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Contact Management in the Emergency Services

The use of technology within our communities has developed at pace in recent years, providing significant opportunities for the public to contact the emergency services in multiple ways across multiple channels. In this post we’ll explore how contact management is changing and how the emergency services are adapting.

Initially, as new means to contact emergency services evolved it was anticipated that this may move demand from other, more traditional, contact methods or channels to the newer digital channels. However, experience over the last few years has demonstrated that, as new means to contact the emergency services emerge, this creates new demand, which has proven valuable when tackling the issue of underreported crime, but has not reduced demand on more traditional channels.

It is not merely that increasing numbers of the public are contacting emergency services, but public expectations continue to grow on a scale and at a pace previously unseen especially across digital channels. The public have grown to expect increasing levels of choice across their life; choice of when a service is delivered, how it is delivered, where that service is delivered and who delivers that service. This has placed significant pressure on control rooms to meet increasing demand for existing services, increasing demand for new services and increasing demand for services to be delivered in a range of different formats and across a range of channels.

As technology allows services to collect more data, emergency service organisations face a challenge in making that data useful to their teams. Addressing this challenge could result in staff making better decisions, armed with the additional information they did not have access to in the past.

An Omnichannel Approach

New technology presents new opportunities such as the ability to engage and inform the public of large-scale incidents or disruptions relating to public safety thereby reducing demand. It also offers the potential for increased accessibility to emergency services from almost everywhere. However, it is not without challenges to existing requirements, processes and structures. To be able to meet those challenges it is important that contact management is adaptive and agile in reacting to new technology and change.

Incorporating social media into 24 x 7 control room environment will only continue to be a growing channel for reporting, in particular, non-emergency crime, but also to inform, protect and update the public in emergency situations in a proactive way. That said, social media as a contact channel has developed in a relatively ad-hoc way across all the emergency services. Properly harnessed and integrated within a range of channels, social media has a key role to play in managing increasing public demand.

Online reporting with integrated webchat, among other options, has the potential to make it even easier for the public to contact the emergency services through digital channels, whilst also making efficient use of limited resources.

Quite rightly, according to the Police National Contact Management Strategy, increasing digital contact should not see any fall in standards and that as contact moves more to digital channels, the same regulatory standards should be applied. In contact management this means that incidents reported digitally should be risk assessed and prioritised; crimes reported through digital channels should be recorded in the same way as crimes reported through other channels; it also means that systems should be in place to evidentially prove that digital contact for prosecution purposes.

Mobility and 4G / 5G

Improvements in mobility for the general public as well as for the emergency services are already having a marked impact in improving contact with the control room and providing critical information, with 99% of UK premises being able to make a call or send text message according to Ofcom. Rural areas, whilst improving, still have a little way to go. Areas of the UK where people are unable to make a call or send a text from any operator (not-spots) is at only around 5% and ‘not-spots’ on the UK’s roads at around 2%. However, there are marked variations for individual nations; for example, geographic not-spots across Scotland remains higher than the rest of the UK (at around 11% compared with 5% for the UK as a whole).

Around 92% of the UK landmass has good 4G coverage from at least one operator, and this area includes nearly all of the premises in the UK. This is expected to rise to 95% by end of 2026 as a result of the Shared Rural Network (SRN). Coverage for both Scotland and Wales is significantly lower. It should be noted that individual MNOs are committed to achieving between 85% and 88% coverage in Wales by 20277 under the government’s SRN investment, and between 82% and 85% in Scotland.

Improved access to mobile data is a key enabler for improved use of emergency services and the general public. Mobile applications such as what3words are already being used in over 100 emergency services in the UK alone to help 999 callers give accurate location information to the control room, who would otherwise struggle to say exactly where they need help and are already saving lives.

The advent of 5G on a more widespread scale together with new and improved mobile devices could improve the functioning of operations in the field and in the control room. The network will be better at coping with higher capacity of data and information that needs to be harnessed, secured and analysed from the control room onto the dispatch service. The network will also enable new features within the emergency services such as automation, machine learning, data analysis and remote sensors in real-time. Ofcom continue to work with mobile network operators to establish how best to evaluate and report on 5G coverage which they intend to publish for the first time in their December 2021 report.

The use of 5G could benefit the emergency service operators in real-time by allowing them to use video streaming services that provide better situational awareness for call takers and dispatchers. This brings them closer to the frontline, so they are able to assess circumstances at a faster rate.

How we can help

Our control room CRM, from NEC Software Solutions presents contact management staff with a complete picture of the person getting in touch. With a full contact history at their fingertips, they can:

  • Protect vulnerable people
  • Provide better support to victims
  • Strengthen trust in local policing

It handles incoming contact from 999, 101 or face to face. Use its portal and you can manage digital engagement too, like live chat and web forms.

From one single screen, you have everything you need to offer the right support quickly. You can see at a glance if someone’s made contact before, with clear markers for repeat victims or specific vulnerabilities, like poor mental health. With a full timeline and notes available, you don’t need to ask victims to recount past experiences.

Find out more about how we can help you take advantage of the latest control room technology.