9-8-8 Ushers in a New Dawn for Emergency Response

By Dru Clarke, Former Customer Training Manager, Carbyne

9 8 8 ushers in a new dawn for emergency response

While many of us realize the toll suicide and mental health take on our communities, the numbers are truly eye-opening. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 1 million people per year attempt suicide, over 3 million make a plan for suicide, and over 12 million seriously think about suicide. To provide a more personalized response to them, and to improve overall 9-1-1 emergency call handling capacity, starting on July 16, 2022, the 9-8-8 hotline goes live. 9-8-8 is more than just a number.  It is a framework that implements community based care by giving people in an emergency mental health crisis someone to call, someone to respond, and somewhere to go, leveraging an emergency response platform.


When someone reaches 9-8-8 they are getting a mental health professional (using some of the best emergency medical services software) on the line, or at minimum someone with lived experience who understands what they are going through.  Many times, people in crisis just need someone to talk to, but when they call 9-1-1, time is a limited resource.  Regardless of which public safety communication management software company powers their operations, 9-1-1 professionals do not have the appropriate time to sit with a caller through their struggle if it doesn’t involve an emergency situation or acute crisis.  With limited staffing, lack of time and training, and lack of resources, the 911 dispatcher (trained in incident management software for emergencies and events) is not equipped to handle the caller’s needs.  9-8-8 is meant to provide a listening ear from a clinical perspective.  Around 80% of calls to 9-8-8 will be resolved over the phone simply by employing active listening techniques and an affirming presence.


With the current 9-1-1 system, call takers and dispatchers using a public safety software platform really can only send three resources: police, fire, or EMS (Emergency Medical Services).  Mental health patients who enter the 9-1-1 pipeline may have needs that extend outside of the reach of the traditional police, fire and EMS response.  Enter the new first responder: Mobile Crisis units.  Mobile crisis units, whether regional or local, can be dispatched to better address the needs of someone in a mental health crisis.  Mobile crisis units can have various make-ups depending on the jurisdiction and public safety call center software in use.  Some mobile crisis teams may be composed of only mental health clinicians and some mobile crisis teams are composed of a mental health clinician, police officer, and medic.  Whatever the make up, this is a huge divergence to have mental health workers acting as a rapid intervention team for mental health field work.  The goal is to resolve the patients’ need on scene to reduce hospital intake, police transport, or escalation of the crisis.  When the patient’s need can not be easily resolved on scene the mobile crisis team can request transport of the patient to an outpatient facility.


Each state has to identify local crisis centers that can handle outpatient needs for those in a mental health crisis.  The emergency room of a hospital is often not equipped to handle mental illness, deterioration, or neurodivergence, so with these outpatient facilities, patients can receive quality care that matches their concern.  After mobile crisis units respond, if the patient needs a crisis clinic, rehabilitation center, shelter, peer recovery center, that transport can be arranged and the mobile crisis responder follows up with that patient, providing a higher level of service and ensuring a continuity of care.  This is a complete divergence from what we’ve seen with mental health patients that end up in the public safety pipeline.  Often they get transported to the emergency room or jail, tying up several response resources, only to end up back in the same pipeline the next day, or week.


9-8-8 will not be perfect, and we shouldn’t expect it to be. No system is perfect.  Just as it took 54 years for 9-1-1 to evolve and grow into what it is today, we have to give 9-8-8 the same grace to grow and evolve as well.  9-8-8 is also not its own island.  9-8-8 needs 9-1-1. Both systems working together, using the latest in emergency call center software, will create better community outcomes, save lives, and restore public trust.  But while 9-8-8 develops, our 9-1-1 call centers using 9-1-1 call taking software can not sit idly watching.  We have to stay engaged.  Policies and procedures have to be made to ensure proper call handling as well as identify at which points during call processing is 9-1-1 liable to handle the call vs 9-8-8.  Frontline call takers and dispatchers should also be trained to handle mental health emergencies.  Just because 9-8-8 is launching, doesn’t mean all mental health calls will go through them.  9-1-1 is still the most recognized number and our 9-1-1 professionals  operating emergency call handling software are still the gatekeepers to access other services.  This means we have to invest in call taker training.  Everything goes back to training.  Equipping call takers with mental health first aid training in the same way we recertify call takers each year in CPR training, would go a long way to educating our frontline on what mental health is, what symptoms look like, and how those symptoms may present over the phone.  Our police, fire, and EMS personnel should also invest in crisis intervention training in addition to emergency response software for incident management.  While there is a big push to get police officers CIT trained, the fire and ems personnel sometimes fall through the cracks.  They too deal with mental health deterioration during transport and will need to learn how to deescalate a patient in the absence of officers.  Systemic change does not happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen in vacuum.  It takes all hands.  Get involved with the changes happening locally and nationally and continue to talk about what policies and procedures need to be implemented to make sure we are getting the right help to the right people.  Every time we talk about mental health, we are stopping the stigma.  Let’s continue the conversation in our 9-1-1 centers, in our communities, in our homes, and let’s be the generation to break the cycle of suffering in silence.

Whether you are a caller, a call-taker, dispatcher, police officer, firefighter, or paramedic, Carbyne is committed to providing you and your organization with the tools so you can provide the right emergency response for your community, because every person counts.

Carbyne (Headquartered in New York, NY) is a leading global provider of cloud-native mission-critical contact center solutions. Carbyne is one of the largest rich-data providers for emergency response centers, delivering over 250M data points per year all in a unified platform. Our technologies enable emergency contact centers and select enterprises to connect with callers as well as connected devices via highly secure communication channels without needing to download a consumer app. With a mission to redefine emergency collaboration and connect the dots between people, enterprises and governments, Carbyne provides a unified cloud native solution that provides live actionable data that can lead to more efficient and transparent operations and ultimately save lives. With Carbyne, every person counts.

Scroll to Top