University of Chicago
When a member of the public places a call to 911, a series of processes are initiated that have significant consequences for the caller, for the subject of the call, and for first responders. The steps taken are determined by policies and procedures governing whether and to whom the call is routed, and by how the 911 professional who answers the call captures information about the situation, assesses the level of urgency and risk, and resolves the call on their own or transfers it to another service provider or dispatcher. The role of 911 professionals thus goes beyond answering and routing calls. They must employ active listening skills to assess the nature and exigency of the call; provide information and referrals to calls for information; apply (often-complex) rules or guidelines associated with which calls should result in police dispatch; impart contextual information to ensure the safety of assigned responders; communicate with the caller to provide critical guidance until the arrival of responders; and record any updates to the nature of the call and its resolution into the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. These processes may appear straightforward on the surface, but they are influenced by the complex interplay of technologies, organizational structures and processes, and human decision-making. Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs), also known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) are essential in ensuring that these processes are delivered in a manner that resolves callers’ needs efficiently and effectively.