Tuesday’s Term of The Week | PSAP

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Jay Jacuk, supervisor of dispatch operation at the Onondaga County Department of Emergency Communications, handles a call inside the agency’s communications control center.

Nothing is more important in an emergency than for the first responders to be able to get to the scene as quickly as possible. As most people know, the first step in that process is usually a call to an emergency call center (911 in the United States) and the operators there are typically responsible for sending out the first responders to the appropriate location. What many people are not aware of is that there is a system called the Public Safety Answering Point, or PSAP, that determines which call center a 911 call is routed to. Each of these call centers has their own unique phone number. The ideal call center is determined by the specific jurisdiction in which an address falls, and will then connect the caller with the closest possible first responders.

The responsibility of the PSAP is determined by its location. In the United States, it is usually handled by the county or large city. In some circumstances, however, municipalities choose to have their own system. This can be complicated if an emergency service is run by an outside agency, such as a county fire department assigned to a city with its own PSAP, and so sometimes these calls have to be rerouted to a different call center.

When the call is received in the call center, not only is the operator responsible for dispatching first responders, but also sometimes for determining a person’s location through their landline number, or sometimes their mobile phone location. This is an important tool when the caller is not able to speak their location, and could literally make the difference between life and death. GIS data is critically important in the PSAP, assisting them in knowing where a caller is located, who is available to respond, how best to navigate to that location, and what obstructions they might face on the way. Just one more reason why up to date location accuracy is vital when emergency calls are routed.