Created in 2004, NHTSA’sNational 911 Program is part of the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Among the program’s key responsibilities are coordinating with the 911 community to create and share resources that help 911 systems deliver optimal services and working to ensure a smooth transition to an updated 911 system—what’s more commonly known asNext Generation 911 (NG911).
Across the country, many 911 call centers—called Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) or Emergency Communications Centers (ECCs)—are in the process of transitioning to NG911. Some have started this migration, while others haven’t yet begun. This advanced technology will replace outdated analog methods of locating callers and routing calls and give 911 centers faster access to rich data, including video, images and telematics.
Many of those who are instrumental in the planning and deployment of improved 911 services come from across the public safety spectrum but may know little about 911. A wide range of stakeholders—from fire-rescue, EMS, law enforcement and state and local government—are likely to have a role in decision-making and influencing technological updates to their 911 system but might not be familiar with the inner workings of emergency communications.
The National 911 Program brought toRedFlash Group a challenge: How can we educate both leadership and staff at PSAPs, their colleagues across public safety and other stakeholders about what NG911 is and why it’s important, while also conveying the urgency to start the process of updating their systems?
The resources we developed had to be both straightforward (meaning non-technical) and educational, keeping a clear focus on basic how-tos and the benefits agencies and organizations stand to gain from an NG911 environment. They also had to have a relatively long lifespan and versatility, in spite of discussing a rapidly-changing field.
Simply put, we had to make sure these different audiences understood that transitioning to Next-Gen is definitely in their best interest, as well as that of the public they serve. So if a police or fire chief is asked to vote on funding for upgrades, helping to decide on governance of 911 data or procuring a supplier to implement anESInet (a key part of NG911), they would understand not just the basics of the process but also how it helps their personnel, agency and community.
The method for communicating this information had to be brief (public safety personnel are busy and teams are typically short-staffed) and engaging (light on words, heavy on visuals). Perhaps most important, the content has to betrustworthy.Credibility is critical when speaking to first responders. The complexity of the topic also warranted a deeper dive; short-form, “snackable” content wouldn’t suffice.
With all this in mind, we started with our first campaign directed at law enforcement,“NG911 Guide for Leaders in Law Enforcement.” We decided that a super-visual publication series would be the best medium to communicate the content. The format would be easy to digest, and also able to be broken apart in smaller pieces to use in various contexts. This short “magazine” set the stage for future releases with its compelling imagery of real officers and clear, succinct and jargon-free text. To create the content, RedFlash Group took a journalistic approach, partnering with stakeholder groups to include them in the content development process.
We also leveraged our long-standing relationships with recognized subject matter experts (SMEs) by asking them to contribute articles. Our SMEs includedEddie Reyes, former Director, Prince William County Department of Public Safety Communications;Jonathan Washko, Director at Large, NAEMT;Casey Grant, Executive Director, Emeritus, Fire Protection Research Foundation/National Fire Protection Association; ChiefGary McCarraher, now Senior Public Safety Advisor for the Fire Service, FirstNet Authority; ChiefJeff Johnson, Executive Director, Western Fire Chiefs Association;Barry Luke, former Deputy Executive Director, National Public Safety Telecommunications Council;Norman Fournier of the Massachusetts State 911 Department;Barbara Neal, Executive Director, Vermont Enhanced 9-1-1 Board;Frank Pozniak, Executive Director, Massachusetts State 911 Department;Evelyn Bailey andHarriet Rennie-Brown of the National Association for State 911 Administrators;April Heinze, 911 and PSAP Operations Director at the National Emergency Number Association; andCrystal Lawrence, Director, Communications Center and 9-1-1 Services at APCO.
Their deep expertise helped ensure that explanations of this complex technology were accurate without being oversimplified and spoke in a voice and tone that would resonate with staff as well as leadership. The publication featured large, graphic spreads and infographics to convey the benefits and functionality of next-gen technologies without sacrificing the integrity of the topic. Again, some of the visuals could easily be repurposed and used via additional channels.
For the launch of the first edition of“NG911 Guide for Leaders in Law Enforcement” (the publication has since been updated), printed copies were distributed at annual conferences as a bag stuffer. Articles were placed in the trade media to amplify the message. The publication also lives in digital format on the911.gov site. And we ensured that the graphics within the publications could be downloaded and used on their own in social media, presentations and more. The comprehensive approach included driving traffic through Redflash Group social media to tap into our own deep contacts across public safety.
TheNG911 for Public Safety Leaders series now includes publications that speak to thefire service,EMS andtelecommunicators, with more editions in development. We also created a publication focused onNG911 and FirstNet, the country’s public safety broadband network. The aim was to tackle confusion about the two systems and how they work together and reach those not familiar with public safety but likely to be important helpers (or potential blockers) to the success of both NG911 and FirstNet, such as state CIOs and governors.
The magazines, infographics and related collateral continue to be shared at conferences, digital channels and downloaded online at911.gov. “These benefit-focused NG911 pieces have been disseminated widely for years and they continue to be useful because most people still need a baseline understanding of this very complex topic,” says Harriet Rennie-Brown, Executive Director, National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), who served as a subject matter expert on a recent edition. “Distilling years of technology and governance development into easy-to-read summaries for different audiences has really helped explain 911 advancement to public safety.”