Communicating With Our Youngest Citizens

December 7th, 2009 by tbledsoe in People, Public Safety, Technology

I had a chance the other day to visit with my grandson’s class at Banoak Elementary School.  His teacher, Ms. Rhoney had given the first grade class an assignment:  Bring someone to class that you would like to know what they do at their job.  We had already completed the written assignment with the ten questions at a painful pace.  How do you tell a first grader what a CIO does?  How do you tell anyone what a CIO does? But now we were ready for the presentation and we were both excited.

I had maps from the GIS department and pictures from the 911 Center.  I started with 911 and all the students knew they could call 911 if they had an emergency.  This led to a series of stories about dad, mom, Uncle Jeff or someone who had been hurt in the past and had to be taken to the hospital.  That was okay; at least they understood the process.  I showed them a poster of one of our telecommunicators sitting behind the wall of monitors and they could see that yes we do know where calls come from and yes we have maps that show exactly where their house is. I showed them pictures of radio towers and they knew that there were towers on Baker’s Mountain and that we send out the call to responders through those towers.  Again the stories flowed freely.

Then I brought out a poster of the school taken during our last flyover. This was a special photo since these orthophotos have not yet been released.  The resolution is unbelievable.  The students pointed out the school, the buses, the water tower, the playground and even Ms. Rhoney’s car.  They could even count the small shrubs in the yard across the street from the school.  Not sure they had any idea what I had to do with the flyover but again we had a good time and they did understand how the picture was taken.

At that point the school day ended, the bell rang and the students headed for their bus.  Don’t guess they cared that maps from our GIS department helped route those buses.  My grandson and his class probably still don’t understand what a CIO does.  But that’s okay, they do understand that help will be there if they need it and that caring people are on the other end of a 911 call.

It will be years before any of these students become voters but communicating with them is very important.  Hopefully they will grow up to understand, appreciate and participate in government whether local, state or national.  Special thanks to Ms. Rhoney for inviting me to speak with her class and thanks to my grandson for asking what I do.

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Can you find me?

November 4th, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety, Technology, Uncategorized

Sherrills-Ford Google Map 

Last week it was my pleasure to meet with a group of citizens at the Sherrills Ford-Terrell Fire Rescue base.  We were discussing 911 and emergency calls when one question came up.  “It is sort of hard to get to my house, could you find me?”  In today’s world of GPS’ and Google maps, that question sounds trivial.  However, if you look at the map of the Sherrills Ford area from Google, you can see all the little fingers of land and coves that attract people to live on the lake.  Finding some of these are difficult and add the fact that many GPS providers only update their map once every few years, the concern becomes very real.

So how do we find you?  Each EMS unit and Law Enforcement unit is equipped with GPS tracking and AVL (Automated Vehicle Location).  Just like the GPS in your car, the onboard GPS keeps constant track of the vehicle location.  Information from the unit, for example  location and speed, is sent back to a central data network.  How is this different from the GPS in your car?  Back at the central database, the GPS is integrated with the county’s GIS and complete up-to-date maps.  If a new road is added it will be available to our units in a few days.  New developments and new homes are added from the building services database.  Maps and data in the EMS and Law Enforcement units is constantly being updated.  At the same time, the location of each unit is being sent back to shift supervisors and to the 911 Center.

So how do we find you?  Let’s walk through the entire process.  You have just called 911 and stated that someone in your house is having chest pains.  Time is critical.  The 911 telecommunicator dispatches EMS to your location.  When you called, your phone number and address were displayed on the CAD (Computer Aided Dispatch) screen.  The 911 telecommunicator will always verify with you that this is correct.  When the call is dispatched, the 911 telecommunicator will call the EMS unit by radio.  At the same time, the information is being sent to a computer in the EMS unit.  The computer in the EMS unit displays the address and the emergency details  for the responders.  It also displays a map with the location of the EMS unit and the location of the emergency.  The responding unit can then choose to map to the location and the best route will be displayed on the computer screen.  As the unit travels to the location of the emergency, icons on the screen track progress.  Once at the scene, if  transport to a hospital is necessary, the system will map the best route to the hospital.

So how do we find you?  Thanks to GPS and AVL integrated with GIS, our units have up-to-date maps and routing information to save precious seconds when responding to your emergency.  So whether you live on a beautiful hard to reach cove on Lake Norman or small farm down a country road, relax, we should be able to find you.

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What Should 911 Look Like in 2020? (Regional vs Local Model)

August 14th, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety, Uncategorized

This  is the last article in a series of blogs related to 911 and what it should look like in the future.  Over the last few weeks, a series of questions that were posed to different groups for input were summarized and reveal the concepts that we feel make up the Next Generation of 911.  This last section talks about regional vs local models.

