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September 14, 2015

Philly expecting increase in 911 calls during papal visit

The city is extending dispatcher shifts and increasing call recording capabilities

The city of Philadelphia is preparing to handle an influx of 911 service calls during the papal visit by prolonging dispatcher shifts, extending 311 service and enhancing call recording capabilities.

A temporary 911 center will be established to handle an anticipated higher volume of calls during the papal visit, an event expected to bring as many as 1.5 million people into Center City.

City officials do not have a specific estimate for the anticipated increase, but Deputy Press Secretary Jennifer Crandall said it requires "obviously, all hands on deck across the city."

The city is extending the shifts of its dispatchers, requiring them to work 12-hour days — the same as police and firefighters, Crandall said. It is extending its 311 service to 24 hours beginning Friday, Sept. 25, an effort to divert some 911 calls. 

The city's Business Support Center, created to help businesses during the papal visit, also will be moving to 24-hour service.

John Rennie, general manager for public safety at NICE Systems, a company providing call recording solutions, does not know of any studies detailing service call volume at comparable events. But as a general rule, he said, large-scale events create more service calls.

"There's a couple things that will drive up volume," Rennie said. "One is that you'll have a lot more people. The other is you'll get a lot more people who are less familiar with Philadelphia."

NICE Systems is donating technology and services to the Philadelphia Police Department, boosting the department's 911 call recording and incident management capabilities during the papal visit. The company has provided Philadelphia police with recording services for more than a decade.

Call recording enables police to reconstruct the order of events and communications that took place in an emergency situation. The information can be analyzed to better understand how an incident played out and, if necessary, used in court proceedings.

NICE assisted New York City as it prepared for Superstorm Sandy in 2012, providing technicians to quickly fix any difficulties. But Rennie said the call volume anticipated during the papal visit is an exceptional case by "pretty much any city's standards."

"The chances are, even with that many (emergency workers) being around, there's going to be an increase on 911 calls," Rennie said. "It puts a significant amount of strain on the first responders. The city is increasing its capacity in terms of how many calls it can handle at the same time."