Industry News

What are Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs)?

Megan Marino, MD, FAAP

November 15, 2022

On February 16, 1968, the first 9-1-1 call was placed in Haleyville, Alabama, through the Alabama Telephone Company. Today the percentage of Americans with access to 9-1-1 services sits at 98.9%, effectively covering most of the United States. Access to these services is primarily made possible by public safety access points. Read on to learn what they are and how they connect everyday Americans to critical safety services. 

Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP), sometimes known as Public Safety Access Points, are the entry point for 9-1-1 callers into the emergency services ecosystem. As of February 2021, there are 5,748 primary and secondary PSAPs in 3,135 counties within the U.S. Let’s take a look at the different types of PSAPs and how their technology impacts callers and dispatchers alike.

Primary PSAP is defined as the place where 9-1-1 calls are routed directly from the 9‑1‑1 Control Office. In some municipalities, emergency services are dispatched directly from the Primary PSAP, but callers are transferred to a secondary PSAP in many others.

A secondary PSAP is a public safety answering point that does not accept emergency calls directly from the public. Instead, calls are transferred from a Primary PSAP to enable the appropriate disbursement of emergency crews. A primary PSAP may serve as the clearinghouse for police, fire, and EMS, often transferring calls to the secondary PSAP and filtering out non-emergency calls to reduce the load on first responders. 

Alternate PSAPs

Alternate PSAPs are typically designated through agreements between two or more municipalities to provide coverage for callers. When a Primary PSAP cannot accept 9-1-1 calls due to capacity or a technical issue such as a complete power outage, an Alternate PSAP can assist. However, one of the challenges of leveraging Alternate PSAPs can be the different technologies that PSAPs are integrated to accept. Municipalities will need to coordinate on integrations to ensure calls or services don’t get dropped. 

PSAPs Save Lives 

Public Safety Access Points work as a cohesive system to make it easier for dispatches to accept calls, route information to the appropriate first response agencies, and help centralize technologies.