Every year, the Great Plains region of the US experiences severe thunderstorms throughout the summer months.
The summer of 2017 was no different for Independence, Missouri.
In mid-July, heavy storms hit this Kansas City metro area town causing damage to vehicles, homes, and businesses. High winds of more than 85 mph also caused downed trees and power lines, which led to power outages for several residents.
In addition, the rain and hail accompanying these storms resulted in flash flooding as it dumped more than three inches onto the town. Numerous roadways were impassable due to the trees and flooding, which caused routing issues for motorists and first responders.
In this type of situation, dispatchers and first responders are tasked with routing emergency personnel to those in need, which can be difficult when roads are impassable.
During that storm, the local 9-1-1 dispatch center in Independence fielded such a high call volume that they were running a modified response on emergency calls.
According to Independence Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Cindy Culp, a modified response helps ensure an effective level of coverage continues throughout the community despite emergency conditions that could absorb numerous resources.
"Any time the big storms hit, we're out there with police responding to weather-related calls for service and your every-day emergencies," Culp said. "It's important for dispatch to make sure there's enough coverage throughout the city to account for any emergency situation that arises as well as for of the events attributed to weather activity."
While the modified response prevented the city from running out of first responders to meet the needs of the community, first responders also had to deal with how to get to those in need.
"We had to be re-routed to several calls for service due to the condition of the roads," Culp said. "Dispatch helped with routing us to these incidents so that we could get help to where it was needed most."
Like many emergency responses, communication with other agencies and departments played a large role in effectively meeting the needs of the community during the storm.
According to Joanna Whitt, Records Administrator for the Independence Police Dept., the police and fire departments work together quite often in emergencies.
"In critical situations, we work closely with the fire department," Whitt said. "Anytime the police and fire departments are on the scene together, we share information with each other that pertains to safety for first responders and the public."
Located just around 30 miles off the coast of Texas, between Houston and the Louisiana border, the neighboring communities of Nederland and Port Neches are so close together that it is often difficult to tell where one city ends and the other begins. The proximity between the two communities along with a third nearby city allowed for a unique partnership to form between local law enforcement. In these communities, local agencies rely on each other for basic services, including police dispatch.
Because all three municipalities are all utilizing the same computer aided dispatch (CAD) software, information flows seamlessly between each of the jurisdictions, according to Nederland Police Chief Darrell Bush.
This connection became a critical component of the police departments' response during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
In just five days, the Nederland broke national records after 64.58 inches of rain drenched the community — 31.38 inches of which came down in a single day. Port Neches wasn't too far behind, receiving 64.51 inches of rainfall during the same time frame.
Despite the historic rainfall and unprecedented flooding, officers were able to reach the people in need of rescue — regardless of jurisdiction.
"I'll tell you that in a situation like that, you have manuals to go by and you have protocol, but the bottom line is that the actual situation is going to be different, and there is really no way to be proactive except to make sure that the software you're using and any equipment you are going to depend on is good and reliable," Bush said.
Operators in a centralized location were able to coordinate rescue efforts between police departments and dispatch the closest officer to the person in need. While physical barriers blocking roads generally kept officers in their respective jurisdictions, the intercommunity partnership prevented duplicated search and rescue efforts so that nearly 200 lives were saved in a timely manner.
Source: Charleston Gazette-MailBy Giuseppe Sabella
A Kanawha County sheriff’s deputy used three letters to describe her dangerous foot pursuit: AVL.
The automatic vehicle locator tracks first responders from more than 50 agencies throughout the county, and it may have saved Cpl. Stephanie Adams’ life.
Metro 911 officials said the upgrade launched in September and has since helped law enforcement, paramedics, firefighters and county residents.
Read the full story …
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
Have a story you would like to share with The Call? Let us know!
This article is part three in a four-part series on fire responses and the roles of firefighters in the US.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
When fire crews respond to an unknown structure fire, they must prepare for the worst.
Unknown structure fires by their very nature present a level of danger for fire crews and the individuals involved in the emergency. While dispatchers gather as much information about the emergency as possible, what they know about the situation depends heavily on their computer aided dispatch (CAD) system's capabilities.
When a dispatcher can access premise history information regarding an address, which can include details of previous incidents at the address and potential hazards onsite, first responders use that data to stay safer on the scene. However, providing these details to fire crews is only possible when dispatchers have a CAD system with those capabilities.
According to former firefighter Dan Stringer who worked for a fire department in Michigan, there was one unknown structure fire that he responded to where access to extra information could have meant the difference between life and death.
The incident Stringer recalled involved a fire happening on a wooded property set back more than a quarter of a mile down a dirt driveway, which had significant ice accumulation due to a winter storm.
"When fire crews respond to an emergency and are unsure of the location, there is always the potential that the apparatus they're using won't make it to the scene due to impassable conditions," Stringer said. "A ladder truck is not going to make it across a one-lane, rural bridge, which can present a problem for responders getting to the scene. Thankfully, in this situation, we were able to get one truck on the scene and pump water to the scene from a fire engine parked at a hydrant location."
The scene in question involved a barn, which was completely engulfed in flames. When fire crews began attacking the fire from inside the structure, they discovered construction equipment and numerous drums of oil, some of which were beginning to boil.
"There was a significant explosion risk that we didn't even know about until we were inside the structure," Stringer said. "If those oil drums had exploded, that fire would have been catastrophic for the crews."
Although the barn was a total loss due to damage, fire crews extinguished the flames and no one was injured.
"Technology has made it possible for fire crews to know so much more when they respond to any emergency, but it's not available in all fire departments," Stringer said. "Instant, real-time information is vital to staying safe on the scene of an emergency."
Take a look back at this article to find out how the Oxnard Police Dept. in California was able to reduce the number of gang shootings in the city through the use of intelligence-led policing techniques.
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 a fire emergency, every second is crucial. That's why dispatchers must work quickly to send the appropriate response to the scene.
When a summer lightning storm caused multiple fires in an Oregon community, dispatchers with the Marion Area Multi Agency Emergency Telecommunications Center (METCOM) were tasked with providing effective coverage to their citizens.
To do this, dispatchers relied heavily on built-in fire response plan capabilities in METCOM's computer aided dispatch (CAD) system. These plans dictate what units and capabilities are needed for a specific call and help get a response moving as quickly as possible. Because fire emergencies can escalate quickly, these plans also take alarm levels assigned to fires into consideration.
When dispatchers escalate a fire emergency to a higher alarm, which indicates the severity of the fire emergency, they know exactly what type of response will be sent to the scene with pre-determined responses built in to CAD.
According to METCOM director Gina Audritsh, dispatch centers throughout the United States use the term level and alarm synonymously when discussing fire emergencies.
"It's important that dispatchers can assign alarms in CAD to fire emergencies and get the right response to the scene as quickly as possible," Audritsh said. "Without these capabilities, sending the best response takes longer."
According to Audritsh, there was a time before METCOM upgraded its CAD system when dispatchers relied on paper maps and manual processes when sending a response.
"At METCOM, we've come a long way," Audritsh said. "We've grown to dispatch for 29 agencies. To do this effectively, we needed a CAD system capable of getting our first responders on the scene as quickly and safely as possible. We have that capability now and our responses have improved so much that our fire departments have experienced improved scores with their insurance rating as a result."
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.
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."
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