A train crash is something many commuters never even think about until it happens.
In the early morning hours of Feb. 24, 2015, an individual mistakenly drove his truck onto the grade crossing of a railroad track in Oxnard, CA. The truck became stuck on the track and the driver exited the vehicle without calling for help.
Within 12 minutes, the truck was struck by a commuter train traveling from East Ventura to Los Angeles at 64 mph. The train derailed sending three of its five cars onto the roadway alongside the track.
Almost immediately after the derailment, 9-1-1 calls began flooding dispatchers in Oxnard. According to the Oxnard PD's IT Manager Raja Bamrungpong, an accident of this magnitude resulted in numerous public safety agencies responding.
"As soon as the calls came in to dispatch about the train crash, we knew this would be a large response," Bamrungpong said.
Dispatchers with the Oxnard PD sent a fast response to the scene using their computer aided dispatch (CAD) software.
With CAD, dispatchers see where all first responders are located on a digital map. In the event of an emergency with possible life-threatening injuries like in the train crash, this ability to see where units are located along with their estimated times of arrival (ETA) data helps send the fastest response to the scene.
Within minutes, officers from Oxnard were on the scene along with several other law enforcement agencies and fire departments that were dispatched to assist in the response.
At the time of the accident, more than 25 individuals who were passengers on the train were taken to area hospitals and treated for injuries.
"Being able to respond quickly to an accident as large as the train derailment and provide services to all those impacted is something we strive to do as an agency," Bamrungpong said.
With intelligence led policing, the Oxnard Police Dept. in California is reducing the number of gang shootings in the city.
Located in the Greater Los Angeles area, and with a population of about 207,000 residents, the Oxnard Police Department (PD) continually seeks ways of effectively addressing gang violence.
To combat this problem, the Oxnard PD uses information-driven policing techniques to help address gang activities, especially when there is a connection with violent crime.
In the spring of 2017, Oxnard experienced a rash of gang-related shootings, some of which were fatal. To address the violence, Oxnard PD Assistant Police Chief Jason Benites said that staff worked to identify parts of the city that were most likely to experience this violent crime.
Detectives, officers, and crime analysts worked together using data to identify these locations, so they could increase police presence in areas where the shootings occurred most frequently.
To do this, Benites said staff pulled information regarding the shootings from the department's law enforcement records management and analytic reporting systems. These systems helped determine when and where the shootings occurred, who was involved, and circumstances surrounding the events.
"When you can look at data that says the specific areas where an event has occurred and the specific time it occurred, it helps you to identify patterns," Benites said.
By collecting this data, the department was able to redeploy patrol officers to specific areas during specific times where the shootings occurred most frequently. Almost immediately, this increase in police presence helped reduce the shootings significantly.
"Having the ability to gather data that helps us strategically use our limited resources to their maximum potential helps us keep the community of Oxnard safer," Benites said.
Dispatchers take thousands of calls per year, so it should come as no surprise that some of those calls are stranger than others.
In December of 2014, a dispatcher with the Armstrong County Dept. of Public Safety received a 9-1-1 call from a man asking to have a SWAT team come to his house. Dispatcher Brandon Dague knew immediately that this call was going to be different than most.
However, he proceeded to take down the man's information so he could send the appropriate help.
When the caller's address and number were entered into the county's computer aided dispatch (CAD) system, an alert was generated showing premise history information. This information indicated that this individual made frequent calls to 9-1-1 and was known to be violent toward first responders, especially law enforcement officers.
"We knew that this was a potentially dangerous situation, and we knew we had to keep all first responders safe when they went out there," Dague said. "Luckily the premise history information helps us know what we're dealing with so no one is blindsided when they arrive on the scene."
In this case, when the man claimed that his kitchen was on fire and he needed assistance, law enforcement officers were dispatched to his address. Because dispatch knew from premise history information that first responders could be in danger if they responded, Dague sent a police response first to secure the scene.
When police arrived on the scene, they discovered the man who called had a gun and there was no fire. The individual threatened the police officers with the gun and he was arrested.
"In cases like this, having information in our CAD system that we can relay to first responders helps keep everyone safer," Dague said. "When we have calls from individuals who are looking to make trouble, CAD helps us to have a quick way of knowing the backstory of the situation we're dealing with. It's an important tool to have in instances where individuals are putting their lives on the line."
When a bridge goes out in a community, dispatchers work even harder to route first responders to the scene of an emergency. But imagine what happens when numerous bridges are impassable throughout an entire county.
Pennsylvania has approximately 4,500 structurally deficient bridges, which will be repaired or replaced though the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project. While this is necessary, it does present a problem for dispatchers and first responders.
According to Ron Wolbert, the director of 911 operations for the Clarion County Office of Emergency Services, numerous bridges in Clarion County are in the process of being repaired or replaced.
"The bridge project has created new and interesting challenges for dispatch procedures," Wolbert said.
In one area of the county, primary responding agencies have been cut off from access to the areas they serve. To ensure the residents in this area still receive proper emergency services, response plans in the county's CAD system were reconfigured.
