Local 911 Centers are being consolidated and privatized around the country. What’s that mean for Lifeline Crisis Centers?
By Andy Brown with a Forward by Lifeline’s Caitlin Peterson
This week’s guest blogger, Andy Brown from Headquarters, Inc., offers the opportunity to discuss and highlight the importance of maintaining collaborative relationships between crisis hotlines and their local 911 call centers and emergency service providers. These relationships are vital to providing suicide-safe care to those who reach out to crisis and suicide prevention hotline services, and as such, are reflected both in the Lifeline’s Imminent Risk Policy and the National Emergency Number Association’s (NENA) Standard Operating Procedures. These relationships allow us to insure that 911 and emergency service providers are familiar with Lifeline services, understand the unique context in which we partner with them during active intervention, are familiar with the steps that often need to be taken to locate someone at risk with potentially limited information, and facilitate follow-up contacts that allow us to receive information about the wellbeing and status of the individual at risk, as required by the Lifeline Imminent Risk Policy (and then some). Maintaining these relationships involves staying informed about potential operational changes that our community partners may be experiencing, and in turn, ensuring that the processes and expectations involved in sharing responsibility for the wellbeing of individuals in our collective care remain updated, reflective of the environments and policies within which both operate and serve the community, and are in the best interest of those at imminent risk of suicide. Perhaps you already have a cooperative agreement, MOU, or other formal or informal partnership agreement with your local 911/emergency services provider; if so, now is a great time to reach out and check in with them. And if not, there is no time like the present. — Caitlin Peterson
The following was written by Andy Brown, Executive Director of Headquarters, Inc. in Lawrence, Kansas:
This article, “When You Call 911 and Nobody Picks Up” by Kristance Harlow, describes how the consolidation and privatization of local 911 call centers is potentially negatively impacting the delivery of services. As the director of a Lifeline network crisis center, I immediately started to wonder about how this might impact our active rescue procedures for callers and chatters. I also started to think about how a nation-wide trend of consolidation and privatization of 911 centers might impact the Lifeline crisis center network overall in the future.
Generally speaking, when Americans place phone calls, they don’t typically expect to be connected to a human on the other end right away. We’ve been conditioned over the last few decades to expect some sort of automated response to our call, at least initially; there are few exceptions to this, one of them being 911. We’ve come to expect that by calling 911 we’ll be connected right away to a calm, well-trained dispatcher who will say something like , “911, What’s your emergency?” in the first few seconds of us dialing the number. At our crisis center, we talk about our answer rates and we do our best to answer as many calls as come in, but we also have some fairly significant limitations as a small non-profit. If you compared our modest little operation to the local 911 call center in our town it might feel a little like you are walking off the set of Firefly and onto the set of a Star Trek film.
We serve the whole state and we direct all of our active rescue calls first through our local 911 center, which then contacts the appropriate authorities elsewhere in our state to enact our active rescue plan. Our traffic is just a very tiny portion of the calls their center handles and I don’t think there is any danger of our local dispatch center consolidating or privatizing anytime soon. So imaging what would happen if our call for active rescue assistance went unanswered or if the response time was slowed by confusion was initially a little hard to grasp. And yet there are clearly Lifeline crisis centers currently operating in areas where this may be the case — or soon will be.
In several of the examples I found online, the consolidation of the 911 centers was something being established through State-level legislation. This example is from Illinois and it requires a 50% reduction in 911 call centers through consolidation. In West Virginia, there is proposed state legislation to consolidate the 911 call centers from 53 to 6. Proponents of these efforts are claiming it’s due to either a need for cost savings or in preparation for necessary Next Generation 911 upgrades. These changes are so prevalent around the country that the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) offers training to 911 call center staff on how to navigate them well. They also offer a webinar on making a business case for Next Generation 911 upgrades. Opponents are arguing that consolidation doesn’t actually create serious savings and the loss of local knowledge of the community being served is not sufficiently fulfilled by the Next Generation 911 upgrades.
In the world of Suicide Prevention, Next Generation 911 is probably a good thing, as it will allow dispatchers to collect data from and interact with more cell phone features. If Uber can find you and a dozen nearby drivers from your cell phone location, why shouldn’t 911 call centers be able to find you in a similar fashion? This system does seem to be relying on the caller connecting directly with 911, rather than calls coming from a Lifeline crisis center. And this gets back to the problems with consolidation brought up in original article I mentioned: how do we work with the surviving 911 call centers in our state after consolidation to get the best possible services available to the people who are reaching out to us? No one wants that call go unanswered or for help to be delayed due to unfamiliar dispatchers relaying info to local emergency services. Significant changes in emergency services are possibly coming to a location near you. Here are some thoughts on things to do:
1. Reach out to your local 911 call center or PSAP to find out what if any plans they have regarding implementing NG911.
2. Ask about any plans for consolidation with other PSAPs while you are at it.
3. Find out what the current status of legislation for consolidation is in your state.
4. Find out if is there a state advisory council on 911.
5. Regardless of the status of your local 911 or dispatch center, take this opportunity to begin exploring ways to better integrate your active rescue needs with the services of the dispatch or PSAP center.
Andy Brown is the Executive Director of Headquarters, Inc., a Lifeline Network crisis center in Lawrence, KS.
Caitlin Peterson is the Coordinator for Best Practices in Care Transitions at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a program administered by the Mental Health Association of New York City and funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
If you’re involved with a crisis center and interested in joining the Lifeline, a network of over 160 crisis centers around the country, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, reach out. The Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1–800–273-TALK (8255).