Scott Freitag

Scott Freitag


By Scott Freitag, NAED President

People approach me with all sorts of questions about emergency dispatch at the Navigator conference. Most of the questions I can answer, particularly when a question concerns protocol and the separate programs under the National/International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (NAED/IAED). Questions beyond my expertise, I suggest asking someone at the Academy who should know. A few questions remain in my memory to look up later so I can tuck my newfound knowledge into my Navigator conference answer arsenal.

During the past conference, held in Baltimore, Md., I set aside two general interest questions. Both involved numbers. The first—a question involving numbers of public safety answering points (PSAPs) in the United States—followed from my opening keynote. The second—a question involving the points required to become an Accredited Center of Excellence (ACE)—came shortly after NAED Accreditation Chair Brian Dale announced the addition of two Tri-ACEs, making the total five.

The PSAP numbers question I could answer based on a Department of Justice Bureau report handed out during a Salt Lake City Fire Department communications briefing several years back (some numbers stick, but please don’t ask my anniversary date). At that time, the bureau released numbers from a National Emergency Number Association (NENA) report (2001) estimating 5,000 primary PSAPs; the number gets a bit murky when figuring in the secondary PSAPs.

Since the figure was rather dated, the question stuck. I couldn’t let it go. I asked around and finally found the guy with an answer. Greg Scott, who assists with research for the Academy, said a good source is the PSAP registry built on data collected by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). My next step was the Internet.

According to the FCC Master PSAP Registry, there are 7,666 primary PSAPs in the United States or, at least, that’s the running total since December 2003 when the FCC started keeping numbers. During the past decade, some centers were orphaned (FCC term for a center no longer considered a primary calltaking answering point) and others were added—they are new, consolidated (leaving the orphans behind), or, in a few instances, made it late to the list.

Recent additions include Dickenson County Communications Center in Clintwood, Va.; Lubbock Fire Department in Lubbock, Texas; Marshall County EMS, Lewisburg, Tenn.; City of Bethlehem Police Communication, Bethlehem, Pa.; City of Thornton 911 Emergency Communications, Thornton, Colo.; City of Aventura Police Department, Aventura, Fla.; and Lea County Communications Authority, Hobbs, N.M.

As you might guess, the centers listed use the Fire, Police, and/or Medical Protocols, with the point being: The reputation of the NAED protocols is preceding the center. The protocols are part of the opening package and, in the United States, close to one-third of the primary PSAPs in the registry use at least one of the protocol systems.

Without getting too heavily into the history, the numbers are remarkable when considering the initial reluctance to adopt the Medical Protocol system outside of Utah when Dr. Clawson introduced the first cardset a little more than 30 years ago. Now, there are 42 countries, including the United States, using protocol.

The Tri-ACE question can be subjective. The person asking—a dispatch center operations manager—wanted the “real” number of points required to achieve ACE. “There are 20,” I said. “They’re posted on the NAED website.” The manager laughed. “No, there isn’t,” she said. “Not if you count between the lines.”

I understood what she was talking about. The Salt Lake City Fire Department has labored through the 20 Points twice and will go through once more to become a Tri-ACE. From experience, I know the work involved for each point at least doubles in terms of sub-points and sub-sub-points. For answers, I turned to Don Aker, trainer supervisor for Prince George’s County Public Safety Communications Center in Maryland. Aker and coworker Training Coordinator Angela VanDyke gave their estimates during the “Getting Juiced for ACE” presentation at Navigator.

Aker said the total is closer to 115, when dividing each point down to the sub-sub-sub-point level. “But don’t look at the numbers,” he advised. “It’s a long-term investment achieved one point at a time. It takes a group to pick up all the parts.”

There’s no magic pill, according to VanDyke. “It’s hard work.”

And once you’re there, no official in the world will want you to lose accreditation, Aker said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

And that you can take from someone who knows.