Public Safety Category

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 http://tinyurl.com/mvgxmm .

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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Call if You Need Help – 911 Always Open

July 1st, 2009 by tbledsoe in People, Public Safety

The Fourth of July is always great; warm sunny days, good food, friends, and a chance to celebrate the freedom that we all hold so dear in our hearts.  Hopefully your celebration will be one with fond memories but if you do find yourself in need of assistance for an emergency, a 911telecommunicator is always there to help you.  We want your holiday to be a safe one but if you do need assistance, here are some pointers that you should know:

First, you will be asked 3 questions:

  1. What is the address of the emergency?
  2. What is the phone number you are calling from?
  3. What  is the problem, tell me exactly what happened?

You may be placed on hold at this point while we dispatch help.  We may then ask you additional questions.  If it is health related, we EMD the call. In other words, ask you more about the medical conditions of the victim.

The first reaction of a caller is usually to give as much information as possible.  While we will want that information, our first priority is to get help on the way.  For the victim, seconds can mean the difference between life and death.  Here are some additional pointers to remember:

  • Stay calm
  • Know the location of the emergency and the number you are calling from.
  • Wait for the call-taker to ask questions, then answer clearly and calmly.
  • If you reach a recording, listen to what it says.
  • Let the call-taker guide the conversation
  • Follow all directions
  • Keep your eyes open.
  • Do not hang up the calluntil directed to do so by the call-taker.

The telecommunicators in the 911 Center hope that you have a wonderful 4th of July and that you never have to call them.  But if you do, they are there to assist and get help on the way.  The better informed you are, the faster that help can be sent.

Have a Happy Fourth and remember 911 is for Emergencies Only.

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What is My Child Texting?

March 27th, 2009 by tbledsoe in Public Safety, Technology

A recent story came out about a 13 year old California girl who sent 14,528 text messages in December.  That averages 484 text messages every day for an average of one messages every 2 minutes.  Thankfully the family had an unlimited texting plan.  For comparison, the average cell phone user in America sends 200 text messages per month.

I often have parents tell me that their child texts all the time and some text with their child.  However, the most common statement is, “Yes my kids text all the time but I can’t understand it.”  That usually leads to a discussion of these kids and the bad habits texting teaches.  But that’s another discussion that I am not getting into.  Texting is here, at least for a little while, and parents really need to know what their child is saying and who they are saying it to.

Texting is in reality another language that falls into several categories: lingo or slang, abbreviations, acronyms, and text shorthand. So let’s start out easy.

Most of you have probably seen LOL and know it means Laughing Out Loud. No it means Lots Of Love.  Actually it could mean both. Maybe you know AWHFY – Are We Having Fun Yet? Or L8R – Later?  There are hundreds of these that are fun and harmless.

But what happens when you child is trying to hide something and you don’t know what they are texting.  Here are a few that you should know.

9 – Parent is Watching

99 – Parent is No Longer Watching

420 – Marijuana

A/S/L/P -Age/Sex/Location/Picture

LMIRL -Let’s Meet in Real Life

KPC-Keeping Parents Clueless

LH6 -Let’s Have Sex

Now the discussion becomes more serious.  It is important that parents know who their child is texting and what they are texting.  There are several good sites on the web that can help parents understand texting and learn the language. Please, get involved with your child and help keep them safe by understanding their language. 

From Webopedia

Text Messaging Abbreviations
Part I: Guide to Understanding Online Chat Acronyms & Smiley Faces
Last updated: February 05, 2009  http://www.webopedia.com/quick_ref/textmessageabbreviations.asp 

From Netlingo

The NetLingo List of Acronyms & Text Message Shorthand http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php 

From Lingo2Word

Acronym, Emoticon Dictionary, Texting Thesaurus and Text Message Translator. Funny txt message collection ,colorful phrases. Popular Smiley,Chat words and text message lists http://www.lingo2word.com/index.php

 

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Technology in Catawba County – A Report to Commissioners.

February 17th, 2009 by tbledsoe in IT Governance, Public Safety, Technology, Uncategorized

 

Last night I had the honor of presenting a report to the Catawba County Commissioners on the status of our strategic plan for technology.  Catawba County’s Strategic Technology Plan provides a continuing framework for the effective management of Information Technology (IT). The primary goal of Technology is to support the business objectives of the County and to facilitate departmental efforts to provide efficient and effective services to the citizens, businesses, and visitors of Catawba County.  The plan also provides a foundation for an enterprise-wide approach to the management of information technology. Catawba County is a leader among local governments as it has moved from a silo approach (department-specific) to a process-oriented environment (cross-cutting services focused on the clients of government) with some of its recent projects.

