Finland’s Road to PSAP Consolidation
Monday, November 02, 2015 | Comments
Finland has undergone a major structured consolidation of its public-safety answering point (PSAP) operations during the past 15 years, with the ultimate goal of covering the entire country with a single virtual PSAP in the near future.

The consolidation effort followed a substantial expansion of emergency call center operations in the northern European nation, which is home to about 5.5 million people. Shared fire emergency response centers began operating in the late 1950s, and in 1976, Finland required municipalities to establish 58 regional emergency response centers (ERC) to handle fire and rescue service calls. Further legislation in 1983 required the centers to begin taking emergency social and health care calls. By 1991, a consolidation trend had already begun in the country, with the number of rescue service emergency areas reduced to 27.

Meanwhile, the country’s traditional village police system was operating in rural areas into the 1960s, but no separate alarm centers existed to summon help from police officers. During the next two decades, Finland’s law enforcement agencies expanded to include 26 city police departments and 220 rural police departments, all of which were serviced by 75 police emergency call centers.

By 1991, Finland began to examine its emergency response structure and found inefficiencies caused by differing emergency numbers and systems used by disparate authorities. In some cases this fragmentation led to lost time and information during operations involving several authorities. Finland’s government found the structure did not foster cooperation and was not cost effective.

In 2001, Finland’s parliament created the Emergency Response Centre Act, which created an administration to take responsibility for all ERC operations, including receiving emergency calls from the entire country for rescue, police, and social and health services; handling communications related to safety of people, property and the environment; and relaying information to appropriate assisting authorities or partners. The government established the Emergency Response Centre Administration (ERCA), a national government agency operating under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior that provides central administration and ERC services throughout Finland.

One of ERCA’s main objectives was to consolidate ERC operations into 15 regional call centers by 2006. The PSAP consolidation coincided with VIRVE’s buildout of a nationwide TETRA public-safety radio network.

During the transition, ERCA focused on providing extensive training to create a consistent operation across all centers. Operators received 18 months of training and were expected to function both as a call-taker and a dispatcher.

Not long after the completion of the consolidation effort in 2006, Finland again analyzed the regional ERC structure and called for further harmonization of ERC operations at the national level. The objective was to improve the ability to handle peak demand and crises as well as to offer uniform 1-1-2 service to everyone in Finland. The plan called for Finland to undergo a second phase of consolidation to six PSAPs by the end of 2015.

The six centers are located in Oulu, covering northern Finland and Lapland; Kuopio, covering east and southeast Finland; Pori, covering Pirkanmaa and Satakunta; Kerava, covering Uusimaa; Turku, covering southwest Finland and Häme; and Vaasa, covering Ostrobothnia and central Finland. The idea of networking the ERCs also began during this legislation process.

While the physical consolidation of PSAPs was taking place, a structural renewal of ERCA was also taking place. A new organization called HAKMU was established to assume central administration of ERCA and to enforce decisions and guidelines issued by the government. New operating procedures were established and a new organizational structure was created for ERCA similar to that of other national agencies.

A concerted effort was made to retain as many employees as possible during the transition to six centers. Each permanent employee was offered a job at a new ERC location and given relocation compensation. Employees who chose not to take jobs at the new centers were provided assistance finding new employment. Further training was given to remaining operators and shift supervisors, and work roles and the physical layout of each operating center and its workstations were standardized.

The consolidation effort also focused on creating new cooperation models with different authorities involved with emergency response. A national cooperation group along with a regional cooperation group and four branch-specific development groups that included police, rescue, and social and health services were established.

ERCA surveys indicate that while citizens initially were concerned about the impact consolidation would have on their ability to access services, satisfaction is high with the new system. The surveys measured satisfaction with response time, service attitude of personnel, professionalism and clarity of advice. Improved geographic information system (GIS) and common shared data help mitigate the need for local knowledge in ERCs, the agency said.

Overall, ERCA reports that the consolidation program has resulted in measurable improvements in its operations. As of last year, the country’s ERCs received 3.89 million emergency calls, 770,000 non-emergency or mistaken calls, and 246,000 calls for ambulance service, patient transfer or advice. Call answering times have decreased during the consolidation period. ERCA studies show 98 percent of calls were answered within 30 seconds in 2014 compared with 83 percent in 2006, and 95 percent of calls were answered within 10 seconds last year, compared with 71 percent in 2006.

Finland’s emergency response agencies now begin an operational development period aimed at creating further efficiencies, including handling call overflow, increasing use of resources and improving information flow from ERCs to field command systems.

A new national ERC information system called Emergency Response Integrated Common Authorities (ERICA) is scheduled to launch by 2017 that will replace the independent information systems currently in operation. The ultimate goal is to create a national information system shared by all parties involved in ERC operations. The new information system will route emergency calls nationwide, although calls will primarily be routed to the ERC closest to the caller.

The overall system will incorporate the KEJO field operations system used by commanders and units, the TUVE security network and VIRVE’s TETRA radio network. The incorporation of all the systems is designed to increase data sharing among agencies related to a given operation.

“The future operating model is one virtual emergency response center that operates in six different centers, as a network,” said ERCA in a case study submitted to the European Emergency Number Association (EENA). “This model requires the creation of a networked operating model and management arrangement. A need may also emerge for a separate command center to coordinate the whole operation and produce a common operational picture for management purposes.”

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