Beyond the regular staffing shortage of applicants, challenges facing 911 today revolve around
technology. Specifically speaking for this article, what happens during power outages and
network outages? Many PSAPs today have contingency plans in place for when 911 goes out
in their area, the challenge with that can be the area the 911 calls are routed to may also be out.
There have been widespread outages in Texas that show no public infrastructure is immune to
the unforeseen events that occur. In August 2022, an outage in Oregon caused by a failure of
the phone service provider left over 3000 residents without the ability to dial 9-1-1 for over 18
hours. February 2022, North Dakota reported widespread 9-1-1 connectivity issues for both
wireless and landline phones, reportedly through a failure from the network provider.
Fiber cuts, and natural, and man-made disasters can quickly turn a busy day into an eerily quiet day
in a dispatch center. At first, PSAP personnel may think, WHEW, the ringing has slowed down.
But as the minutes tick by, and the phones don’t ring, what was thought to be a pause in the
busyness becomes a panic over an outage. One fix that is used by many PSAPs is contingency
planning for a 9-1-1 outage only. Some PSAPs reroute their 9-1-1 calls to their 10-digit or non-
emergency lines. This has some challenges of its own. 9-1-1 calls routed to a 10-digit line will
not display ANI/ALI. However, the bigger challenge is what caused the outage to begin with. If it
takes down the whole PSAP, your non-emergency lines will not be functioning either, leaving
your calls to go to default routing. Built-in redundancy can be expensive but it is possible,
especially with NG technology. The recommendation for redundant technology is at least two
layers for each of the major systems in your center. What is considered a major system? This
brief article is not meant to cover every aspect of a fully redundant system, however, listed are
some highlights from the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) 2018 best practices
Electrical Power – at least one backup generator to run all of the critical systems in the
communications center. Each system should also be connected to an Uninterruptible Power
Supply (UPS).
Phone systems in the NG9-1-1 environment can be geo diverse for automated rerouting in the
event of a failure. When feasible, E91-1- environment phone systems should work to diversify
their routing and connections. Telephone systems also touch multiple other systems or
applications such as Real Time Text (RTT) or Text to 9-1-1. Considering how communication
will occur if the phone system is out is an important part of a manager’s duties. One thing is
critical, make sure all of the phone numbers stored in your system are printed and kept up to
date. Without phone numbers, outgoing calls cannot take place even on a backup cell

Radios – What is the contingency plan when the radio system fails? The failure could occur
completely out of your control. What method will you use to communicate with the public safety
responders? A radio contingency plan should include a variety of methods.
Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) – are you ready with paper and pens? When CAD goes down
a handy, small-sized tote filled with paper “run cards”, pens, sticky notes, and a quick list of
directions on what to do.

Building challenges- from a hazardous odor to a complete collapse of the building, pre-planned
contingencies are important. Going through your building and systems and identifying what you
need if you have to evacuate for any reason and how you can continue to serve your public will
be labor intensive, but if you need it – it will be worth the time plus some. A recommended go-
the bag is good, something staff can grab and go in the event of an emergency. The challenge with
a go-bag is to make sure it is kept up-to-date and fresh batteries and equipment are readily
Personnel – This is not referring to the budgeted staff members in the PSAP. During 2020
pandemic, public safety around the country (around the world most likely), faced a staffing crisis
as personnel and/or their family became sick or exposed to the COVID19 virus. While the law, fire,
and EMS personnel were repeatedly exposed to the virus during their normal course of duty,
PSAP personnel was sitting in confined spaces, many without ventilation systems in place and
no ability to bring in the fresh air, for hours. Social distancing was put in place, makeshift plastic
was put in place to separate desk spaces, and temperature checks and other safety measures were
mandated as routine. That didn’t stop people from being exposed outside of work, and it didn’t
stop the exposure from occurring within the PSAP, despite the best measures in place.
Asymptomatic people spread the virus without knowing, and those with such minor symptoms
that they were not even noticeable inadvertently passed the virus to others in shared hallways,
bathrooms, and break rooms. In the middle of the pandemic in 2020, Cybersecurity and
Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), stated that PSAPs around the country must be prepared
for reduced onsite staff due to increased sick usage. This challenge really pushed the
technology for remote dispatching, now (as of 2022) being implemented in a handful of PSAPs
throughout the country. This technology allows for call takers to deploy to remote sites
(including personal homes). Other answers to the challenge include pre-planned collaboration
with neighboring PSAPs to take over dispatching completely as one center’s personnel are
wiped out and reciprocating that effort as the shortages roll through PSAP communities within
local regions. The true point to this challenge is to have a current Continuity of Operations Plan
(COOP) that triggers the activation points. Included in the COOP, is the return to normal
operations plan. A properly written COOP will not only address situations such as a pandemic, but it
will also address disasters and outages affecting PSAP operations.
For all contingency plans, have a return to normal operations component, and make sure the
entire staff is trained and can plan for any emergencies that may occur. Quarterly training, bi-
annual training, or annual training, anything is better than none. You want the plan to be so well
known and functional that your staff is unphased with the training or surprise scenario where the
system is taken offline for training. When that happens, you know you’re on the right track.