When an inmate escaped from the Armstrong County Jail, tips from community members helped track the man's every move. In less than 48 hours, he was back behind bars facing new charges.
In July of 2015, an inmate who was granted special privileges for good behavior took advantage of the opportunity and escaped from the jail. The inmate was outdoors awaiting the arrival of a food truck when he disappeared.
While the escapee was on the run, he murdered a woman and stole two of her vehicles, according to 9-1-1 Coordinator Ron Baustert, who works for the Armstrong County Dept. of Public Safety.
"Quick capture may have prevented an untold number of other people being killed," Baustert said.
As soon as word regarding the jail break hit the community, the Armstrong County Department of Public Safety's 9-1-1 communication center received dozens of calls with tips as to the man's whereabouts.
According to Baustert, each of these tips taken by dispatchers was immediately entered into the county's computer aided dispatch (CAD) software.
This information included addresses and locations where the escapee was spotted, the description of the vehicle he stole while on the run and locations of where vehicles that matched that description were spotted. This information was stored digitally and accessible by all dispatchers so that each had access to the details of the CAD narrative in real time.
"It was important we had this information and the ability to enter it in quickly so we could share it with law enforcement officers in our community," Baustert said.
The man was ultimately captured when a 9-1-1 caller reported that the man had knocked on her door asking for help. The woman refused to offer help and instead called 9-1-1. At that time, the man fled in his stolen truck.
Local police quickly spotted the vehicle and were led on a short chase. The escapee then lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a police cruiser. He was apprehended and taken back into custody.
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."
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."
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