UChicago researchers aim to transform the nation’s 911 call system | Chicago News


The 911 emergency call system in the United States has been in use since 1968.

A University of Chicago initiative aims to modernize and strengthen the system — and they’ve just released a blueprint for how to do that.

Rebecca Neusteter, executive director of the UChicago Health Lab, says there is a need to change the emergency communications system.

“It is clear that the time has called for the nation’s most comprehensive overhaul of the emergency response system to ensure the right professional is responding to an emergency call at the right time,” Neusteter said.

The project, called Transform911, offers the following recommendations for overhauling the current system:

  • Create a Cabinet-level position to report to the President on urgent 911 improvements.
    The American 911 system currently operates through more than 6,000 local emergency call centers with varying levels of oversight and support. The group says the federal government needs to establish national standards for 911 training, technology and data sharing.
  • Create a federal task force on 911 data and technology ethics.
    Technological innovations have improved emergency response, but the report says there needs to be unified standards for the security and privacy of 911 calls and associated data.
  • Support a knowledgeable, well-resourced 911 workforce.
    The report states that like other public safety professionals, the 911 workforce must have access to quality and consistent training and cutting-edge technology to assist them in their jobs.
  • Make 911 independent and on an equal footing—on an equal footing with other public safety departments.
    Most 911 emergency operators report to other public safety organizations they serve. It is recommended that 911 operators be autonomous to address and report public safety issues in a manner they deem appropriate without reporting to emergency services, fire, police or other public safety agencies.
  • Integrate community perspectives into improving 911 response.
    911 is an important public resource, but many people — especially people of color — distrust its services. The report says that building relationships between local 911 professionals and the community they serve is essential to making the system fairer and more trustworthy.
  • Re-introduce 911 to the American public.
    Experts say too many people think 911 is an operator-manned operator service, rather than a highly skilled public safety response deployed by trained professionals. An awareness campaign to reintroduce 911 calls would inspire greater confidence in the country’s emergency response and help strengthen a career pipeline for 911 professionals.


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