Should 911 Move to Regional Center verses the Current Local Model?

As 911 moves to NG911, it is important to look at regional verses local models.  How can data be passed ? What is the cost? How do you provide backup resources? And most important, how can the people best be served?

Some of the advantages of having regional 911 centers would be:

  • regional centers would make it easier to set consistent standards across the state
  • Regional centers could better facilitate resource sharing by acting as backups for each other and by load balancing in times of high demand.
  • Larger staffs at regional centers could be specially trained and dedicated to certain types of calls.

Some of the advantages of having local 911 centers would be:

  • Local centers are more familiar with the needs of the community they serve
  • Local centers are more familiar with the area and may have better GIS and mapping data available for the area
  • Local centers could back each other up and load balance using NG911 standards.
  • Having more local 911 centers reduces the security risks posed by having a few regional centers.

In discussing regional verses local, several questions come up.  Would regional 911 centers be call taking and dispatch or would they only be call taking and leave dispatch to local agencies?  Acting as call taking and dispatch makes the assumption that communication is fully interoperable and that 911 is one coherent system from the call taking process to the response in the field.  If regional centers are acting as call taking only and passing dispatch to local agencies, one has to make the assumption that local centers are capable of receiving all the data from the regional center and able to passing it on to responders.

Regional verses local is one area that will have to be studied in depth to determine the best delivery system.  This will be a balancing act between most efficient delivery of services, cost of delivery, and the emotional, political aspects of the delivery of service.

The mind maps created in the brainstorming session can be viewed at:

IT Governance Committee: 

Public Safety Information Committee:

Regional 911 Administrators:

Mind maps created using Mind42.

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What Should 911 Look Like in 2020? (What are the standards for 911?)

August 6th, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety

This  is the fourth article in a series of blogs related to 911 and what it should look like in the future.  Over the next few weeks, a series of questions that were posed to different groups for input will be summarized and reveal the concepts that we feel make up the Next Generation of 911.

What are the standards for 911?

Standards are going to be very important for 911 in the future.  In order to collect data, exchange data and pass data to responders, data must be in a format that is universally recognizable.  Data standards need to be defined at the national level to ensure that data can flow between centers at a local, regional and state level, as well as, exchange data with federal agencies.

 To begin addressing this, the question of what 911 means surfaces again.  In that question, callers to 911 expect to be connected to a trained professional.  That implies that training for telecommunicators must be the same across the state. At a minimum, telecommunicators in all North Carolina 911 centers should be EMD certified and the 911 center should be using the EMD protocol.  It also means that there should be levels of staffing adequate to ensure that callers never get a busy signal.  There may be some room for staffing standards to be employed throughout the state.  At this time, there are not good standards available to determining the number of telecommunicators needed in a center.  Further, the lack of standards makes it difficult for 911 Center managers to justify staffing needs to city/county managers and elected officials.

Standards for the 911 center should be defined as tiers with the lowest tier being the minimum that a caller would ever expect to receive.  Minimum would be defined as being able to receive any type of communication device and EMD certified.  Funding should be tied to these tiers and each time a center reached another tier, funding would become more flexible.  Since 911 centers across the state are organized in many different ways, structural differences will need to be resolved.  Standards should be designed in such a way as to bring everyone up to a standard and encourage moving to a higher level of service for the public.

Standards for data are going to be critical.  Defining these will be difficult because there are so many types of data, so many different vendor platforms, and so many possible users of that data.  Defining the standards cannot be left to local or regional efforts.  Data in the future  may need to move across the state and across state lines.  National standards would facilitate the concept of universally  recognizable.  Efforts like NENA’s National Elements is a good common starting point for states to use.
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What Should 911 Look Like in 2020? (What data should 911 be able to process?)

August 2nd, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety, Uncategorized

This  is the third article in a series of blogs related to 911 and what it should look like in the future.  Over the next few weeks, a series of questions that were posed to different groups for input will be summarized and reveal the concepts that we feel make up the Next Generation of 911.

What data should 911 be able to process?

The original question asked in the discussion was “What should 911 look like in 2020?”  This takes us in the direction of Next Generation 911 and all of its potential to move and analyze data.  So what are the data implications for 911 in the future?

Currently, 911 calls come in on voice lines and are dispatched over the radio.  The data that comes in with these calls is ANI/ALI (Automatic Number Identification/Automatic Location Identification).  This includes the telephone number and the location of the number.  With older cell phones, the location may be the cell tower the call originated from. New cell phones give the GPS location of the caller.  Other data is gathered directly from the caller by a telecommunicator and is usually specific to the caller and the call at that moment.

