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Voices of First Responders – Examining Public Safety Communication from the Perspective of 9-1-1 Call Takers and Dispatchers: Findings from User-Centered Interviews, Phase 1, Volume 4



Michelle P. Steves, Mary F. Theofanos, Yee-Yin Choong, Shanee T. Dawkins, Susanne M. Furman, Kristen Greene, Sandra S. Prettyman


With the newly created Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN), the public safety community has a unique opportunity to review and improve communication technology for first responders, 9 1 1 communications, emergency medical services (EMS), fire, and law enforcement. Understanding the problems and challenges currently experienced by first responders provides the basis for addressing and developing solutions to improve public safety communication. The National Institute of Standards and Technology Public Safety Communications Research (PSCR) usability team conducted in-depth interviews with approximately 200 first responders representing 13 states in eight Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regions across the United States. From this larger dataset, this report, the fourth volume in the series, focuses on the contexts and challenges specifically facing 9 1 1 communications personnel. The findings reported here stem from 30 interviews with public safety answering point responders. A qualitative analysis of the transcribed interview data revealed unique issues resulting from significantly different contexts and primary tasks of communications personnel in contrast to first responders from other disciplines. Challenges include 9 1 1 incoming calls from wireless devices, continuity of operations related issues, as well as, technology implementation and infrastructure problems. Communications personnel are concerned that new technologies will demand additional focus which will increase their cognitive loads. Just like their colleagues in other emergency response disciplines, communications personnel stressed the need for utility in technology that emphasizes usability, interoperability, and reliability. Understanding the specific challenges faced by communication personnel can provide insight into the types of new technology, as well as technology improvements, to help them best respond to incidents effectively and efficiently.
NIST Interagency/Internal Report (NISTIR) - 8295
Report Number


First responders, Public safety communications research, 9 1 1 Communications Centers, Qualitative research, Usability, User-centered design, User needs and requirements
Created March 23, 2020, Updated August 19, 2020