When you stop chasing the wrong thing you give the right thing a chance to catch you

December 08, 2021

Many Public Safety magazines, webpages and social media sites host stories centred around the challenges our industry faces:

  • Roaming issues of mobile calls
  • Power and Service outages
  • Inconsistency of service/ Staffing shortages
  • Privacy concerns
  • Next Generation transitions and incompatibilities
  • Funding
  • Wireless mobile location accuracy

These topics are key to an optimal Emergency Number Network service. Build a solid foundation with them and the service will become stronger and more resilient. Ignore or neglect that foundation and it will crumble.

Wireless location accuracy is a long-time discussion topic. According to the FCC, providing dispatchable location for a mobile call could potentially save over 10,000 lives every year in the US alone. It’s a figure used repeatedly to incite our industry to resolve its mobile location issues. Plus, having accurate mobile location is not just an integral part of the current system, but essential for “Next Generation” services too.

Matt Gerst, Vice President of regulatory affairs for CTIA  (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association) until August 2021, said in 2017:

"Being able to provide an address with a floor, suite or apartment number is very important to enhancing our ability to respond to indoor wireless 9-1-1 calls.”


The EENA website also quotes:

“Accurate caller location in case of an emergency is one of the most significant pieces of information for emergency call takers. Caller location can have a huge impact on the safety of citizens in many ways and helps reduce response times.”


Both comments concern mobile caller location…as important and relevant today as when first written. Sadly our industry still doesn’t provide dispatchable location for mobile calls…even after deploying several location methodologies.

In 2022 will we continue to chase location technologies that simply don’t work well enough? Or will we finally do the right thing and deploy something that does?

How many more lives do we need to lose before we get it right?

“Don’t be a panda…be a hyena”. ~ Emily Valiant

What do Kodak, Blockbuster, Xerox, Myspace, Yahoo, Toshiba, RadioShack, Toys r us, Ask Jeeves, BlackBerry Motion, Polaroid and Commodore all have in common?

They are well-known companies which either failed, sold, or went bankrupt. And even whilst they accomplished great things, the unfortunate fact remains; they will also be remembered for their demise. And the primary causality was their failure to innovate at the correct time and/or in the correct way.

So, what is Innovation?

“Innovation is, at its core, about solving problems.”

~ Greg Satell, Global Transformation & Change Expert, International Keynote Speaker & Bestselling Author on Innovation, Transformation and Change 

The four general types of innovation

“Sustaining innovation” is generally what happens most of the time within business, because usually we are seeking to improve or evolve what we’re already doing. We want to update existing capabilities within existing markets, and we have a relatively precise idea of what requires resolution and what skill domains are required to solve them.

Conventional strategies such as strategic road mapping, traditional Research & Development and bringing in new resources and skill sets are usually the most effective in this situation. Design Thinking methods and feasibility of implementation studies can also be enormously helpful if both the problem, and the skills needed to solve it, are understood well.

But prior to the process of innovation is the acceptance of change…and as a species we can voluntarily or involuntarily create barriers, misconceptions, and resistance to that.

What does all this have to do with Public Safety and our Emergency Number Network? Because if we are honest with ourselves, Government, in whatever country you reside, has historically always been risk (or perceived risk) averse and therefore slow to change and innovate.

But why does this matter?

In nature we know that adaptation (change over time) to an environment can ensure the survival of a species. Or not. Look at the giant panda. They are cute (so cute) …but from an evolutionary perspective it’s been argued they are heading down a cul-de-sac. Their specialized bamboo diet, providing low nutrition and energy, their small population size, shrinking habitat, low conception, and cub survival rates all point towards a species that is doomed in the wild and struggling in captivity.  Harsh and sad.

Hyenas on the other hand…that’s a species I can get behind. When I was a Field Guide in South Africa (another great time in my life), they became one of my absolute favourite species. Why? Well, if you ever get the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with one of these magnificent creatures you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

Not a canine, or a feline. Hyaenidae. They hunt…and they scavenge. They eat pretty much everything, including digesting bone. Females have female and what resembles pseudo male, genitalia (!). They operate in effective, social, well-organized clans (with the female as leader and matriarch), they are fast, strong, muscular, intelligent, and great parents. The complete opposite of a panda. They are adaptable, tough opportunists.

Whether it’s Nature or even Technology, a failure to “keep up” with what is happening in the world means you may struggle to survive or prosper, and as a result, there will be consequences of failure.

"There's a way to do it better - find it."

~ Thomas Edison

How can we overcome the fear of change? How can we succeed and innovate?

