When a 9-1-1 hang up call comes into a dispatch center, call takers immediately call back to determine whether help is needed or not. But when dispatchers call back and don't get an answer, they know there could be a problem.
When dispatch personnel with the Greenbelt Police Department received a 9-1-1 hang up call in early 2016, they immediately called back and were connected to a fax machine.
Dispatch searched the number in their computer aided dispatch (CAD) system and was able to come up with an address associated with the number so that an officer could head out to the location. The first officer routed to the location quickly investigated the situation and individual on the scene.
According to CAD Manager Mike Dewey of the Greenbelt Police Department, that officer on the scene immediately identified that the individual at the apartment was possibly undergoing some kind of mental health issue or under the influence of drugs.
While on the scene, the officer accessed premise history through his mobile data terminal in his patrol car and was able to see that a known Phencyclidine (PCP) user lived on the premises.
"PCP is a hallucinogenic drug that has a tendency to cause violent outbursts," Dewey said. "PCP can be an extremely dangerous addition to any call for service, and in this scenario, the lone officer was able to back out of the environment and call for sufficient additional resources."
According to Dewey, without the data sharing between the records and mobile solutions in the police department's public safety software to provide instant prior history information, this situation could have been dangerous for the officer and the individual who made the 9-1-1 call.
Instead, additional units responded to help the officer, which ensured there was no injury to the officers or the individual under the influence of drugs.
"Without enough officers to effectively handle the scene, you risk injury to everyone involved," Dewey said. "Our software helps us prevent these situations from happening."
Discovering what makes someone become a mass murderer is something the science community has yet to identify. Many of these individuals share similar characteristics, but what makes someone actually commit these acts is hard to define.
Some of those characteristics include a feeling of rejection or an abusive past. Others include setting fires while young or hurting animals. Then there are some that always exhibited a lack of empathy or self-centeredness. But not everyone who experiences these traits or experiences becomes a killer.
Triggering events can sometimes be tied to those who enact a mass shooting. A workplace shooting can occur after an individual has been fired; a shooting in the household could be the result of a breakup.
Mass shootings are generally carried out by one individual. Incidences that involve two or more shooters leave even more questions about the reasons behind the shooting to be answered.
In the attack on the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino in late 2015, nobody really knows what caused two individuals to kill 14 others.
What authorities do know is that the two shooters were a married couple. Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik had left their baby in the care of a grandparent on the day of the attack. Farook was a U.S. citizen and Malik was a permanent resident. They met online initially, and eventually met face to face in Saudi Arabia when Farook came out for a visit.
Farook was a graduate of California State University and worked for the Inland Regional Center.
Together, the couple owned a Lexus, had recently attended a baby shower that coworkers had thrown for them, and seemed like an everyday family.
It is thought that Farook became self-radicalized and professed allegiance to the terrorist organization ISIS. It's unclear if the two shared ideological beliefs independently from each other, or if their ideologies grew once they got together.
While it's difficult to know what drove Farook and Malik to kill 14 individuals, it's important to know how they were identified and stopped.
According to Chief Jarrod Burguan of the San Bernardino Police Department, during the investigation that began as soon as law enforcement arrived on the scene, a witness to the shooting suggested that officers consider Farook as a suspect.
This tip was made based on the fact that Farook had been attending the training, but left at some point during and was no longer around. Farook's information was entered into the public safety records management software system utilized by the San Bernardino PD and officers were able to determine his address.
Another tip came in saying that the shooters had gotten away in a black SUV. When this information was made available to the public, a community member called 9-1-1 to report a suspicious SUV. That caller had gone so far as to memorize the license plate number of the SUV.
Investigators with the San Bernardino PD were able to use their public safety software yet again to look up this plate. From there, they determined that the SUV was a rental vehicle and that Farook had rented it.
When Farook and Malik were located not long afterwards, they were killed by police during a shootout.
This tragic incident serves as further evidence that although clues are not always prevalent before an attack, solving crimes and protecting the public is possible with a combination of data, technology and human instinct.
To combat mass shootings and gun violence, law enforcement officers and public safety personnel throughout the country have the opportunity to participate in various training procedures each year.
