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AI Bots Help Understaffed, Overworked 911 Dispatch Centers

AI is quietly transforming how non-emergency calls are handled in dispatch centers. An AI-powered system can triage and coordinate the flood of reports, promptly alerting the relevant agencies. For now, AI-powered systems manage only non-emergency calls, which typically come from a non-911 phone number but are answered in the same centers, allowing human dispatchers to focus on emergencies, according to Stateline. The integration of AI technology into 911 centers is partly a response to an acute staffing crisis and the pressing need to address the mental health challenges that emergency responders face. AI would help decrease the volume of calls amidst a shrinking workforce. So far, fewer than a dozen localities in seven states across the country are using or testing artificial intelligence in their 911 centers. “For me, I think that the use of AI for non-emergency calls is a fantastic idea,” said Ty Wooten of the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch, which helps set standards for emergency dispatch centers. “I see the huge benefit of being able to alleviate those calls out of the 911 center queue so that the 911 call takers can really focus … on the ones that really matter.”

Emergency call centers are struggling to find workers. Between 2019 and 2022, 1 in 4 jobs at 911 centers were vacant, according to the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch and the National Association of State 911 Administrators. As emergency call centers continue to grapple with understaffing issues, some 911 calls may go unanswered or get stuck in lengthy queues. “That subsequent loss of staff makes everyone have to work more, which then burns people out and creates more turnover,” Wooten said. “It's this vicious cycle.” Currently, there’s little regulation on how artificial intelligence can help and only a few states have set AI regulatory frameworks. Public safety agencies often approach new technologies, including artificial intelligence, with caution because of concerns about service disruptions, said Brandon Abley of the National Emergency Number Association. There could be disadvantages, he added. For example, dispatchers could face heightened mental health challenges if they have to manage more emergency calls because an AI system is taking the bulk of administrative or non-emergency calls. “We think it looks promising,” Abley said, “but we're also cautious.”


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