Forum Held on Integrated Public Safety

More than 100 emergency medical services (EMS) and 911 professionals, public safety officials and transportation experts gathered at the National Emergency Number Association's 911 Critical Issues Forum last Thursday and Friday in Alexandria, Va., to discuss a five-year plan for a nationwide intelligent transportation system. The system would integrate EMS and 911 services in an effort to reduce the time it takes to get help to people involved in serious automobile accidents.

In his keynote address, Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell cited the critical need for such a nationwide system and urged attendees to form relationships with industry and other public safety officials to get the job done.

Many issues remain unresolved, including how data will be routed to 911 operators and dispatchers and how much the system will cost agencies and automobile makers. The two-day forum, which was sponsored by the U.S. Transportation Department and the National Highway Traffic System Administration.

One of the critical issues discussed at the forum was the development of an automated collision notification system that would give 911 operators and emergency service workers valuable data. When a car is involved in an accident, the system would send data to a 911 center that would help operators determine the location of the vehicle, the possible severity of injuries to riders and any equipment EMS would need on the scene. Onboard sensors would transmit data that would tell a 911 operator if the car rolled over, if the air bag deployed, whether seat belts were worn and the estimated force of impact.

How the data is transmitted is still being worked out, according to Robert Cobb, program manager for the National Emergency Number Association, which represents the 911 community. "Ideally it would be directly from the car to the 911 center. In the short term it may go through a third-party provider such as a state DOT or a private company such as OnStar or Protection One," Cobb said.

The bigger issue is determining the impact of such a system on the nation's 911 providers, Cobb said. "We need to develop standards for message sets sent from the vehicle to 911 centers. We need to understand the impact on 911 centers in terms of call volume, staff requirements, length of call and what we need to do to interface with hospitals, trauma centers and other organizations in the care chain," he said.

Work groups to examine standards development and efficient ways for government and industry to collaborate on the nationwide system are planned.

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