The Call Blog

New World Public Safety The Call

The Call

rss

True stories from dispatchers, law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel who use New World public safety software to help them save lives, protect communities and increase efficiency


Dispatchers and First Responders Protect Community During Tornado

Dispatchers deal with life and death situations every day on the job. They're used to the pressure that comes with an intense call for service and being relied on to send the appropriate response to an emergency. That's why it takes quite a bit to get a dispatcher to refer to one particular day as worse than any of the others.

But according to Denise McKinney, Chief of Communications for the Ouachita Parish Fire Department in Louisiana, there's one day that stands out to her as the worst in her history on the job.

When Ouachita Parish including the cities of West Monroe and Monroe was hit by an EF2 tornado in December 2013, long after tornado season had ended, first responders worked diligently to aid those in need. According to the Enhanced Fujita scale, which is used to rank the severity of tornadoes, an EF2 indicates a storm with wind speeds of up to 135 mph.

"The storm started in the southwest end of the parish and continued to move throughout the community," McKinney said. "We were getting a lot of calls, but no one was using the word 'tornado' in the calls. What we were hearing was that there was a lot of wind and a lot of trees were coming down."

As the storm continued to move through the area, Ouachita Parish 911 received an onslaught of calls from residents who were trapped in their homes or unable to get home due to trees in the roadways. In addition, lightning from the storm caused many house fires, and rescuers needed clear pathways to get to those in need.

"The storm really tore up the area," McKinney said. "We had a lot of off-duty firemen come out with their chainsaws to clear pathways on the roadways so residents and emergency vehicles could get around. We were also getting calls from our public works personnel who let us know which roads had been closed, which was beneficial as it allowed us to enter that information into our computer aided dispatch (CAD) system."

By entering this information into CAD, dispatchers created roadblocks on CAD maps, which helped ensure all first responders avoided certain areas that were impassable.

"Every entry into our CAD system map was globally applied so that all users could see the changes in their mobile units within their patrol or rescue vehicles," McKinney said. "Being able to see those changes immediately enabled us to get help to where it was needed most despite the amount of debris on the roads."


First Responders Race to Locate Missing Child

A missing child is one of the most critical calls for service first responders ever respond to.

When dispatchers with Ouachita Parish 911 in Louisiana received a call regarding a missing child, first responders were immediately sent to the location where the child was last seen.

"It had been two hours since the child was reported missing and there were dozens of first responders in the area searching," Denise McKinney, Chief of Communications with Ouachita Parish Fire Department, said.

When the call for service was made, the caller stated that the child had wandered off from home in a rural location and could not be located by family members. Within minutes, first responders were on the scene performing a search.

After two hours had passed and the child had yet to be located, law enforcement officers worked with those involved in the case and relayed location information back to dispatch. With this extra information, dispatch determined that the child's possible location was a half-mile east of the area rescuers were canvassing.

The dispatcher involved in the call for service updated the possible location in her computer aided dispatch (CAD) system and the change was immediately reflected in the CAD narrative shown on the mobile data terminals (MDTs) used by first responders.

"The search area wasn't as precise as it could have been in the beginning," McKinney said. "Once the changes were made, that information was available to everyone, which helped locate the missing child."

With updated information, a district chief responding to the incident discovered he was in the center of the search area. 

"The CAD map was so accurate that the child literally could have crossed the street first responders were traveling on," McKinney said. "As soon as the district chief saw on his mobile device that he was in the updated search area, he decreased his speed as to not injure the child.  A short time later, the child was located. At that moment, I was so proud to have the CAD system that we have."


Dispatchers become critical component of rescue efforts during Hurricane Harvey

On a typical day in the neighboring communities of Nederland, Port Neches, and Groves, Texas, three dispatch operators are responsible for answering and routing all 911 calls in the area – around 60 to 70 calls each day.

That all changed in the fall of 2017.

By August 30, 2017, Hurricane Harvey had shifted course in the Gulf of Mexico and unexpectedly poured 64.51 inches of rain on the communities, most of which came down in one day. 

Fighting heavy rains and historic flooding, two additional operators were brought in to manage the call volume. Working night and day for five days, the dispatchers managed the more than 3,200 calls from residents in their communities and around the region.

This storm was Chief Paul Lemoine's fourth hurricane with the Port Neches Police Department, and, in his experience, communication has always been key to a successful operation.

His department faced the challenges of technology that couldn't keep up during previous storms. With no way to take outside calls because of failed communication systems, officers had previously been forced to rely on word-of-mouth communication, he said. In the past, flooding neighborhoods with volunteers and officers going door-to-door was necessary to ensure everyone got the help they needed.

But, not this time.

Throughout the weather event, dispatchers continually relayed pertinent information about people in need and physical road blocks to officers in the field using walkie talkies and cell phones.

"We all had houses that had flooded, and we were all actively doing water rescues for several hours at a time, and we were being inundated with rescue requests," Lemoine said. "We really relied on our dispatchers to relay that information to keep us from wasting time and continually moving forward. It was the middle of the night. We were up to our necks in water, getting in and out of boats, so it was really a lifesaver for us."

When the rain stopped, the sun finally reappeared, and the flooding started to recede, dispatchers helped direct officers to find and rescue more than 180 people. Empowered with timely, accurate information and a connection that lasted through the storm, no lives were lost and no officer was injured in the field.


Catching Up with The Call

When a massive winter storm dumped almost a foot of snow on York County, PA, dispatchers and first responders worked diligently to provide emergency services to residents of the county. Take a look back at this article and read how call takers and dispatchers working for the York County Dept. of Emergency Services used their computer aided dispatch software to prioritize calls and handle the heavy call volume.


Dispatchers Prioritize Responses in Winter Storm

In March of 2017, just as spring was on the horizon, winter storm Stella dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of Pennsylvania.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) categorized the storm as a level three on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). This score is comprised of the area affected by the snowstorm, the amount of snowfall, and the number of people living in the path of the storm.

However, for the more than 430,000 people living in the county, storm names and categories don't matter that much when roads are impassable, power is out, and motorists are stranded.


Dispatchers Prioritize Responses in Winter Storm

In March of 2017, just as spring was on the horizon, winter storm Stella dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of Pennsylvania.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) categorized the storm as a level three on the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). This score is comprised of the area affected by the snowstorm, the amount of snowfall, and the number of people living in the path of the storm.

However, for the more than 430,000 people living in the county, storm names and categories don't matter that much when roads are impassable, power is out, and motorists are stranded.

According to Melony Kearns, computer aided dispatch (CAD) administrator for the York County Dept. of Emergency Services (YCDES), the storm caused an increase in the call volume at the communication center.

"Anytime we get a major weather event, the call volume increases," Kearns said. "But our dispatchers and CAD system handle it well."

To accommodate this increased call volume, Kearns said filters were applied within the CAD system to prioritize weather-related calls. This provided dispatchers with the ability to designate storm calls from other emergencies, which helped streamline responses.

This flexibility in CAD helped dispatchers and first responders meet the needs of the community members impacted by the storm. Prioritizing storm calls also helped dispatchers handle other calls for service coming into the communication center thereby maintaining the level of service expected by the community.

Luckily, Stella dropped most of the snowfall in the middle of the day, which helped with visibility issues for motorists and responders.

"These big storms can cause a lot of problems," Kearns said. "Luckily we have the tools necessary to keep things running smoothly in the community."


CAD System Handles Massive Call Volume Amidst Freak Storm and Power Outage

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



Dispatchers Use Cell Phone Coordinates to Get First Responders En Route Faster

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