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Public Safety Now: How do your PSAP performance metrics measure up?

As the adage goes, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” This is especially true in 911 emergency centers and PSAPs, where seconds can mean the difference between life and death. But how do agencies know if they’re measuring the right things to achieve performance targets and improve services? And is there an easier way to aggregate and analyze the data agencies and PSAPs collect?

In this podcast, John Whitehead and Rob Farmer will discuss how to combine and use GIS mapping data and consolidated CAD information for better analysis – turning data into real action. Whitehead and Farmer will also talk about best practices for creating and measuring PSAP KPIs as well as reveal results from NICE’s PSAP Performance Metrics benchmarking survey.

JW: Hi, and thanks for tuning in to Public Safety Now on HxGN Radio. I’m your host, John Whitehead, vice president of sales for U.S. Public Safety at Hexagon Safety and Infrastructure Division. “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Just going to throw that quote right here at the top. So, this is especially true in the 911 centers that we’ve all worked at or work at right now. PSAPs—the deal here is seconds matter, and that’s really what we’re going to focus on, and our topic today.

My question here is: How do agencies know if they’re measuring the right things? How do they achieve the performance targets and really improve their service, which is what it’s all about? Today, I’ve got a guest here—his name is Rob Farmer. He’s the business development guy from NICE—with us, and he’s going to talk to us about best practices for creating, measuring—it’s the KPIs of the PSAP. And he’s going to kind of reveal some results from their PSAP performance metrics and their benchmarking survey that they’ve done here recently. So, Rob, thanks for joining us.

RF: You bet, John. Thanks.

JW: Hey, tell me a little bit about yourself. I know we were talking a little bit ago before we started here, but you were telling me some things that I’m pretty excited about. But tell me a little bit about your background.

RF: No problem. Relatively new to NICE, been here just since 2018, but come from a history, honestly, on the customer side. Spent four years in Southwest Florida as a director of public safety for a large county there on the Gulf Coast. About 10 years up in central Ohio as the chief of an EMS system, and grew up riding backwards on a fire truck and taking EMS calls for many years in a department in central Ohio. Actually, worked part-time, evenings, and weekend nights in a single-seat dispatch center, taking calls, running license plates, and dispatching fire calls, all at the same time.

JW: I love it. You’re a smoke eater, and I’m right there with you, man. I used to do that years ago. I never did the EMS thing. I stayed away from the EMS side. That’s what’s great about marrying a nurse; she handled the medical, and I could handle just the fun parts. I did that. So, welcome, again. We’re talking about metrics today. This is all about the KPIs and the things that happen, right? It’s how quickly does a call get answered? How quickly does a unit get dispatched after it’s been entered into the system? It’s all about those metrics. So let’s start off with the basics. Why are metrics like that essential to a PSAP?

RF: The quote you said earlier, it’s a business quote from Drucker, and it’s applicable to us just as much as it is to anyone, as any business. If you can’t measure it, how do you know if you’re doing right, if you’re doing it well? So you have to be able to make sure that you can see exactly what your performance looks like.

JW: And there’s standards, there’s industry standards, right? I mean, we see those, and it benefits an agency to be able to meet those minimum standards, doesn’t it?

RF: Mm-hm. And in a dispatch center, kind of a unique challenge, depending on what you dispatch. In a multidiscipline center that does fire, EMS, and law enforcement, you’re going to be getting standards from the law  enforcement side of the house, a different set of standards from fire based, and a completely different set of standards from the EMS side — all wanting to make sure that for their accreditations, for their validity, that you’re meeting their metrics, not just your own.

JW: Right, right. No, that makes sense. Is that why you think metrics are so important to PSAPs?

RF: Absolutely. That’s a big part of it. There’s a lot of accreditation, not only in our own centers, but for all of the agencies that we support. So being able to prove that you match those and meet those KPIs is very important.

JW: Then, I guess the big question here is: Why are a lot of PSAPs still flying blind? Why are they just not doing it?

RF: That’s a great question. That is a great question. Because what people realize is that people think it’s a lot of work because, traditionally, people spend countless hours digging through different systems, compiling all this data and trying to make something out of that, and read what it really means. But the ability to pull, to reach into your radio system and get data from there, and reach into your phone system and get data from there and certainly into your CAD system, and there’s mounds of valuable data there, and then piece it together and make it meaningful is very, very time consuming in the traditional way that it’s all done, which is digging. Digging in this silo—

JW: Manual.

RF: All manual. And people spend hours and hours and hours trying to put that information together; and people don’t want to do that. People don’t have the funds or the means to spend, to dedicate someone strictly to compiling that data. It can be very cumbersome. So what we want to do is show you a meaningful way that we can pull all that data and really help you make sense of it.

