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AI Is Coming: Will I Still Have A Job?

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  • AI Is Coming: Will I Still Have A Job?

    [Originally published in the March/April 2020 PSC magazine.] By Suzanne Ladd, Senior Program Manager for Seminole County Fire/EMS Emergency Communications

    It’s really hard to believe that it was just 51 years ago when the first 9-1-1 call was made in the United States in Haleyville, Alabama. At that time, this was innovation and just the beginning of emergency communications center (ECC) operations. Nobody conceived, beyond the world of Star Trek, how technology would play a pivotal role in our world. The introduction of advanced technology is no longer a sci-fi thriller. It’s here, living amongst us, giving us directions while we’re driving and locating us when we need someone to pick us up. The same holds true inside emergency communications centers around the nation. Technology has advanced so quickly that public safety telecommunicators with more than 25 years on the job may still remember a large PBX phone console with multiple big red 9-1-1 buttons that lit up when someone called. They may also remember handwriting incident information on cards and passing it along a strategically planned dispatch route within the center that completely relied on human intervention.

    Today in 2020, emergency communications centers face overwhelming technology inclusion. Rarely will you find a dispatcher writing anything out on paper instead of typing it directly into computer-aided dispatch (CAD). The trained telecommunicator is not just concerned with taking a call and transmitting information to the field responders. They are constantly being inundated with new CAD systems, 9-1-1 phone systems and supporting interface systems like emergency police, fire and medical dispatch software, station alerting, automatic dispatch, advanced vehicle locating systems (AVL), caller locating software, CAD to CAD, advanced radio systems, traffic cams, GPS, updates, upgrades, and new processes and procedures with all of the above. It’s no wonder that it’s hard to fill the seats and keep them filled with experienced telecommunicators!

    The job itself is an emotional roller coaster without the added technology. And the technology is supposed to make the job easier and more efficient — right? Smarter, faster and never calls in sick! Hmmm … well maybe not in the traditional cough-cough kind of way, but system hiccups, workstation and software failures are an everyday reality, which is an added bonus to the telecommunicator relying on it while working an incident. Many may ask, is this worth all the stress? And most importantly, will I still have a job in 10 years with advancing technology? My answer is yes, it is definitely worth it and yes, your job is safe.

    Let me start by saying that a lot of today’s technology is smarter, faster and more efficient. It frees up the dispatcher and allows more focus on information gathering, while using resources that ultimately protect the field units and provide faster response to those in need. Advance vehicle locating is a great example of smarter, faster and more efficient. It uses GPS and other agency/area parameters built into CAD to select the closest most appropriate unit to an incident instead of a telecommunicator selecting the assigned area unit or fire station that may not be the closest or even available. There is no doubt that the benefits are real and save lives. But the key to all this great technology is the human factor. That same call may require human knowledge beyond an algorithm that can change who, what, where and how many units are responding.

    The human factor can never be replicated. People need people. The emotional connection that makes this job so difficult and at the same time so worthwhile is something AI cannot replicate. AI may one day be able to relay, learn and regurgitate emotional words, but it will never be able to have emotions and connect to people in a way that is human — the way a telecommunicator connects to their caller who is scared or the way a telecommunicator connects to units in the field that need back up and your voice is all they have. Emergency communications is getting more advanced every day. The job is changing, growing and advancing but not going away