Now consider what is possible if information could come in from virtually any source.  If the caller had a new cell phone, data could be sent in the form of text messages, email or voice.  The caller could also send pictures and perhaps video.  All of this information, whether transmitted by voice or data would be beneficial to the responders.  For example, a picture of a car crash could help determine the appropriate response.  In other scenarios, text messages could be sent silently protecting the location of the caller or provide a hearing impaired person a readily available method of contacting 911.

Data would not be limited to coming from phones. New model cars are being equipped with ACN(Automatic Crash Notification).  One familiar service is OnStar. Data from ACN can be passed directly to 911 and relayed to responders.  Depending on the system, ACN data can include vehicle speed, force of impact, areas of damage and is tied with GPS.  Some systems include sensors to detect body vitals such as heartbeat and temperature.

Another source of data is video.  Video can be passed from cell phones, surveillance cameras, news feeds, car cameras in law enforcement units, and  all types of web cams including traffic cams. These could be triggered to send information based on data from crash systems, traffic flow sensors, signal sensors, etc.  Having good video data during a response ensures that appropriate resources are sent and that there is not an over or under response to an incident.

Monitoring services have the potential to send very valuable data to 911.  Services like home security companies could have sensors on doors, window and rooms of a house including basement and attic areas to monitor everything from intrusion, fire, water and other dangerous things like carbon monoxide levels.  Most of these companies create a floor plan when installing the system so that they will know where a sensor is triggered.  Although all of this useful data is available today, a monitoring service is still forced to manually call a 911 Center and give information via voice communication.   With NG911 technology, monitoring services could pass any of this data directly to 911 and 911 could pass it to responding agencies.  Consider how useful it would be for law enforcement responding to a break in if they could see movement of the burglars on a diagram of the house and know which door the burglars are likely to exit.

Monitoring services are big users of sensors but in today’s security conscious world, sensors are being used by many agencies.  Sensors are being placed along major interstates to detect things like radiation, chemicals, and biological traces.  Other sensors detect more mundane things like roads that may be flooded or just reduced traffic flow.  Whatever the sensor is being used for, the data collected from it has the potential to be processed and passed through 911 to aid in emergency response.

Another form of security entering the market from the video surveillance arena is video detection.  This technology comes in many forms.  Some common to public safety are license plate recognition (LPR), facial recognition, and incident recognition.  LPR is used to detect stolen vehicles or vehicles wanted for some reason.  Facial recognition is being used for security at public buildings and at special events to detect security threats.  Incident recognition can be programmed to detect just about any action out of the norm.  For example, it could detect a slower traffic pattern on the highway while in a mall parking lot it could detect someone being abducted.  While this is a growing market area that may not be in use everywhere, 911 through NG911 should be able to process and pass this data to appropriate entities.

To this point, only data coming from outside sources has been discussed thus far.  All of the EMS, law, fire and rescue units in the field are constantly sending data back to 911.  This includes times, status and availability as well as location data from GPS.  So how would or could 911 process this amount of data.  Systems of the future must have some type of command and control built in.  It must be able to look at information coming in from unrelated sources and combine it together in some useful format for the particular incident that it is related to.  Once combined, pertinent data to the incident should be passed to responders.  This is a very difficult piece to put in place but a necessary one for future service to the public.

In the future, there will be a tremendous amount of data coming at 911 and as we talk about NG911, we must provide the capacity to receive it and to process it.   

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What Should 911 Look Like in 2020? (Who needs to be able to reach 911?)

July 30th, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety, Uncategorized

This  is the second article in a series of blogs related to 911 and what it should look like in the future.  Over the next few weeks, a series of questions that were posed to different groups for input will be summarized and reveal the concepts that we feel make up the Next Generation of 911.
Who needs to be able to reach 911?

When you think of this question the answer may seem obvious.  911 is for emergency calls so people who have an emergency should be able to reach 911 in order to get help from Law Enforcement, EMS, Fire and Rescue.  That is true but it hardly touches on who needs to be able to reach 911.

When we say people, this runs the gamut from children to the elderly, from English speaking to non- English speaking , to handicapped, to disoriented, to barely alive.  Each situation poses a new challenge for the 911 center and the 911 telecommunicator.  But the center should be able to take the call and respond to it appropriately.  Some of these calls can only be handled by an experienced telecommunicator.  Others need special things like language lines and the ability to receive text.  The important point here is, people have special needs, they use many different devices to communicate and the 911 center should be able to receive and handle calls from various sources.

