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Summer 2005
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GIS Serves Call Center

Domestic Violence Hotline Calls for Support

Domestic Violence HotlineOne in three American women are physically or sexually abused by an intimate partner during their lifetime; three women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends every day in the United States. Domestic violence is an enormous epidemic in this country, and the National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH) provides a place for victims and their families to seek help. NDVH answers 16,000 calls every day. However, because the center's technology has not kept pace with call demand, last year more than 30,000 calls went unanswered when callers were either put on hold too long or got a busy signal.

"When you feel like you are alone or do not have a safe place to be or when you are calling from a pay phone at the supermarket, you can imagine how devastating it is to not get an answer," says Sheryl Cates, executive director of both NDVH, based in Austin, Texas, and the Texas Council on Family Violence.

Currently when advocates answer the hotline phone, they ask callers to describe their location and needs, then they refer to printed maps and manuals and an unwieldy database to locate appropriate services. The process is slow and cumbersome. To improve it, core team members are designing an integrated on-screen system that automatically identifies the general geographic area of the incoming phone number, allows search and selection of appropriate services from the database of providers and shelters, and can map the locations of the selections. The system will maintain caller anonymity.

"The call is not geocoded to the street, just to a general geographic area, because it is designed to pick up only the area code and three-number prefix," says Lindsay Hernstrom, an Esri member of the technical team for the NDVH call center application. "Every call is different. The advocate on the phone needs to be able to drive the application and say, for example, 'Find me a shelter within five miles of the caller that accepts children and has Spanish speakers.'" The application will increase the number of calls the hotline can successfully answer.

Esri's software is being used to provide a platform for supporting NDVH applications, including the call center application, as well as spatial analysis research about trends and/or patterns from historical calls. Such analysis will help NDVH address agencywide needs as they grow and change over time. According to Hernstrom, the Web-enabled portion runs on either ArcIMS or through Esri ArcWeb Services. Along with the $500,000 in software, services, and support that Esri is providing, Tele Atlas/TomTom ( is contributing digital map products. The overall application depends on hardware, software, datasets, and telecommunications to work and is slated for completion in October 2005.

According to Cates, NDVH needs $900,000 in donations to help answer every call and update antiquated telecommunication, computer, and database systems. The funds complement requests for federal funds for training as well as pledged contributions from corporate sponsors that include Esri, IBM, Microsoft, Tele Atlas/TomTom, and others. All are cooperating in the Connections Campaign Corporate Partner Consortium that teams telecommunication and technology companies with the federal government to generate a plan for solving NDVH's technical limitations.

The consortium is the result of a bill sponsored in 2004 by U.S. Senator Joseph R. Biden (Democrat-Delaware), who was also an original sponsor of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act that led to NDVH's creation.

"We are excited to be part of the cooperative effort to help the hotline," says Esri President Jack Dangermond, who recently appeared in a Lifetime Television public service announcement for NDVH. "Since the NDVH often provides a lifesaving service, it is important that they quickly find the most accessible help for the caller. We are proud that our technical expertise and software will help make that possible."

"Tele Atlas/TomTom is providing the street databases and telecommunication boundary products because that is what this is about, having the ability to look up providers very quickly," says John Cassidy, director of GIS markets for Tele Atlas/TomTom.

"We are completely at capacity for the number of calls answered, amount of staff, and our ability to answer phones with our technology," says Cates. "What is growing now is our abandonment rate (unanswered calls), which is why it is absolutely critical and lifesaving that we improve our technology."

If you would like to help NDVH and the Connections Campaign, visit the NDVH Web site ( or call 512-794-1133. For assistance with domestic violence issues, the hotline's 24-hour number is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY [telephone typewriter] for the hearing impaired).

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