These trainings focus on terrorism, active shooters, mass shootings and other related topics so that both civilian employees and sworn officers are able to perform safely and effectively during any given situation.
This type of training was especially beneficial for those working for the San Bernardino Police Department when they dealt with a terrorist attack December 2, 2015.
According to Chief Jarrod Burguan, many of his civilian employees and sworn officers had been trained in dealing with an active shooter. This training came from not only planned courses, but from the day to day realities of working in public safety.
"With the crime rate in our city and numerous shootings per week, our officers were well equipped to deal with the events of the terrorist attack," police dispatch supervisor Annie Teall said. "What happened on the day of the attack was a large-scale version of what first responders deal with on a daily basis."
In spite of the training that comes with experience, Teall said that she, along with several others in the department, took part in a tactical dispatcher class to enhance their skillset. This training helped those working in dispatch to become more familiar with field operations during hostage negotiations and SWAT callouts.
"With the tactical dispatcher training, it was easier to anticipate what the field units were going to try to accomplish while on site the day of the terrorist attack," Teall said.
According to the San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, this on-the-job and additional training helped all those involved in protecting the public during the terrorist attack to perform to the best of their abilities.
"Protecting the public is what we do," Burguan said. "Training is imperative to keeping both the public and officers safe no matter what the circumstances are."
First responders know the area that they serve well, but that doesn't always guarantee a fast response.
With Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) functionality, dispatchers can route first responders to incidences using proximity dispatch capabilities. Proximity dispatch assesses real-time routing factors to get first responders on the scene quickly and safely, regardless of their location.
With AVL technology in Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software, public safety telecommunicators and first responders are able to know the location of their units via CAD workstations and Mobile Data Terminals (MDT).
For dispatchers, this technology helps to make dynamic unit recommendations based on real-time situational awareness and routing factors. Without AVL, dispatchers can only send first responders to an incident based on either the agency they are assigned to or last recorded location. While this is effective, it's not as efficient.
With AVL, when a call is ready to be dispatched to first responders in the field, the dispatcher has the ability to look at the CAD map and see where all units are located at any given time. Dispatchers can use this information to help determine which units should respond to an incident faster and more safely.
This means that while one first responder may be closer to the location where an incident is occurring, another unit could be able to arrive faster due to routing factors such as traffic speeds or construction.
Using their maps displayed on their MDTs, first responders in the field use AVL to know where other units are located. In a situation where multiple units are responding to an incident, having the ability to see real-time ETAs helps first responders know when back up will arrive.
AVL functionality also helps in the event of an emergency involving a first responder. Should a first responder lose the ability to communicate with dispatch via radio, dispatchers can quickly locate and send assistance to AVL enabled units.
Without this functionality, should something happen to a first responder while out in the field, a search would be carried out using maps and grids. This would take a considerable amount of time and could mean the difference between life and death.
In addition to providing accurate location information, AVL provides users the option to track a unit's speed and direction at any given time.
With AVL technology, built into public safety software, agencies are able to respond as quickly as possible and are better able to protect and serve their communities.
Communication plays a vital role in public safety. When dispatchers are unable to communicate with a deputy on patrol, they know immediately that something is wrong.
According to Sergeant Jonathan Emery of the Greene County Sheriff's Office in Ohio, dispatchers with the county had an incident in late 2015 featuring a deputy who could not communicate.
These dispatchers were unsure of what had happened to him; all they knew was that he was not able to respond to their attempts at communicating with them. Because of this lack of communication, dispatchers needed to send help to the officer, but first they had to find his vehicle.
The fact that the deputy could not communicate using the radio on his shoulder or in the patrol vehicle was evidence enough that something was wrong. Luckily, the deputy was able to activate the emergency button feature of his Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) functionality that was a part of his mobile computer aided dispatching (CAD) software.
This button pinpointed his location so that dispatchers at the Greene County 9-1-1 Center were able to send help immediately.
When this help arrived, they saw that the deputy had been involved in a collision and was injured. The deputy had no memory of how the collision occurred, but was grateful for the ability to communicate nonverbally.
Because the vehicle had gone off the road, it is possible that it would not have been seen easily by passing motorists. This could have made the situation even more dangerous as more time means the injured wait longer for help.
