When it comes to the world of public safety, dispatchers and first responders are always ready to provide help when it’s needed most.
Take a look back at the work of public safety officials throughout the country by exploring these stories on The Call:
Reducing Gang Activity Using Predictive Policing
Lightning Strike Causes Six-Alarm Fire in Rural Oregon
Saving Time with Fire Response Plans in CAD
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This article is part two in a four-part series on fire responses and the roles of firefighters in the US
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 |
In many fire departments throughout the United States, when a fire emergency is reported and crews are dispatched, it’s common for crews to have very little information about the incident to which they are responding.
According to Brock Race, a 27-year veteran volunteer firefighter in Dover, NY, there have been numerous times in his career when additional information about a fire emergency could have helped save lives and reduced structure damage. However, one experience stands out the most and it involved responding to a smoke investigation call.
“The thing you have to remember with fighting fires is that crews are always going to strive to save lives and minimize damage,” Race said. “That was true when the first fire station was ever created and it’s true today. The good thing about today, though, is that we have more technology on hand to take some of the unknown out of a situation. There have definitely been times in my career when the unknown has been incredibly dangerous.”
With no access to a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system or other public safety software, fire crews relied solely on radio transmissions with dispatch, who were able to provide the address and what little information they had about the scene.
“When we got to the scene around 7 a.m. that particular morning, we saw that it was a tire recycling facility,” Race said. “While responding, we had no idea of the size of the building we were responding to or the hazards it contained.”
Race said the crew quickly realized that the smoke investigation call was really a raging fire in a building full of hazards.
“At one point during the response, I was operating directly over a storage room full of acetylene, which is a highly flammable and explosive gas,” Race said. “Luckily, we cleared out of that area after discovering we were over a massive fuel load, but that is the type of information crews are lucky to have in advance when possible. That information can help save a life.”
Within minutes the entirety of the tire plant was in flames. Mutual aid from 46 fire departments was called in from neighboring counties. Crews were cleared from the call seven days later.
While catastrophic large fires can happen in any community and in any situation, fire crews are more equipped to handle these situations when they have technological tools that provide them with more information.
According to Race, when fire crews have access to mobile data terminals (MDTs) in their rescue vehicles, this provides them with the same information dispatchers see with their CAD systems. This information contains premise history data, lists of known onsite hazards, building contact information, map views of the location, and other necessary details that can help crews understand and assess risk. Knowing these details helps crews plan and decide upon the best course of action for tackling a fire to keep fire crews and civilians safe while reducing structural damage.
“Throughout my career as a firefighter, I will always remember the fire at the tire plant,” Race said. “A situation like that would be much different now with the technology we can access.”
In August of 2013, severe thunderstorms moved over Marion County, Oregon, resulting in a series of lightning-caused fires.
According to Marion Area Multi-Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) communications specialist Loren Hall, these types of fires are rare, but on that day, several occurred in multiple areas of the county.
At 4:47 p.m., a call came in about a house fire within a gated community.
At that time, first responders were already on the scene of a motor vehicle accident and another house fire, which would preclude these individuals from responding to the large house fire. Acknowledging that this would delay the time it took for fire personnel to reach the house fire, the Marion County fire chief escalated the fire to a third alarm.
Categorizing fires with alarms indicates the level of response needed by local authorities. Each alarm elevation indicates the level of severity and how difficult the fire may be to contain.
By the time the first unit arrived on the scene at 5:03 p.m., flames were blazing from the attic roof. Less than half an hour later, a ceiling collapsed, engulfing the interior fire crew in the attic fire and causing a firefighter outside the structure to call MAYDAY over the radio.
As the fire continued burning, it escalated to a sixth alarm.
In total, 44 apparatus, including 18 engines, 15 water tenders, two wildland engines, six ambulances, two support trucks, and 125 firefighters were dispatched to the scene.
To handle the significant response to this fire emergency, an additional dispatcher and a command-level fire officer were brought in and roles were reassigned. This helped better equip the primary and secondary dispatcher to coordinate resources and dispatch additional alarms.
In addition, the command officer coordinated a regional-level response preventing other areas served by METCOM from going uncovered.
Furthermore, the computer aided dispatch (CAD) software system used by METCOM allowed for individuals involved with the fire to see what was happening globally and maintain a high level of situational awareness throughout the emergency.
“On a day when we have multiple emergencies occurring that require a large response, having the ability to work with our CAD system and provide dependable coverage over the entirety of the community that we serve is just incredible,” Hall said.
Part 2 of a 4-part series on intelligence and reporting tools Part one | Part two | Part three
The right kind of tools can enhance any task, and that's especially true for public safety agencies using big data.
When law enforcement agencies and fire departments analyze vast amounts of data using intelligence and analytical reporting tools, actionable intelligence is generated. This intelligence helps command staff identify trends, allocate or reallocate resources and predict, prevent or reduce crime.
