioned to respond to the needs of the people and communities they serve.
1. Locally position 911 as independent from other first responders such as EMS, fire, and law enforcement and as an equal partner in promoting public safety.
- Include planning and support for culture change as well as to ensure that this is not seen as “punitive” by EMS, fire, law enforcement, or others.
- Empowered to deploy the appropriate response and reach out to non-police responders if the current ecosystem of response options is not equipped to handle the emergency.
- As recommended in chapter four on the people, ECC governing boards and authorities should also be representative of the communities they serve, including representation from historically underrepresented groups.
- Other professionals who work in complex organizations have chosen independence. For example, some physicians choose to practice independently from the hospitals where they admit patients. These physicians have more control over their practices and will join other independent doctors to save money on expenses that hospitals cover.
2. Increase coordination among ECCs and encourage infrastructure in regional efficiencies where feasible.
- Examine potential needs and opportunities for reducing the sheer number of ECCs in operation to make the rollout of new initiatives, implementation of new technologies, and operationalization of standards more feasible.
- Achieve economies of scale while maintaining relevant ties to local communities
- Consider consolidation of physical spaces and/or shared technologies that may cut costs and introduce operational efficiencies.
- The cost of operating an ECC with cutting-edge, lifesaving technology can be prohibitively expensive, particularly in the most economically vulnerable areas of the country like rural areas and sovereign tribal lands.
- Introduce and bolster NG911 technologies as opportunities to virtually consolidate and share resources, such that some physical consolidations might not be as necessary.
- In this way, consolidation can support local control and priorities and open up additional efficiencies and cost savings (while still serving the local community’s interests).
3.Understand gaps in service demand and capacity to meet the needs of the community to assist in the development and shift of certain emergency calls for service away from traditional emergency response option(s) initiated and served by 911.
- Conduct a comprehensive gap analysis in service demand and capacity to determine which calls would best be served by hotlines and/or alternative responses.
- Analyze EMS, fire, and law enforcement calls for service data.
- Engage communities to define priority crisis scenarios.
- Map existing resources within the community.
- Build upon existing community resources through cross-system mapping, information-sharing agreements, and the development of standardized tools.
- For example, in RTI International’s Carolina Cohort of Cities Project, RTI began by helping each of the seven cohort cities to conduct a sophisticated analysis of their calls for service data, including call types, frequencies, resource allocations, and dispositions/outcomes. These analyses helped the cities identify baseline needs and gaps in services. Some cities used this to establish 311 systems for non-emergency calls. Others were able to create partnerships to address identified priorities. Each city was then able to choose response options in a data-driven way.
 See, for example, this patient-focused article on why to choose an independent physician over a hospital system: https://oncologycharlotte.com/9-reasons-to-choose-an-independent-physician-instead-of-a-hospital-system/
 American Academy of Family Physicians, “Independent Physician Associations (IPAs) Definition,” https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/independent-physician-associations.html