Without the AVL functionality in the deputy's CAD system, this situation could have ended in tragedy.
A lot can change in less than a minute.
For an officer with the El Cajon Police Department, there was a lot riding on that small unit of time.
The officer had radioed in to dispatch and all he could say was that he had been hit. The call taker had no way of knowing if that meant he had been involved in a collision or shot.
Sue said in less than a minute, the call taker had identified the officer's location using the Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) functionality of their Computer Aided Dispatch software. With this information, dispatchers were able to send a rescue response to the officer.
What they discovered upon arrival was that the officer had been involved in a collision. While stopped at a traffic light, the officer's vehicle was rear-ended by another vehicle traveling at 35 mph.
The officer suffered a broken neck, but had made a full recovery. The driver of the other vehicle was uninjured.
"This case serves as a prime example of how great the software is," Sue said. "We were able to get to his location even when he was unable to speak. AVL is a life-saving tool."
The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to strong storms, but some can be more destructive than others.
For 9-1-1 dispatchers in Snohomish County, these storms have the potential to intensify call volumes – and that's exactly what happened in November 2015.
The storm generated winds as high as 119 mph, leaving more than 1 million individuals without power throughout the region. These winds caused significant structural damage to buildings and homes and also resulted in several downed trees. Three individuals in the greater Seattle area were killed as a result of falling trees.
Because of the damage to private residences and injuries this storm caused, numerous calls came in to the Snohomish County Police Staff and Auxiliary Server Center (SNOPAC) and the Southwest Snohomish County Communications Agency (SNOCOM), the county's two Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs).
As if the storm itself wasn't bad enough, both PSAPs lost power and ran solely on their generators throughout the duration of the storm.
According to SNOPAC's executive director Kurt Mills, SNOPAC nearly doubled its 911 call-takers during the storm to keep up with the calls coming into the center. In spite of the intense call volume, the system never faltered, which was a concern Mills had due to the fact that the PSAP had only been using its new computer aided dispatch (CAD) software for a few weeks at that point.
"The storm was massive," Mills said. "We are already a busy center processing around 1,300 calls every day, but during the storm we really pushed our new CAD system hard with a flood of calls and activity and it handled the workload without as much as a hiccup."
These storms helped illustrate just how far a solid CAD software solution and dedicated public safety staff will go to handle everyday emergencies and extreme situations.
"We're shaving seconds and sometimes minutes off of every mutual aid response, which often happen numerous times every single day, by not having to call our sister PSAP and ask for units," Mills said.
To learn more about the technology involved in this story, read the SNOCOM/SNOPAC Case Study.
Watch a video testimonial from SNOPAC's Rich McQuade
All crimes leave a trail of data in their wake. Software that can identify this trail helps everyone from dispatchers to officers on patrol to stay ahead of criminals. Trends, hot spots of criminal activity, even times of day or week can be identified using public safety software.
Personnel with the Everett Police Department, located in Snohomish County, Washington, understand this and that's why they're able to crack down on criminals more so now than in the past.
For instance, when officers run a plate or perform a routine traffic stop, they can bring up photos and warrants while out in the field using the mobile portion of their public safety software. This saves time, as it keeps them from having to contact the records department or dispatch.
According to Greg Lineberry, Captain of the Everett Police Department, having the ability to serve a warrant or look at booking photos with mobile software, provides immeasurable benefits to those working the field, in dispatch and in records.
"When our officers don't have to come into the police station to look up a warrant or view photos, it saves everyone time and helps us get criminals off the streets faster," Lineberry said.
In addition to saving time, the data that is stored and used in the Everett Police Department's system helps with improving data collection and tracking trends.
Lineberry said this helps the police department move toward using more intelligence-led policing efforts, which will help keep the community safer.
Recently, the Everett Police Department was able to crack down on vehicle thefts, identity thefts, and burglaries by using the data in their system.
Lineberry said this has also helped to cut down on the crime happening in areas of the city known for gang activity and drive-by shootings.
"There is an element out there that preys upon others, and we are committed to getting them off the streets and behind bars," Lineberry said.
Through the use of public safety software, the Everett Police Department is able to better protect and serve the community.
Read more: SNOPAC/SNOCOM Case Study
Photo courtesy of Everett Police Department
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