Instead of a person answering the phone during nonemergency calls for assistance in Arlington County, Virginia, a computer system will be picking up the phone.
According to the county, the artificial intelligence system “Amazon Connect” will be greeting people who call the region’s nonemergency number, which is 703-558-2222.
It will answer and provide verbal assistance, directing callers to the appropriate agencies and helping them with their questions.
“It will understand what you’re asking for,” said Jacob Saur, Arlington County’s emergency communications center administrator. “It will understand different languages.”
Saur said that during the first 30 days of the system being up and running, it will gather information about questions that are frequently asked, becoming more sophisticated as time goes on.
“It will text you a link to fill out an online police report, or it will tell if you if your car got stolen or if it was towed,” Saur said.
For people who dial 911 for help during an emergency, a human being will still be the one to pick up the phone.
“For the 911 side of things, nothing will change,” Saur said.
Implementing the new system is an effort to free up resources and ensure that 911 operators are not tied up dealing with calls that are not as urgent, such as someone reporting a bicycle theft or calling about potholes on the road.
“It’ll ask them what they’re calling about,” Saur said. “It’ll try and help them, but if they still want to talk to somebody, they certainly have that option, as well.”
The county said no personal information is stored or shared with Amazon.
Arlington County has long struggled with 911 staffing shortages.
In 2021, the county said approximately 30% of staff were in training and could not work independently.
“We’re thinking outside of the box to implement this,” said Saur. “It can start helping citizens right away without tying up one of our 911 telecommunications.”
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