JW: Got it. Well, let’s talk a little bit about that data, then. What type of metrics do you see a lot of PSAPs tracking today?

RF: Anything from time of answer, to time of dispatch, to number of rings per call, to how long does it take you from the time that you call to the time of the dispatch? What’s your processing time? How long does it take you to get through the, if you use them, the medical dispatch questions or the fire or law enforcement dispatch questions to get to the point where you’re ready to dispatch the call? So being able to capture those times, to be able to measure how long does it take.

A common term we use is the hello-to-hello time. So it’s the time that the call is answered and, they don’t say hello, they say “What’s the address of your emergency?” But the hello to the time that an officer walks on scene or a fireman arrives on scene or the EMS gets on scene and introduces themselves to the pa—the hello-to-hello time. That typically is a difficult time to compile because we’re getting information out of the telephony system.

JW: Multiple feeds.

RF: Multiple feeds. We’re getting information out of the CAD system, over the radio system. So to be able to measure that as a standardized measure is complicated.

JW: Are there metrics out there today that—I’m going to say “we” but meaning PSAPs—should be tracking but that they haven’t even considered?

RF: There’s an endless number of ways that you can, once you have good, meaningful access to this data, there’s a hundred different things that you can measure. There’s are certain things that need to be measured for those accreditations. For CALEA, they have certain expectations. For NFPA, they have certain expectations. Even for NENA and APCO, they put out recommended expectations of time.

But there’s nothing to say that you and your agency are looking to, “Wow, I could really use some more staff.” You go to your elected official and say, “I could really use some more staff.” And they say, “Why?” “Because we need it.” But if you have the means to be able to say, “Look, during these peak times and these peak times, our call volume goes to here. And as a result of that, our time to answer drops to here, and it’s poor service. And because of that, we have more abandoned calls that now the next county are having to pick up and answer.” It all comes down to being able to justify what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, where are your efficiencies, how do I address my inefficiencies, so that you can justify to those who are justifying your budgets.

JW: Yeah, it’s interesting, because we’ve all been there. We’ve all gone in, or at least watched, a county commission or a board meeting where you’re sitting there saying, “I need this, this, and this.” Well, I don’t know if there were ever the days, but I’ll say long gone are the days where you can just say, “Trust me, I need another five people.”

RF: Well, I mean, I hate to say it out loud, but you have to admit that for many, many years, and in our industry, meaning public safety as a whole, the answer has been, “Well, if you don’t, people will die.” Well, I mean, that only works for so long. People are starting to realize that, even elected officials realize, that we can measure this stuff. Why are you short-staffed, how are you short-staffed, when are you short-staffed? for example.

JW: And I think the onus is on us because there are others that are doing this, so we can’t hide behind the, “Yeah, well, I need a handful more staff.” “Well, why?” “Well, people will die.” Yeah, but why is it that the neighbor up the road can tell me what my seconds are from the time they answer it until the time they dispatch it? They’re going to be asked this before I would see this.

RF: Yes. The decision makers are quickly learning that there’s a lot more information out there.

JW: Nobody wants to be the person that just spends extra money when they don’t need to, right?

RF: No, especially not if you’re elected into the seat, into your job, that’s for sure.

JW: Or if you want to be re-elected, how about that?

RF: Yes, more importantly.

JW: You can get there once, but the second time’s a tough one. So, all right. I know I talked about a little bit ago, but NICE recently did a nationwide PSAP metric survey. What’d you guys find out with that?

RF: I hate to say, some of the stuff that we anticipated we would find, but some interesting information in we ended up with about 200 respondents into the survey, 190 different agencies responded, multiple countries, 40 of the 50 states, we had participants come back with responses. Mostly, probably 70% of those respondents were in director- or manager-level roles. We had some decision makers that—mostly decision makers that were answering. And we asked things like, what is important to you when you? If you were to measure metrics, what would you try to measure? How much time are you spending compiling this data and making it make sense? How often do you determine this data? Is this information that you look at annually? Is it information you’re looking at quarterly, monthly, or is that something that you can watch in real time? And really got a good feel for what was important to folks, and how are they currently doing it, and what do they wish they could do.

JW: Right, right. That’s awesome because that gives you guys, then, the ability to turn around and provide that extra functionality.

RF: Yes, and we do. And we can provide that today.

JW: Now that is great. I remember I did a visit—we don’t need to even say the city name—but I did a visit, and I was at this large agency. And on the wall, they had monitors up on the wall. And I’m looking at these monitors, and it was actually pretty basic. It was how many seconds it takes from the time that they answered the call until the time the call was entered in the CAD system. How long was the call? Did the call sit there from the time it was entered until it was dispatched? And then I think it may have been a third one, like en route time. But, essentially, it was, what as a call taker and/or dispatcher could you contribute? And I apologize. The first one was reaction time from the time that the call rang until the time it was picked up by someone. And they had them broken out into the regions. And each region had this thing up on the wall.