But to make use of data that can help create actionable intelligence, it's important to use an intelligence and analytical tool that stores data on a Microsoft SQL server.
The SQL server has the ability to analyze vast amounts of data and present information in a digestible manner. The server can instantly compile data into digital cubes so users can extract information from the data and present the material in an Excel spreadsheet or heat map.
For example, if command staff wanted to know where most accidents were occurring in town, the right intelligence and analytical reporting tool would be able to show where accidents occurred, when they occurred, the frequency in which they occurred, and the time of day that they occurred.
The right tool can also identify correlations in the data and present information to users that could have been otherwise overlooked. To do this, the data is shown on a heat map, providing a visual representation of the data queried.
However, that does not mean the tool will present an agency or department with what it needs to do to reduce incidents. Rather, it provides the actionable intelligence so public safety professionals can make decisions based on data.
With this information, resources can be reallocated so that accidents or crimes or whatever the issue at hand is can be reduced. This leads to safer communities and more lives saved.
Next Generation 911 (NG 9-1-1) is a hot topic for public safety agencies across the United States.
This initiative, which was set forth by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), is aimed at updating 9-1-1 services to accommodate a growing wireless society. It consists of numerous stages, all of which should be completed by 2020.
Until that time, public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the country will be preparing to adhere to guidelines set forth by NENA so they will have the ability to handle modern, mixed media messages from the public.
Text-to-911 is one of the first steps many PSAPs are undertaking along the NG 9-1-1 journey. As TTY (text telephone) services are phased out, the deaf and hearing impaired community will need a way to communicate with emergency services. Text-to-911 will replace TTY services, so it is imperative all PSAPs throughout the country are able to receive, handle and respond to these messages.
As of late 2016, less than 15 percent of PSAPs in the U.S. have the ability to accept text messages.
However, many PSAPs throughout the country are readying themselves for NG 9-1-1 and its various phases so they are prepared when all guidelines are established.
Once all guidelines are in place, PSAPs will have the direction to receive voice, text and data sent over IP networks from various communication devices.
In less than three days, a convicted murderer who escaped from a Kankakee County jail was back behind bars.
Kamron Taylor was an inmate at the Jerome Combs Detention Center in Kankakee. He was convicted of murder and was awaiting sentencing for that crime when he escaped from jail.
To escape, Taylor choked and beat a corrections officer, then donned the man’s clothing and walked out of the detention center. He stole the officer’s vehicle and made his way to Chicago.
While Taylor was on the lam, dozens of tips came in to the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office. Becky Powell, Investigation’s Office Manager for the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office, entered each tip into the records system used by the sheriff’s office. This data entry helped to build a robust file on Taylor so that no piece of evidence or minor detail was overlooked.
Having been in the county’s corrections facility already, Taylor’s record was already detailed, which is what ultimately helped identify him when he was captured by Chicago police.
When Chicago police apprehended Taylor, he repeatedly gave a fake name to Chicago authorities to avoid going back to jail. However, Chicago police contacted the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office as they were confident that the man they had in custody fit the description of Kankakee’s escaped convict.
A positive identification was made when Taylor’s neck tattoo of the name Gertrude was found in the records and corrections system used by the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office. Fingerprints taken by Chicago police further proved Taylor’s true identity.
“As soon as the Chicago police reached out to us, we were able to provide them with the identifying information that they needed to get Kamron Taylor back into Kankakee’s custody,” Powell said.
Taylor was sentenced to 107 years in prison for murder and has since been named as a suspect in at least one other unsolved murder case.
In almost every town in the United States, there are areas that the locals know to avoid if they want to get someplace quickly.
These areas could involve one-way bridges, dirt roads that always wash out after a storm, shorter-than-average overpasses and other potential traffic hazards.
But people can’t always know every backroad in each community. This is especially true when it comes to emergency dispatching services.
Since no community is the same, it is important for computer aided dispatching (CAD) software and emergency 9-1-1 dispatchers using that software to also have solid geographic information system (GIS) data to support real-world scenarios that can impact routing.
Imagine leveraging GIS routing data such as one-ways, speed limits, travel time, max height and weight, and anything else specific to a community right within the CAD software. This would ensure a faster, data-driven response and avoid potential traffic hazards that could delay a response.
For instance, CAD software with the ability to take a community’s unique GIS data into consideration would prevent a ladder truck from being routed over a town’s old wooden bridge with a weight restriction or low overhang.
Using this data, dispatchers would be able to route vehicles to a call for service without ever having to worry about the emergency vehicle encountering a scenario that could delay service.
A community’s unique GIS data helps dispatchers to always send the fastest, smartest response.
This article is the final piece of a six-part series on Next Generation 911.
Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four | Part five | Part six
Prepping for Next Generation 911 (NG 9-1-1) is something many people working in public safety answering points (PSAPs) are doing on some level.