The Strategic Plan was first presented to commissioners in June of 2007 and contains six strategic initiatives:

Strategic Initiative 1

Empower the Public: Enable the public to interact with local government by providing secure access to information and the ability to efficiently conduct appropriate business 365/24/7.

Strategic Initiative 2

Improve outcomes, efficiency, responsiveness, and agility of services by transforming the management of information technology through best practices and shared resources.

Strategic Initiative 3

Transform key business processes through the effective use of innovative technology and state-of-the-art software.

Strategic Initiative 4

Leverage innovative partnerships to offer better services.

Strategic Initiative 5

Empower the Workforces: Enable personnel by increasing the efficiency and agility of the systems they depend on.

Strategic Initiative 6

Improve public safety by leveraging modern information systems and technology.

 

Highlights of the report include the following projects:

Web Site Redesign: In coordination with the Public Information Officer, the current Catawba County web site is constantly evaluated and upgraded to offer new services to the public.  The Technology Department works with each department to review the services that each department offers and how to best present those services to the public.  The changes are incorporating many of the Web 2.0 design concepts.  Along with this redesign, Catawba County is taking advantage of Web 2.0 services including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Due to the dynamic nature of the web site, work will continue indefinitely on this project. Recently updated department sites include:

 

Permit Center Application Replacement: The current Tidemark system used for permitting and inspections is over 10 years old and cannot provide the services that are expected by the building community.  The current software cannot be modified to provide these services and is not supported for upgrade by the vendor.  The County Commissioners have approved funding to replace the system and a vendor has been selected.  The new software will allow for builders and the public to apply for building permits online and then to track the progress of the permit through the approval and building process.  The software is a comprehensive package that covers all aspects of the permitting process including, permit management, plan review, inspections, scheduling and cashiering.  The software provides for integration with the GIS system, electronic plan review, and for access for all of the municipalities.  A programmer analyst has been hired to work on the project and came onboard in August 2008. Target date has not been set and is based on contract negotiations and conversion timeframe for the vendor.

 

Unified Electronic Payment Processing System:  Catawba County had limited electronic payment options for the public.  Citizens could pay their tax bill online but could not use credit or debit cards at the counter.  The Register of Deeds accepted debit cards and Permitting accepted credit cards over the counter.

To give the public more payment options and to provide a consistent approach across the County, department heads requested a payment system that could be used with all departments over the counter and online and provide a consolidated bill and payment method for citizens.  Research for the County’s website revealed that online payments was a high priority.

A vendor was chosen to provide services. Now the Tax Department, Register of Deeds, the Permit Center, Libraries, Emergency Services and Public Health offer over the counter payment.  Social Services, will soon have the services available.  The Tax Department and Permit Center have online payments available.

Online payments for consolidated bills was made available at the end of 2008.  With this, the public can go online and make one payment for all of their county obligations: taxes, permitting and landfill fees.

Virtual Technology/ SAN (Storage Area Network) Project: The Disaster Recovery Plan revealed that a redundant data center was needed to provide for recovery in case of an incident in the main technology center.  It also revealed that the current server structure and replacement model could not be maintained at current funding levels.  A SAN solution was purchased and installed.  A redundant SAN was also installed at another location in the county. The virtual environment reduced the county’s 70 plus physical servers to 10 physical servers running 100 plus virtual servers.  In 2008, an additional 15Tb of storage was added to both sites to address the growing demands for storage space. Besides providing the security of a redundant system, replacement and operating cost where reduced. Completed May 2008, virtual technology and the SAN will save the County over $400,000 or the next few years.

800 MHz VIPER System:  This project is to enhance our ability to talk to Public Safety officials in our county and surrounding counties. We have some coverage issues in the county with the current VHF system that must be addressed. VIPER is already established here and the build out of tower sites is taking place in our area.  By partnering with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Catawba County plans to upgrade its communications system using the infrastructure provided by the state.

Catawba County is moving forward with plans to connect to the VIPER network.  In 2003, the Board of Commissioners partnered with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol to build a tower on Riverbend Road.  During 2008, land was transferred to the NCSHP and the tower was constructed. Currently it is nearing completion.  At that time, Catawba County will have excellent 800MHz coverage across the county.

Equipment has also been ordered for the 911 Center.  It is scheduled to be installed Spring 2009 and will provide 16 talk groups to be used across the county.  At that point, all agencies can begin the transition to the 800 MHz VIPER system.  EMS is scheduled to be the first agency to come online.  This is due to the high volume of traffic they have outside of the county while transporting patients to Winston Salem and Charlotte.  The current system does not provide communication back to the county.  The VIPER system will ensure constant communication anywhere in the State of North Carolina.

