What are the opportunities and challenges in transitioning from a multitude of emergency numbers to the europen emergency number 112?
The evolution of the 112 model in Lombardy, a region that covers over 10 million citizens, is an example of how the switch was effectively and efficiently made. In just a few years, four emergency numbers belonging to different emergency services seamlessly transitioned to a new 1st level PSAP model.
The experience of the pilot project and the subsequent national implementation led to various considerations and best practices for other agencies looking to undertake the same path.
European Emergency Number 112 in Lombardy: the pilot project
In 2010, AREU, the regional agency for emergency services, launched a pilot project to establish the country’s first 112 European Emergency Number PSAP; in the scope of a broader reform of the entire emergency response system. The test phase included the setup of a 1st level PSAP in Varese, with new call takers (not coming from the emergency agencies) answering calls and dispatching them to the appropriate 2nd level PSAP.
All calls from the existing emergency numbers were redirected without eliminating the preexisting emergency numbers. The region decided not to remove the original emergency numbers to:
- Allow people to dial these familiar numbers making the implementation gradual.
- Understand what type of emergency the caller is asking help for.
- Redirect incoming calls to the specific second level PSAPs in case of system problems.
In this way, AREU has not only been able to calculate the number of inappropriate calls but has also been able to determine the citizens’ ability to use the correct emergency numbers when asking for help. The Varese pilot project ended successfully in 2011, and with it came the decision to expand the service regionally. Between 2010 and 2014 AREU extended the service with the set up of two additional 112 PSAPs covering an area that includes 10 million people.
The Lombardy 112 model: best practices
The 112 Varese pilot project was extremely successful and AREU exported the model not only regionally but nationwide.
In Lombardy, the three regional 112 PSAPs are now connected with over 40 2nd level PSAPs including Police, Carabinieri, Firefighters, EMS and a few special PSAPs like Municipal Police of Milan.
The project showed that a 1st level PSAP with call filters, citizen awareness and rapid response, increased the quality of emergency response, and that the improvement was perceived by the population.
What makes this 112 model so effective? The fact that it proved to be easy to implement, cost-effective and rapidly deployable. Only one 112 PSAP is enough to connect and coordinate with all the pre-existing 2nd level PSAPs, which continue their activity. There is no need to cancel their previous well-known emergency numbers that flow seamlessly into the 112 PSAP. This helps to better communicate the transition to the population, which can be done gradually and over time, without disruption to the service.
In planning this 112 model, the agency needs to factor in that the 2nd level PSAPs will most likely have different processes and work methodologies. In setting up the new protocols for a 112 PSAP, all these preexisting call taking processes need to be understood and taken into consideration. Favoring a new system instead of another may result in a loss of balance and lack of cooperation.
Another key element for correctly implementing a new PSAP is the choice of call takers. The Lombardy experiences showed the benefits of employing of new call takers, without any link to the pre existing 2nd level agencies. This allows the call taker not to have biases when evaluating the situation. However, it is recommended that the call takers follow a deep screening, due to the nature of the information that will need to be handled.
As a last consideration, agencies must be prepared for the difficulties of having to unify and connect the different technologies used by the many 2nd level PSAPs, which might vary greatly. Agencies should therefore clearly define data exchange standards either exploring existing solutions, or discussing and defining a standard along with other PSAPs.