Health Lab TRANSFORM911

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The University of Chicago Health Lab has launched an initiative to transform the nation’s 911 emergency system, fueled by more than $1.1 million in funding from Arnold Ventures, a Houston-based philanthropy dedicated to tackling some of the most pressing problems in the United States, and $100,000 from Microsoft’s Justice Reform Initiative.

TRANSFORM911 will gather stakeholders from many sectors to explore ways to promote equitable crisis response and access to emergency services, enhance public health, improve public safety, and support first responders’ ability to do their job effectively. In appreciation of the critical role that public safety telecommunicators play as gatekeepers to our nation’s emergency crisis response system, the project is being announced during National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week and amid increased public awareness about racial inequality in law enforcement across the United States.

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) estimates at least 240 million 911 calls are made each year. Research demonstrates that most calls are not related to a crime in progress, but still elicit a police response. As a result, police are increasingly deployed to address complex problems outside their training such as mental health crises and homelessness. TRANSFORM911 aims to redesign our nation’s emergency response system to prioritize better health and safety outcomes by deploying a diverse set of professionals such as public health and mental health practitioners in lieu of and alongside police, emergency medical technicians, and firefighters.

“The dedicated women and men who support 911 save countless lives, but the system is designed to default to immediately deploying police officers, when other professionals trained in mental health or other disciplines might be better suited to respond,” said S. Rebecca Neusteter, PhD, executive director of the University of Chicago Health Lab and the principal investigator of the project. “The automatic deployment of police is an untenable role for officers, who aren’t trained or resourced to play such an all-encompassing role. It can also sow distrust and cause devastating harm, especially for Black and brown individuals. Exploring approaches that work better for everyone—including public safety telecommunicators, community members, and first responders—is well overdue.”

University of Chicago staff will facilitate an evidence-based, collaborative process over 18 months to rethink the current 911 system; develop recommendations for local, state, and federal policymakers; and craft detailed plans to implement changes.

911 Press Release