The current VHF system will be left in place as a backup to the VIPER system.  This is being done for two reasons.  First it provides a transition pathway for agencies to convert to VIPER over a period of time and second, it provides a redundant communication system for Public Safety.

Build out timeframe of the entire county will depend on funding.

Other Projects:  The report and the presentation cover numerous other projects that were guided by the strategies laid out in the Catawba County Technology Strategic plan.  The plan can be found on our website at http://enewsletter.catawbacountync.gov/ITC/strategicplan061107.pdf . The report  can be found at http://enewsletter.catawbacountync.gov/ITC/presentations/Report_boc_Jan_2009.pdf.

For more information or questions, please use the comments section and I will be glad to contact you.

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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, http://www.journalnow.com

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Riverbend Tower Nears Completion

October 27th, 2008 by tbledsoe in All, Public Safety

In 2000, Catawba County, in partnership the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, applied and was awarded a Homeland Security grant to construct a communications tower in the Northern part of the County.  This tower was to expand the NCSHP’s VIPER system in the western part of the state and to provide an upgrade path for future communications systems in Catawba County.  This upgrade path included better coverage and service for the VHF system and interoperability with the state and surrounding counties via the state’s 800 MHz system.  In addition to the grant, the County agreed to provide land in the Riverbend area to construct the tower.  In May 2008, Commissioners approved deeding a plot of land on Riverbend Road to the state.

In September 2008, the State began construction of the tower by pouring the footings.  In October, assembly of the tower began and is nearing completion.  Once complete, radio equipment will be mounted on the tower and installed in a small equipment house at the base of the tower.  No time frame has been given by the state for completion of this part.

The construction of this tower is part of the build out of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol’s VIPER system.  The VIPER system is a shared radio network that provides for interoperability across the state.  Catawba County is currently using the VIPER system on a limited basis to provide interoperability and better coverage to several agencies.

With the construction of the tower, Catawba County has complete coverage across the County on the NCSHP’s VIPER system.  Catawba County can then use the VIPER system as an upgrade path for the radio system.  This path will provide for better service using 800 MHz radios, it will also provide interoperability with surrounding counties and across the state, and will use towers and equipment maintained by the NCSHP.

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It’s a Matter of Seconds………..

October 21st, 2008 by tbledsoe in All, Public Safety, Technology

When tragedy strikes, the first person to respond is a telecommunicator. In the following seconds, decisions are made that can mean the difference between  life  and death. At the same time, information is transferred to public safety professionals,  who also have only seconds to respond. Whether responding to a crime, an accident, or a health emergency, seconds can literally be the difference between life and death.

It is Catawba County’s responsibility to make sure the 911 Center is properly equipped to ensure telecommunicators have the right information to make the best decision and the tools to relay the information to responders.

 To help meet these demands, Catawba County is implementing Automatic Vehicle Location using GPS technology.  This will allow telecommunicators to instantly locate and dispatch the closest unit to the call using a real-time vehicle tracking system.  Currently, EMS, fire and rescue are dispatched by the nearest base.

Once a call is dispatched, information will be sent to the responding unit containing the address, phone number, and onscreen mapping of their current location and turn-by-turn directions to the scene of the incident.  This reduces the possibility of missed turns and ensures the shortest route is taken, thus reducing response times.

GPS and AVL technology also offers a new degree of safety for personnel in the field.  Law enforcement officers are in constant motion and go into some very isolated areas, often during the night.  If radio contact is lost, it could require substantial time to locate these personnel.  With AVL, the location of the unit is known at all times.  If the unit does not respond, backup can immediately be sent to the location.

AVL is part of a complete mobile package that allows field units to be integrated with the 911 Center and with other databases.  Supervisors can monitor units from any other mobile units and notify units by audio and visual signals.  Call-related information and alerts may include fire information, medical information, subject information, vehicle information, hazards, images, warrants, geographic information, building schematics and more.  Field units can access in real time the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) and the Records Management System (RMS) to  obtain information on suspects.

In addition to obtaining information from the system, field units can complete and submit reports to the system.  This allows them to be in the field longer,  thus providing more service to the public.

None of us want to be the reason for a 911 call but in reality, all of us will use the service sometime in our life time.  The new tools being implemented by Catawba County ensure that you will receive the quickest response possible with the best information available.  That truly could mean the difference between life and death.

 

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