Now that we have mentioned the obvious, let’s talk about who else calls 911.  Note that we are still talking about people because the current system only allows for voice communication.  Every day the 911 center receives calls from services like OnStar about vehicle crashes, from alarm companies about break in, fires, and other things, from home monitoring services  of devices for people, and from services that monitor infrastructure like highways, bridges and water ways.  The 911 centers again should be able to receive and handle these calls.

A third group who needs to be able to reach 911 who is not as obvious is the emergency response units in the field.  This group usually uses radio communication and is usually viewed as responding  to calls.  However,  often they call in for additional units or to report incidences that require a response.  For example, a deputy may call in a wreck that needs EMS assistance, a simple fire may reveal illegal activities, or an EMS call may turn dangerous and require law enforcement assistance. Again, the 911 center should be able to handle any situation that arises.

So in summary, who needs to be able to reach 911?  911 should be able to be reached by anyone needing help or relaying information about someone needing help.  This information can come from both outside and internal sources.

The mind maps created in the brainstorming session can be viewed at:

IT Governance Committee: 

Public Safety Information Committee:

Regional 911 Administrators:

Mind maps created using Mind42.

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July 29th, 2009 by tbledsoe in People, Public Safety

Catawba County has begun providing a new information service, via Twitter, to let motorists know of the locations of possible traffic delays and tie-ups. 

The County has launched a feed from the Catawba County 911 Center of the information on calls reported in Catawba County regarding traffic incidents.  The feed shows the type of incident reported, such as a vehicle accident, stranded motorist or vehicle fire, and gives the location of the incident.  Only traffic related incidents are reported through this feed. 

We’re providing this information as a service. Many people are using Twitter to communicate and receive information and numerous cell phones have this capability.  Providing traffic information is an effective new way to inform the public of possible hazards and delays along their intended route, and we hope will alert them to take alternate routes or prepare to safely navigate through the area where an incident has occurred.

Anyone who has a Twitter account may simply go to and select “Follow”.   Those who do not have a Twitter account may sign up for an account, free of charge, at

 For those who prefer not to open a Twitter account, an RSS feed is available with the same traffic incident information at, and may be accessed by most RSS readers.

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What Should 911 Look Like in 2020? (What does 911 mean?)

July 24th, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety, Uncategorized

What Should 911 Look Like in 2020?

This  begins a series of blogs related to 911 and what it should look like in the future.  Over the next few weeks, a series of questions that were posed to different groups for input will be summarized and reveal the concepts that we feel make up the Next Generation of 911.

Background:  Catawba County has been very active during this legislative session in regard to 911 funds and their usage.  Catawba County has focused on expanded use of the funds in hopes of providing better service to our citizens.  As a result of our actions, Lee Worsley has been appointed to a state board to study 911 funding and as what 911 should look like in the future.

To prepare for the tasks, several brainstorming sessions were held.  The participants were asked what 911 should look like in 2020, that way the incremental steps were not as important as the ultimate outcome.

Three different stakeholder groups were engaged to put together these thoughts.  The first group was the Catawba County’s IT Governance Committee.  This Committee met on July 16th and brainstormed this question.  These are Catawba County employees who do not work in 911 so they were a good cross section of potential users of the system or everyday citizens.

The second group that was engaged was our Public Safety Information Committee.  This group consists of  the users of the 911 system from the 911 Center, our technology operation and our first responders countywide.  They get together monthly to discuss the 911 system.  This group met on July 13th  and brainstormed this question.

The third group convened were regional 911 directors from Catawba, Caldwell, Alexander, Iredell and Lincoln Counties.  This group met on July 17 to brainstorm this question.

 The first question delves into just what people think 911 means.

What does 911 mean?

There are many different views of what 911 means.  This week Catawba County has talked to a lot of people asking that very question.  While the answers sometime reflect groups and their background, there are definitely some common expectations from everyone.

First, 911 is viewed as a single number that can be called anytime someone has an emergency.  When 911 is called, the caller expects that the call will be answered quickly and  help will be sent quickly, in a matter of seconds verses minutes.  They expect to be answered every time without getting a busy signal or encountering difficulty.

Callers expect to be able to contact 911 using all current technology.  The most common type of technology is  a phone but in today’s world a voice call can come from a traditional land line, a cell phone, a VoIP phone, Internet based phone services and computer to computer based services.  In addition, the caller expects to be able to reach 911 by  text messaging and email.  So the expectation from callers is that 911 should be able to receive emergency calls from any type of communication device that a person may be using.