This initiative set forth by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) to replace 9-1-1 emergency services and make it possible for 9-1-1 communication centers to receive modern mixed media messages including texts, videos and live streams.
While those working in emergency services throughout the United States are aware of this initiative, here are some key points to remember.
In 2000, NENA started laying the groundwork for what would become NG 9-1-1. The goal for this initiative was to get public safety answering points (PSAPs) to adhere to guidelines so that they would have the capability of handling modern mixed media messages.
This initiative reflects the way in which communication is carried out now through smartphones and other communication devices. By creating guidelines and standards for PSAPs to follow regarding the acceptance of different types of messages, emergency services will be aligned with the communication technology used in today’s world.
Text-to-911 is the first step along the path to NG 9-1-1. As of October 2016, less than 15% of PSAPs nationwide have the ability to accept text messages; however, this is one part of the NG 9-1-1 standards that PSAPs are able to implement.
Text-to-911 works by connecting a text message through a text control center (TCC) to the appropriate PSAP for the general area in which the text was sent. Emergency call takers at the PSAP receive the message and respond back via text message.
One of the obstacles to overcome with text messages is that they do not provide accurate location information, so emergency text call takers are required to get more details to send help.
Those who send in a text for help will know if their text was received because a message will be sent back almost immediately. Anyone who sends a text message to emergency services who lives in an area where the messages cannot be received will be sent a message saying that their area does not yet handle text messages and to call 9-1-1.
The NG 9-1-1 initiative was developed to help guide PSAPs as they adopt technology necessary to communicate using modern mixed media. It will also help the 36 million people in the United States who are deaf or hearing impaired and using text-telephone (TTY) services now to communicate with 9-1-1.
TTY services are being phased out and as a result, the deaf and hard of hearing will need a way to communicate with emergency services. Text-to-911 will provide these individuals with a way to reach out for help.
As NENA continues to release standards for PSAPs to follow, it is important for these organizations to update technology and determine how they will handle the new forms of communication.
This article is part five of a six-part series on Next Generation 911.
Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four | Part five | Part six
There are numerous reasons why the United States needs text-to-911 capabilities.
To start with, text telephone (TTY) services are being phased out. This is the service that helps the deaf and hard of hearing communicate now via phone to 9-1-1 emergency services. There are 36 million people in the country that use TTY services now, and they are going to need a new way to talk to 9-1-1. Text-to-911 is what they will use.
Another reason for text-to-911 is because there are times when help is needed, but making a phone call to 9-1-1 is not possible. For instance, if an individual feels threatened and thinks being overheard calling 9-1-1 would be dangerous, that person could send a text for help.
Text-to-911 isn’t just for when you can’t call, but for when you don’t feel comfortable calling.
Imagine riding with a drunk driver in a vehicle. Calling 9-1-1 could pose a risk for the individual who may not want to let the driver know that he or she is making a call for help. However, being able to reach out for help in some fashion helps keep people safe.
Domestic abuse situations highlight another scenario in which the person involved might be uncomfortable being overheard or might even endanger themselves if overheard talking to a 9-1-1 call taker.
Having text as an option makes that hesitancy go away and ensures the correct response will be dispatched to the situation.
There are a few ways to dispatch emergency services when a call for service comes in to a call center.
Without computer aided dispatch (CAD) software, dispatchers send transmissions via radio to first responders. These first responders use pen and paper to record the information or commit the details to memory. To get to the scene, they might use their own mobile phone’s routing features, or rely on their own knowledge of the area.
Then there are dispatchers who utilize CAD software and send a response, but are unaware of the unit’s estimated time of arrival (ETA). Once the unit is dispatched to a call for service, dispatchers calculate the ETA based on the unit’s location, speed and route.
What dispatchers and law enforcement officers have learned is that a much more efficient way to get to the scene is through proximity dispatching. With this method, dispatchers see where police, fire and EMS units are on a digital map in CAD software in real-time along with their continuously adjusting ETAs.
The continuously updated ETAs that proximity dispatching relies on are provided through the use of automatic vehicle location (AVL) functionality. This provides the most accurate information possible, so that dispatchers and first responders can see where all units are by looking at their digital maps either in the CAD mapping system or mobile data terminals in patrol cars, fire engines, or other emergency vehicles. Using this information, dispatchers determine which unit should be dispatched to ensure the quickest response.
AVL works by having each emergency vehicle equipped with global positioning system (GPS) functionality. By pre-programming GPS data into an agency’s mobile server, the mobile software located in police, fire and EMS vehicles communicates seamlessly back and forth to dispatch.
This same signal is sent to other units within the agency, all of which are able to view this information using the maps on their mobile devices.
AVL technology continuously sends latitude and longitude coordinates back to the CAD system so that dispatchers always know the location of a unit.
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