There are considered to be many factors involved in minimizing the “pain” associated with change. Some of these are consciously thought about, others more instinctive. And if we address them in our quest towards innovation, we can ensure movement in the more successful direction:

Advantage: Ask yourself if this easily identifiable? Advantage is different to benefit, which is what you would “hope” to gain. Advantages “things” that enable benefits to exist from the features and functionality offered.

Cost: Time, money, power…factors which are “consumed” whilst going through any change. They should be perceived as being “less” than the original state to ensure barriers are easily overcome.

Credibility: Does the innovating party have your trust? Who are they aligned or partnered with?

Compatibility: Does this change closely fit to what is already being done? Is it a natural step? Making it easier to move towards.

Simplicity: Is it straightforward so it is easy to accept?

And finally…Failure of consequence: This is the most crucial. What happens should you choose to NOT innovate?

The Emergency Number Network is still highly risk averse in adopting new technologies and infrastructures. So what is the failure consequence there?

When our system doesn’t evolve, by not implementing effective location technologies to find mobile callers, it’s people who are ultimately going to suffer. Whether it’s the First Responder or Dispatcher struggling to provide the service effectively, or the person calling 9-1-1 or 112 (10,000 US lives lost annually).

And we should not allow that to continue.

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goals."

~ Henry Ford.

“The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

The birth of our Emergency Number Network…where it all began.

It was 2600 BC, and the Egyptian “Imhotep” described the diagnosis and treatment of over 200 diseases. Jump to 460 BC with the birth of Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, who began its scientific study and even prescribed a form of aspirin. Then in 130 AD Galen, a Greek physician to gladiators and Roman emperors was born…

Nurses were first recognized way back around 268 BC to 232 BC, during the rule of Buddhist Indian Ashoka, and became established into the modern vocation we know today with the assistance of people such as Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), a British nurse during the Crimean War (1853- 1856).

The first firefighting attempts can be tracked back to 2nd century (!) when a Greek inventor named Ctesibus built a basic hand pump that could squirt water. Then after nearly being destroyed by uncontrollably large fires, Ancient Rome created one of the first fire departments of approximately 7,000 paid recruits!

Ambulance and paramedics go back as far as Ancient Rome, where a formal process for managing and helping injured and aging Roman Centurions, no longer fit to fight was developed. These individuals were tasked with the organization, removal, and care of the wounded from the battlefield. A similar situation also existed during the Crusades (1095 AD), with the Knights Hospitaller (a medieval and early modern Catholic military order) filling a similar function.

Emergency Dispatchers in the US began as recently as the 1970’s, when in Phoenix, Arizona, a paramedic, Bill Tune, who was simply present at a 9-1-1 dispatch, provided unplanned and unscripted pre-arrival instructions to a mother of a nonbreathing baby. The child survived and the then Fire Chief, instructed the center to begin routinely offering these prearrival instructions. The program was referred to as  “medical self help” and relied on no formal dispatch protocols or scripts.

All these roles have grown and intertwined with one another over hundreds, even thousands, of years.

More recently on the 30th June, 1937 our emergency number system began in London, UK with the number 999, which sounded a buzzer and flashing red light to attract the operator's attention.

In 1959, 999 was then adopted in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada but they later changed the number to 9-1-1 in 1972, to become more consistent with the newly adopted U.S. emergency number. In the United States, the first 9-1-1 call was made in Haleyville, Alabama in 1968, and in the EU the single emergency number 112 has been used for 30 years.

We have a long history and have come a long way…humans have an innate ability to think selflessly, behave altruistically and show empathy towards others. Cooperation and collaboration make us both stronger as a group, and also happier as an individual.

The principles of both our ancient and modern healthcare systems are based on foundations of wanting to help, heal, nurture, and save our fellow human beings. There may have been some ulterior motives along the way, to do with winning a war or two, but many advancements and changes came about by wanting to make society better and safer, and our Emergency Services today still holds true to those values. As our modern society continues to show increases in incidence of crimes, accidents, medical & health emergencies, infrastructure inadequacies and the continued growth and mobility of the population, it will continue on.

The ESN has become a service we rely upon every single second of every day. It’s the call you never want to make but will at least once in your life. Approximately 240 million 9-1-1 calls are made in the U.S each year, or approximately 600,000 per day. In Canada, around 12 million 9-1-1 calls are dialed annually, for the UK it’s estimated at around 33 million, and across the European Union 150 million were ‘112’ calls.

We will continue to be more mobile and digitally connected and our Emergency Number Infrastructure and technology will need to keep pace.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” For the ESN that direction includes changing the inadequacies of our current system and looking to new advancements. We’ll talk about those next.

Thank you