The University of Chicago Health Lab

Our Vision

Transform 911 for public health, justice, and safety.

National estimates indicate that at least 240 million calls are made to 911 each year. Established to centralize emergency responses to public safety concerns, 911 has saved countless lives through more efficient deployment of first responders to assist people in need. However, its police-first model deploys law enforcement and other first responders to address complex problems beyond their training, such as mental health crises and homelessness. Most calls are not related to a crime in progress, yet elicit a police response, meaning that police spend much of their time responding to low-level or non-criminal incidents that do not amount to public safety or health emergencies. The result: police officers have become first responders to all manner of societal ills, including family and mental health crises, conflicts in schools, and “quality-of-life” offenses and disorder such as public intoxication and panhandling. This “police-first” emergency response model exacerbates harm, perpetuates distrust in our justice system, and sometimes even results in lives lost—especially in communities of color.

Transform911 seeks to evaluate the evidence base surrounding the current 911 system, identify its limitations, and search for opportunities to innovate alternative approaches. The project will convene a wide array of experts and community stakeholders, resulting in evidence-informed and actionable proposals and recommendations. Ultimately, the project will develop policy recommendations for local, state, and federal lawmakers and create blueprints to initiate systemic change of the nation’s emergency response system.

If we aspire to promote a more equitable emergency crisis response system, we must begin at the earliest point of engagement by transforming 911.


Our Goals

Transform911 is an ambitious project that seeks to explore how the nation’s 911 system can better prioritize health and safety and ensure the right responder is dispatched at the right time. Transform911 aims to:

  1. Build a strong and diverse community of practice,
  2. Centralize and evaluate the evidence base surrounding the current 911 system,
  3. Identify the system’s limitations and opportunities,
  4. Spark creativity and innovation in alternative approaches to its use,
  5. Develop explicit policy recommendations for state and federal policymakers,
  6. Build blueprints and implementation plans to achieve local and national system change, and
  7. Pilot and study interventions that aim to improve the 911 system.

The project is informed by current public health professionals and law enforcement practitioners along with a wide array of experts and community stakeholders, resulting in specific proposals for changes in emergency crisis response and practice that are evidence-informed, practitioner-vetted, and practically actionable.

To achieve Transform911’s goals, the University of Chicago Health Lab has begun to employ five interrelated workstreams:

  1. Creating a community of practice and national dialogue;
  2. Launching and maintaining this centralized website;
  3. Producing and disseminating interactive reports and recommendations to improve 911;
  4. Partnering with other institutions and practitioners to pilot and evaluate effective interventions in demonstration sites; and
  5. Assessing and contributing to the knowledge base around emergency crisis response, including 911, 988, and other alternative numbers and practices.

To learn more about the Health Lab’s other work in the fields of health equity and justice, visit the Lab’s website.

Get in Touch

33 North LaSalle Street
Suite 1600
Chicago, IL 60602


Help us Transform911.

The Health Lab strives to improve public health, its impacts, and how it is discussed. If you identify an area of our work that you believe misses a critical perspective or employs language that needs improvement, please contact us at We welcome your feedback.