Reimagine 911 Part 1 - Local Impact with National Significance: A “Project-in-a-Box” for Engaging Busy Brigades

The goal of Reimagine 911 is to help cities identify opportunities for alternative responses to law enforcement for those seeking assistance when calling 911. The majority of calls coming into emergency call centers (ECCs) are not for crimes in progress, yet law enforcement is the default response. Officers are put into situations that they are not properly trained for, such as mental health crises. And too many times this response has led to unnecessary escalation, injuries, arrests, and loss of life.

Through analyzing the open 911 data of a city, we are seeking to develop insights into the most frequent types of calls 911 received, what alternative resources are available to address these calls and how we might be able to work with local governments to connect their constituents with these resources so they can get the proper assistance they need for non-emergencies.

But we cannot do this work without the help of those who understand their local communities needs, what their local resources are, and how their local government works. So we decided to reach out to the Code for America Network. Since Brigade members are local constituents, they are closer to their community’s emergency systems and can establish a more precise understanding of how their ECCs work. And as committed change-makers, Brigades are excellent Reimagine 911 partners in planning on-the-ground impact.

We know Brigade leaders are busy and organizing new projects is a complex undertaking, so we made it easy for them. We designed a “Project-in-a-Box” with straightforward activities that volunteers can start working on immediately. We do the planning and provide the structure. The Brigades provide the volunteers and their commitment. Together we work on addressing a pressing issue with both national and local significance.

Our “Project-in-a-Box” consists of three activities:

  1. Developing a Data Dictionary, which provides definitions to columns and fields in 911 datasets, so we can better understand what this data is telling us.
  2. Researching City Metadata, to learn more about the communities and resources available that might be alternatives to a police response.
  3. Standardizing 911 call types, matching them to standard industry codes and comparing them to other jurisdictions, so they can see what other programs exist that are associated with specific 911 calls.

Each project starts with a Kickoff, where we welcome the brigade to the Reimagine 911 team and introduce the Data Dictionary activity to the volunteers. We discuss why it is important, and give examples of best practices in finding out the information needed to complete the work. Then the Brigade can get started right away. It’s as simple as that!

Depending on the size of the volunteer team, this project takes between 4–6 weeks to complete. Yet our hope is that this project will uncover opportunities for longer-term projects for the Brigade—to work with their local ECCs and connect them with existing non-emergency response teams or to work with organizations to develop or expand their resources to better serve their community’s needs.

We hosted our first Kickoff with Code for Gainesville. Plus, Code for New Orleans and Open San Diego will start in the next few weeks.

Tips for designing a “Project-in-a-Box”:

  • Understand the challenges facing many brigades (recruiting new volunteers, lack of resources to plan projects, keeping existing volunteers engaged).
  • Provide a clear, strategic direction for the project, and give guidance on how leaders can explain the project to their brigade members.
  • Explain how the project impacts the Brigade city and why the work is important.
  • Develop training materials and a process for getting the project started right away.

There’s more from Reimagine 911! Please check out the next article of our Reimagine 911 series: Part 2: Reimagining 911 with subject-matter experts!

Great job Stacey! I’m impressed by the Reimagine 911 team’s commitment to localized participation. I think this format will lend greatly to Brigade’s feeling ownership on the overall project and it’s success. Not to mention that this is a great foundation for any Brigade project that requires this type of involvement.