Now, the county's CAD system reassigns response areas and temporary alarm assignments for all responders in the impacted location. To do this, response times, access from adjoining townships and boroughs, and the availability of resources had to be factored in. These areas were then assigned roadblock areas on the county's CAD map and labeled and highlighted on screen for easy recognition by dispatchers.
"Dispatchers not only see the highlighted areas on their digital maps, but a labeled description advising of the exact procedures that need to be followed for a timely response," Wolbert said. "I can say the ease of use of the system, coupled with the many features we can utilize, has made the construction that comes with the bridge projects more manageable and not allowed it to become a disaster in our 911 center."
Officer safety is a vital element in an emergency response.
When dispatchers use a computer aided dispatch system with mobile capabilities, this functionality helps keep first responders safer.
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office in Colorado has this functionality, which means they're able to send alerts to mobile data terminals (MDTs) in first responders' vehicles.
Mobile functionality helps first responders see all calls for service, employ self-dispatching tactics and update the status of the call. It also sends alerts, which helps first responders be aware of premise history information and prior interactions with subjects or previous location history.
This information sharing helps dispatchers and first responders stay better connected, which bolsters officer safety as they have more information at their fingertips.
"With this additional information, our dispatchers give first responders the information they need to respond safely and effectively to those in need," Capt. Brad Heyden of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said.
For instance, imagine a first responder heading out to a call for service regarding a domestic violence situation. If that first responder receives an alert from CAD regarding prior incident at the address of the call for service, he or she is better equipped with vital information. From there, the first responder could call for back up or make other decisions to keep all parties as safe as possible.
This capability is especially helpful for fire and EMS responders who may need to wait until law enforcement arrives on the scene. This is beneficial in situations where a call for service involves an individual being aggressive or in possession of a firearm.
"With this additional information, our dispatchers give first responders the information they need to know, which ultimately keeps officers and our communities safer," Heyden said.
From identifying bodies to capturing fugitives, the stories from The Call show the type of situations public safety personnel throughout the United States handle on a daily basis.
In the last four months, our most popular articles include:
Burglary Ring Busted by Law Enforcement
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These articles highlight how public safety officials keep communities safe as well as the importance of keeping up with industry trends like Next Generation 911.
Have a story you would like to share with the call? Let us know!
This article is part three of a six-part series on Next Generation 911
Part one | Part two | Part three | Part four | Part five | Part six
To determine what Next Generation 911 (NG 9-1-1) means for each public safety answering point (PSAP) is a bit complicated.
Currently, each PSAP in every community in every state is at a different level of readiness for NG 9-1-1. However, according to standards put into place regarding NG 9-1-1 by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), every dispatcher and call taker is going to be expected to communicate with those in need of 9-1-1 emergency services in more ways than just by voice.
This change is similar to what it was like when technology moved away from rotary phones to push buttons phones to phones with no buttons at all. This is a change that reflects how communication has changed and how that impacts all parts of our lives.
Since the sending of text messages is something many if not most people do now, there is a growing conversation among people wondering if they can send a text to 9-1-1. These people also wonder why they can't send a photo message or a video message or a live stream of a crime happening to 9-1-1 now.
NG 9-1-1 makes it possible for everyone to send these types of messages to 9-1-1, and PSAPs will be able to receive these messages, it's just a matter of when.
As of October 2016, each PSAP in the country is working independently to become ready for NG 9-1-1.
PSAPs that are slightly ahead of the game are ready to accept text calls from the community, but this only accounts for approximately 15% of PSAPs nationwide.
Read part four of the series »
Dispatchers at SNOCOM (Southwest Snohomish County Communications Agency) know that when it comes to emergency calls, time is of the essence. A call that came in early 2016 highlights this fact.
According to SNOCOM Operations Manager Andie Hanson, that early 2016 call was in regards to a man who was unresponsive. To provide help for this urgent situation, the dispatcher was able to use latitude and longitude coordinates generated from the cell phone the caller was using to get first responders on the road.
While these coordinates did not give the street address, it helped ensure a speedy response for the unresponsive man. Once the exact address was given, units were able to be there within three minutes of when the call came in.
"In situations that escalate so quickly, it's imperative that we have the ability to reach the citizens of our county as quickly as possible," Hanson said.
While SNOCOM always had the ability to dispatch first responders to emergencies, this process is more efficient now with the use of their new computer aided dispatch (CAD) software. This software helps dispatchers to communicate with agencies throughout the county regardless of jurisdictional lines.
Hanson said this borderless communication helps reduce the impact of call transfers, increases collaboration, and makes information sharing both immediate and easy. In addition, the easy access to data helps officers in the field to stay safer, as dispatch is able to provide them with real-time information regarding any call they respond to.
In regards to the comatose man, Hanson said that if SNOCOM had been using their old CAD system, help would have arrived later, and those minutes could have added up to a different outcome.
"The real-time information that we have now and the dynamic unit recommendation features of our CAD software helps us to not only protect the public, but to protect officers as well," Hanson said.
Watch a video testimonial from SNOPAC's Rich McQuade
Photo courtesy of Everett Police Department
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