It is also an expectation that the caller will be connected to the right 911 center to receive help.  Callers expect mobile devices like cell phones to reach the closest 911 center.  This expectation goes even deeper to include literally any device that they may use.  Along with that  is the expectation that 911 know where the call is coming from and be able to relay that information automatically to appropriate responders.  As one participant stated, “If I have an emergency, I don’t care whose responsibility it is or what town I’m in, I just want help as fast as possible.”  So, if a person calls 911 from Catawba County, they should get the Catawba County 911 Center, no matter where the individual is from.  Additionally, this should be done automatically without the need for manual programming for each county the individual is in.

When the 911 call is answered, it is expected that the telecommunicator is a trained professional, able to handle any emergency that arises.  This person should be able to ask the right questions, obtain the facts from the caller and other data sources such as mapping or local and state databases, and relay this information to appropriate responders.  They expect the same professionalism when they call 911 regardless of where the call is answered.   All 911 Centers in the State should be able to perform the same functions at the same level.

The 911 center is expected to handle the needs of any caller.  This includes people speaking any language, hearing and speech impaired, elderly, young children , literally, anyone.

So in summary, what does 911 mean to a you?  911 means a consistent number that can be reached anytime, anywhere, by anyone, using any type device, to connect you directly to a professional telecommunicator in your area who can get help to you.

The mind maps created in the brainstorming session can be viewed at:

IT Governance Committee: 

Public Safety Information Committee:

Regional 911 Administrators:

Mind maps created using Mind42.

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Need Your Input? What Do You Expect From 911?

July 13th, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety, Technology, Uncategorized

The State of North Carolina is in the process of writing a new 911 plan and we have been asked to participate.  In a recent meeting they asked, “What should a 911 Communications Center look like in 3 to 8 years?”   That’s a good question to which my staff has many good responses.  But what do you think it should look like?  What do you want out of a 911 Communications Center? 

I want your input as to what you expect from a 911 Communications Center.  Since this blog goes in many different directions, the easiest way to respond is to comment to the blog at .

For a little background, the Catawba County 911 Center is a state of the art facility that has the ability to take your call, track the location of the call, and dispatch help for the call.  The center has many tools including AVL(Automated Vehicle Locating) that tells the location of EMS and Law Enforcement units, in unit dispatch and mapping, and many other tools to assist you with an incident.

However, there are many new services that the 911 Center currently cannot offer.  For example, the 911 Center cannot receive text messages or automated messages from alarm companies and services like OnStar.  While the technology exists, standards have not been created for these type services.  That is part of what the state plan will be addressing.  With your input, that plan can be even stronger.

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A new cell phone could save your life……….

November 5th, 2008 by tbledsoe in All, Public Safety, Technology

So you like your cell phone.  You’ve had it for years.  You know how it works and you are comfortable with it’s features.  That’s great but if it doesn’t have the latest cell phone tracking technology, then you may want to consider a new phone.

A recent call to the Catawba County 911Center illustrates the point.  The telecommunicator that received the call did not get a response when he asked what the emergency was.  There was just silence.  After repeatly asking and trying to get a response, silence.  Finally, a faint moan, “Help me”.  No address, no identification, no information. Where is the caller?  Fortunately, the call was from a cell phone, a new cell phone and with the new technology the telecommunicator was able to locate the position within a matter of feet.  EMS, fire and rescue were dispatched to the location where a lady was found in a car having a seizure. Another few minutes and she would have died. 

Older cell phone technology does not provide for this kind of accuracy in locating the caller.  It locates based on tower location and that can cover a large area.  So even if you really like that old phone, you may want to consider retiring it for newer technology, it could save your life.

For more information about the technology used in your cell phone, contact your provider and ask about how they can locate callers and how accurate your phone tracks your location.  Also ask them what information is sent to the 911 Center in case of an emergency. Below you will find another story about a cell phone saving a person’s life. 

NC Woman saved by 911 call from car trunk

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. – A North Carolina woman who was kidnapped at gunpoint and forced into the trunk of a stolen car has been found safe, thanks to the GPS tracking of her cell phone.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported the Kernersville woman was kidnapped early Wednesday by two men in a residential area.

Forsyth County sheriff’s Maj. Brad Stanley said the woman called 911 from the trunk, which allowed authorities to use GPS data from the call to track the general location of the car.

Without that call, Stanley said authorities would have had no information to go on in the search.

A Kernersville police officer tried to pull the car over, but the driver sped away. The car was later found crashed in a driveway in Kernersville. The suspects had fled, the woman was found unhurt in the trunk. Her name hasn’t been released. Information from: Winston-Salem Journal,

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