So, I’m looking at it, and it was very quickly, you could see that one had this many seconds, and the other one may have been just about a second or two quicker, and then the third one may be at a second or two higher. And talking to the manager of that agency, they said, “We have seen a 30% increase in productivity just by putting those up on the wall.” And it took me a second. I was like, “Just by putting them on the wall? Tell me a little more about that.” And he said, “The human reaction of life’s a race, everyone’s trying to outdo somebody else.” He said that competitive edge pushed people to do better, which meant their time would click. And he said, “Man, when you lose a second off that time,” he said, “It’s a celebration over in that little region.” When someone passes somebody, he said it’s like watching a race. And I love that—”

RF: Well, think of the power of doing that in your center, A shift to C shift, and everybody can see the results on the wall. “Man, C shift is still beating us. We’ve got to step up our game,” and that type of stuff. And I’m the A-shift supervisor, and I know C shift is doing it, and “Hey, you know what? When we beat them, I’m buying pizza.” Well, what’s going to be the result? You’re going to have an improved morale. You’re going to have that competition. You’re going to have people working smarter, faster, and realizing that being lackadaisical, just a little bit on the phone, makes a difference.

JW: I love it. I love it. It’s the competitive nature in all of us, right?

RF: It is. And that kind of dashboarding—what we call dashboarding—it actually comes from a lean process in the lean processing world, that visualization of your performance, constant visualization. You can really, in those dashboards, you can make so many different real-time visualizations of metrics that you’re pursuing and put them up on the wall just for everybody to see. It increases your transparency, which is absolutely fantastic in public funding – everybody wants you to be more transparent. But it also allows you to do fun things like the competitive edge between shifts or between districts or whatever it might be.

JW: Yep. And are these some of the tools NICE can help provide, help them solve their problems that they have?

RF: Absolutely, absolutely. So, in our Inform 9 Elite package, one of the things that is important about that is the integration of the CAD system, already reaching into the phone and radio systems.

JW: So we’re bringing in the audio. We’re bringing in all of the data coming in from the CAD.

RF: All of the different data that you can be looking for. And then being able to not only look at that in a fashion daily or weekly or whatever, but to now, with what we call our Intelligence Center, which is a performance metrics dashboard that runs and we can grab any of those data points and you can manipulate them however you would, whatever you’d like to pursue. We provide you 18 basic, out-of-the-box-set-up systems, so you have something working right away—

JW: Something to view right away, yep.

RF: —you can easily say, “You know what? I want to be able to watch this,” or, “I want to be able to do my A shift versus B shift.”

JW: Make it your own.

RF: Or maybe the fire chief wants to have a view that affects him. You know what? We’ll set up a dashboard for the fire chief that he or she can put on a monitor in their office and watch it to their heart’s content. Or the police chief wants to be able to watch and see, where on a map, with heat mapping, where is stuff happening today? Are my cars out in the districts correctly, or should we be moving resources?

JW: It really comes down to “I’ve got a lot of data, we’re data rich, information poor,” and you guys are providing that viewer into that, and now, all of a sudden, I can use that, and that’s gold. I mean, that’s gold, right? When you have that data and use it.

RF: Absolutely. Not only creating efficiency just in your general workflow, but to be able to make critical, operational decisions based on information that’s happening right now. I don’t want to look back at the last three months of where my burglaries are taking place to identify a string of burglaries. I want to be able to watch when, especially if a large incident happens, you know? God forbid you have some type of terror attack or a chemical leak or whatever it might be, but to be able to see where calls are coming from, what type of calls, where are my resources being allocated right now, in a real-time, meaningful fashion. Not the old dry-erase map on the board, with a black marker and different-color highlights, but true, meaningful data in real time.

JW: Yeah. No more Excel sheets and manually entering everything in, and then going over here and pulling the audio and listen to that and hitting that. No, it sounds great. So are there any PSAPs using this solution today?

RF: There are. We’ve got quite a few around the country that are. It’s a pretty new product, but we have some early release implementations that they’re doing really well with.

JW: And what type of results have you guys seen?

RF: People are getting exactly what they’d hoped for: that real-time decision-making capability on the fly.

JW: Man, Rob, you guys have some cool stuff. It was great talking to you today. I just want to give you a big thank you to our guest, Rob Farmer. And to hear additional episodes or learn more, visit us at hxgnspotlight.com. And thanks for tuning in.