By Annette Dashofy
This week the Citizens’ Police Academy went on the road with a field trip to the Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center. Back in the late seventies and early eighties, when I was an EMT on the local ambulance service, I did a little dispatching. So this was something that especially interested me. We’ve come a long way from my days of a telephone and a radio!
There are 131 municipalities in Allegheny County and 88 communities in the City of Pittsburgh and calls for ALL of them come into the EOC’s 9-1-1 center. Not ALL of them are dispatched from there, but ALL the calls come IN to there. In 2007, 1.5 million incidents were handled through the EOC.
It’s a busy place.
If you call into the Allegheny County 9-1-1, the first question you will hear is “What borough, city, or township are you calling from?” It’s vital that you know this information. Don’t just say the North Side. Be specific. They want to get help to you as fast as possible and knowing precisely where you are is vital. Also know what street you’re on.
Yes, your phone number will pop up in front of them, but that’s not enough. These days, you can move and take your phone number with you. So exchanges don’t necessarily mean anything. And records may not accurately show where you live from you phone number any more.
Also cell phones are tricky. Their signals will be picked up by the tower closest to the call and thanks to GPS coordinates and triangulation, the TCO (Telecommunications Officer) will be able to get a rough idea of where you are, but only within 7 football fields. That can be a lot of area.
Another hindrance to finding a caller are PBX systems. These are switchboards used in some schools, colleges, nursing homes, dormitories, etc. You may be in a building in one place, but your phone call may go through a switchboard in a different location, even a different community. The location of the switchboard is what will show up at EOC.
The point is, answer the questions the call taker asks you. Don’t waste valuable time arguing over why they need to know.
Notice I said “call taker,” not dispatcher. They are not always one and the same. Often times, a call taker picks up the phone and then sends the information to another computer, perhaps clear across the room (and it’s a VERY large room!) to the person who actually dispatches help, be that police, EMS, or fire. This happens seamlessly thanks to their CAD system or Computer Aided Dispatch.
Besides location, there are other questions you will be asked, depending on the purpose of your call. Just answer them. Stay calm. Remember, the person you are talking to has already sent the location information to the dispatcher and in most cases, help is already on the way.
Some of the other information they need to know is to help keep the responders safe. Did you hear shots? How many? How fast were they? If you saw a gun, what kind of gun was it?
Of course, not all incidents have top billing. If you are calling to report that your car has been egged and the kid who did it has run off and meanwhile, your neighbor is calling in to report that someone is breaking into her house, HER call is going to get a more immediate response.
But don’t just fabricate stuff to make your call APPEAR to be a higher priority. False information can result in injury to a field unit in response.
Where? What? When? Who? Weapons when applicable and any injuries? These are the types of things a TCO needs to know from the caller.
Under the “who,” there is information on a suspect that you may be able to supply to the TCO. Such as name and address, if you know them. Also, a physical description and their means and direction of travel.
When describing clothing, start at the top and work down. Shirt color and style, coat color and style, pants, shoes. And food for thought: someone who has just robbed a store might swap out their clothes, BUT they rarely change their shoes. Same thing with a child abductor. They will change the child’s clothing, but not their shoes.
When getting a description of a vehicle, think CYMBALS: Color, Year of vehicle, Make/model, Body style (2-door, 4-door, convertible, etc), Additional information, License number, State of license.
And one last note of interest, there is something simple we can all do to make tracking down a loved-one easier should we be in an accident and can’t tell the emergency personnel who to contact. Program an ICE number into your cell phone’s address book. In Case of Emergency. More and more emergency responders are being trained to check cell phones for that ICE number.
Next week: Safe Driving