Data Pioneers: ORU Professors, Students Achieve Success With 911 Call Center Initiative

by Deborah Laker

911 presentationFrom August to November of 2018, a team from Oral Roberts University participated in the City of Tulsa’s Urban Data Pioneers program. The team had the task of helping the city optimize the staff of its 911 Call Center.

Dr. William Ellis, the History, Humanities, and Government department chair, heard about this opportunity through Sarah Sparks, one of his students who was also interning with the city.

The project began with Ellis and his team attending an opening session where different sectors of the city presented issues they were facing. Multiple organizations interacting with multiple city officials about multiple issues created a competitive atmosphere that Dr. Jason Pudlo, another member of the team, likened to speed dating.

Ultimately, the team from ORU chose the 911 Call Center project and were tasked with helping Terry O’Malley, 911 Director for the city of Tulsa at the time, understand when and why call volume peaked.

Ellis explained that the main aim of helping the call center was “to help them more efficiently and effectively staff… or understand their staffing needs based off all of their incoming call data.”

The team partnered with the call center’s Chief of Data, who provided them with the call data after every member had received clearance to the see the confidential details.

With the help of their student researcher Jamie Cole, the professors analyzed more than two years of emergency phone calls to discover the busiest time of day and the average duration of the calls.

“We then combined all the data sets into one file and condensed that to understand the average calls per day per hour,” Pudlo said.

“Better staffing was the core value,” Ellis said. “We took what they gave us and the baseline of how many calls their staff could hypothetically answer, and we gave them a number to show that based off everything you gave us, you need this amount of people at this time of the day.”

On November 29, 2018, the team presented their findings and recommendations to various city officials, including now-former Director O’Malley.

“We didn’t just give them pretty graphics; we gave them pretty graphics that contained information that they could use,” Pudlo said.

O'Malley confirmed this statement by expressing her gratitude: “Their presentation offered me data that can allow me to engage with my shift managers better.”

The other teams worked on projects that included navigating the eviction issue, understanding tax revenue, and limiting workplace injuries.

As the session reached a close, the “Optimizing 911 Call Center Staffing” team from ORU was awarded the Best Overall Team Award for their work and contribution to the city.

When asked how she reacted to the victory, Cole smiled and said, “I called my mom. I was really excited! It’s nice because I felt like my work paid off and it was recognized.”

On May 15, 2019 Ellis and Pudlo presented the team's findings to the Urban and Economic Development Committee at Tulsa City Hall. In the City Council Meeting, Ellis explained that seven staff members are an "ideal, conservative estimation" of how many call operators are needed to fulfill the high volume of emergency calls. The committee expressed appreciation for the research conducted and intends to continue collaborating.

In the months to come, Ellis and Pudlo plan to analyze a vast amount of data from the call center using the University’s supercomputer, dubbed "Titan". Their next project will involve predicting and understanding how weather affects call volume.

Looking back at the team’s involvement in Tulsa’s Urban Data Pioneer’s Program, Ellis described winning the Best Overall Team award as “validating.”

“It was nice to win on behalf of the college and show that we can compete with these other teams and analysts, ” Ellis said. “It showed that the school could give back in many ways; not just in service but also in analysis.”