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Evolution of Emergency Call Handling Protocols


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What is Emergency Calling?

An emergency is any situation that requires immediate assistance from the police, fire department, or ambulance. Examples include a fire, a crime, a car crash, especially if someone is injured, or a medical emergency, especially for symptoms that require immediate medical attention. Most Public Switched Telephone Networks (PSTN) have a single emergency telephone number (sometimes known as the universal emergency telephone number or the emergency services number) that allows a caller to contact local emergency services for assistance. The emergency number differs from country to country; it is typically a three-digit number so that it can be easily remembered and dialed quickly.

The emergency telephone number for the United States is 9-1-1. Dialing "9-1-1" from any telephone will link the caller to an emergency dispatch office—called a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) by the telecommunications industry—which can send emergency responders to the caller's location in an emergency. In approximately 96 percent of the United States, the enhanced 9-1-1 system automatically pairs caller numbers with a physical address.

How Does 911 Work?

  • You dial 9-1-1.

  • Your phone company recognizes the number and routes the call to a dedicated 9-1-1 switch that sends the call to the designated PSAP for your area.

  • The PSAP call-taker (also called an operator or dispatcher) asks what the emergency is, the location, and a call-back phone number. (The PSAP can trace the call and get the information, but that takes longer than you'd think -- in the area of 10 minutes, in some cases -- because it's not built into the basic 9-1-1 system.) The call-taker does not have your number or location information on the screen. They need you to provide it.

  • Depending on the emergency, the call-taker uses dispatch to alert police, fire, and/or EMS to go to the scene.

Evolution of Emergency Calling (from 911 to E-911 and then to NG-911)

The first city in North America to use a central emergency number was the Canadian city of Winnipeg which initially used 999 as the emergency number but switched numbers when the United States proposed 9-1-1.

  • When the 911 system was initially implemented, no one had mobile phones in their pockets, let alone VoIP systems. Phones were tied to landlines, meaning the address associated with each line was definitely the location of the call. Local carriers kept a database of linked phone numbers and physical addresses, which all local Public Safety Access Points (PSAP) could access. When someone called 911 from a landline, the dispatcher saw their phone number and associated address, and that’s how they knew exactly where to send emergency responders.

  • The invention and subsequent surge in popularity of mobile phones threw a wrench into this system. Sure, mobile phones have a billing address associated with the phone number, but the point of a mobile phone is that it can be transported anywhere. That’s when Enhanced-911 or E-911 came into the picture. E-911 is a system used in North America to provide the caller's location to 911 dispatchers automatically.

workflow of cellular connection to emergency service
  • NG911 modernizes 911 infrastructure to accommodate how people communicate today—primarily through mobile and digital devices. NG911 is a new technology that allows the public to share richer, more detailed data—such as videos, images, and texts—with 911 call centers. It also enhances the ability of 911 call centers to communicate with each other and improves system resiliency. NG911 allows the public to send digital data to 911 call centers public safety answering points (PSAPs) and lets the PSAPs receive data from other transmitting devices such as wearable medical devices, car computers, and building alarms. NG911 enables faster network communication and call load sharing between PSAPs. When the PSAP becomes overwhelmed by calls—NG911 allows for calls to be automatically transferred and processed by another available 911 call center in mass casualty incidents or natural disasters.

next generation 911

Patent Analysis

Out of the total number of patents (2,275) 116 are declared as standard essential patents (SEPs). It is also interesting to note that the 66% of all the patents are owned by the top 10 players in the industry.

We can see an overall declining trend in the following graph. As evident, the year 2002 recorded 83 patents in the domain of emergency calls. The number rose to 230 in 2003 followed by 216 in 2004. 2005 saw 237 patents applications, after which the numbers fell substantially. 2006 saw a massive drop with 138 applications while the numbers increased to 149 in the following year. 63 applications were seen in 2019while 2020, and 2021 saw 31 and 24, respectively.

The USPTO recorded 759 patent applications, the highest compared to other patent offices. The European Patent office and Canada followed it with 322 and 306 applications, respectively. Germany, Great Britain, France, and China recorded 252, 201, 194 and 172 patent applications, respectively. Hong Kong recorded 140 applications while India saw about 138.

Research in Motion was the leader with 714 patents to its credit. Blackberry followed it with 538 patents. Qualcomm and Corydoras Technologies ranked third and fourth with 69 and 55 patents in their portfolio. Ericsson had 33 patents registered under its name while Microsoft Technology Licensing has 26.

The Future of Emergency Communication Systems

Incorporation of AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help forecast, evaluate, and simulate crises in emergency management to reduce response times and expedite resource dispatch processes. For example, the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) and IBM Watson recently joined to employ speech-to-text analytics software to enable agency leaders better evaluate conversations and compare them to pre-scripted content in real-time during 911 call review. As a result, directors can learn from real-time talks between callers and dispatchers and enhance training materials to help 911 personnel perform better.


Hurricanes and floods, for example, can occasionally hinder emergency response teams from accessing particular locations. The capacity of teams to track damage, notify the public with up-to-date information, and respond in a timely manner is hampered by this blockage. If IoT devices were present in these regions, however, they would be able to broadcast signals and relay important data more easily, such as temperature, water quality, and smoke. With this information, the government can make better decisions about how to deploy resources during a disaster. Sensors are now used by the Rio de Janeiro City Hall Operations Center to collect real-time data about the city's weather, traffic, police, and medical services.

Cloud-Based Calling

Cloud-based call-handling solutions are the future of emergency response because they offer a creative and efficient way to handle calls.


The benefit of blockchain in emergency management is that it provides interoperability and transparency. In terms of interoperability, blockchain can be adopted as a universal system across organizations—similar to the internet—and allow multiple parties across that system to coordinate resources in an emergency. Regarding transparency in the disaster relief scenario, blockchain could provide an immutable record, accessible by everyone, to illustrate what resources have been dedicated to an area and by whom.


Emergency call centers must use modern technologies in order to provide the best service and protection to the general population. Communication in emergency services calls has relied on the caller's capacity to deliver information orally for the majority of its history. This will change in the age of ubiquitous video calling and cloud calling. Further, scaling such AI, blockchain or IoT-based solutions throughout a city for emergency management is still hampered by cost, security, and interoperability issues. However, the ability to communicate data in an emergency case makes these obstacles worthwhile to overcome.


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