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."
From fugitives on the run to massive pileups, the stories from The Call show the type of dynamic situations dispatchers, first responders, sworn officers, and civilian employees handle on a daily basis and the role that technology plays while they make communities safer together.
In looking back at the first half of 2017, the following posts and videos to The Call highlight the work of public safety personnel throughout the country:
Have a story you would like to share with The Call? Let us know!
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."
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.
Multi-Jurisdictional Data Sharing
Using New World Public Safety Software in One of the Fastest Growing Cities in Arizona
Capturing Data for Better Inmate Identification
See all videos »