Tech Upgrade: Lake County’s New Dispatch Center
Sign up for Public Alert System TODAY! It’s only 70 cents, but after a while those little surcharges add up and consumers start to wonder where all that money goes. Well, the good news is that Lake County has received some of the taxes collected on monthly phone bills and put it to good use in the form of a new state-of-the-art Lake County Dispatch Center. A total of $140,000 was spent on the new Geographic Information System (GIS) and other improvements to the work stations. A bulk of those monies came from that 70 cent Lake Cnty 911 Surchg which all residents see on their monthly phone bills, be it landline or cell phone. “That reserve had built up over a period of years,” explains Lake County Emergency Manager Mike McHargue. “The money was there and had to be used in Lake County. In no way does it come out of the county budget.” It’s also important to note that $38,000 of the total project cost was covered by a Climax Community Investment Fund grant. “If we didn’t get the Climax grant, we would have had to wait for several years to do the upgrades,” states McHargue. So, what was specifically involved in the dispatch upgrade? Well, from a technical stand point: GIS integrated hardware, GIS software, and data for capturing, managing, analyzing, and displaying all forms of geographically referenced information. From a practical point of view, it means that dispatchers will have much more information from the first point of contact, from when the 911 call first comes in. And in all emergencies, time is critical. “The new system allows dispatchers to immediately identify where the person is who is calling for help – and where the closest emergency responder is in proximity to the incident,” explains McHargue. Prior to the upgrade, the dispatch center was somewhat limited in its technology as well as the infrastructure to support it. In the end, the entire center has had a facelift which now includes TWO dispatch stations, to allow for growth or for the bigger events in Lake County that may require more than one person be on the panel at a time. Since the upgrade was complete, there have already been numerous 911 calls that have come into the Lake County Dispatch Center that might have ended differently had the new software and upgrades not been in place. “We had a 911 call come in,” said Lisa Burke, Communications Supervisor for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, “and all we could hear were voices in the background, some yelling going on and through the new system with the maps, I was able to narrow it (the location of the call) down to between two residences.” After dispatching officers to the address generated from the new GIS, it was determined that this incident did require law enforcement. So the benefits to Lake County residents have been immediate. The new equipment also included eight GPS (Global Positioning System) transponders in Lake County emergency vehicles. Streamlining communication can cut down on response time and save lives. It’s one of those things most don’t think about, but it’s sure nice to know Lake County has brought emergency communication up-to-date. Additionally, a $10,000 Public Health grant provided half the costs of the ergonomic equipment for the new dispatch stations. A welcome ease for the five dispatchers who monitor Lake County’s emergency response center. “We try to do as much as possible through grant funding,” say McHargue.
One of the other BIG changes is with the Emergency Public Alert System. Up to now, if you had a landline telephone in Lake County you were automatically included in the emergency notification system. So if an emergency was happening in Lake County, you would be notified through a reverse phone call. Through the new Public Alert System, Lake County residents can add cell phone numbers to that list, thanks to the new software updates at the dispatch center.
You have to manually sign up online, but you can add other telephone numbers of people who would benefit from receiving notification in the event of a Lake County emergency. “With this new GIS service – something I didn’t have during the Treasure Wildfire – now I could say Hwy 91, north of the intersection of Highway 24 could be notified of the wildfire, informing residents in that specific area what restrictions were in place,” explains McHargue. While some critics say that most mass alerting systems are a disappointment, it’s usually because residents don’t sign up until AFTER something has happened.
“The problem is they need to be on that list to be properly notified, yet they only want to be notified after the disaster,” explains McHargue. However, most residents would agree that the Treasure Wildfire in June was a good reminder of how important it is to stay informed by local officials. After all, these are the folks who are trained and have undergone exercises to know what to do. While your cousin might post something on Facebook about seeing smoke in the sky, ultimately residents should sign up to be informed by Lake County’s Office of Emergency Management concerning evacuations and life-safety threats. You can do that by clicking HERE. It doesn’t take long – 3 minutes tops. And anyone can sign up for Lake County Emergency notification. You can have as many phones as you want on the account to be notified, explained McHargue. That’s good news for big families who might have several phone lines, as well as children of aging parents who may still live in Lake County and want to be included in that notification. There is no cost to sign up. And they don’t ask for an unreasonable amount of data. In fact, Leadville Today reached out to the company who will be storing all of this data and asked what they do with the information residents are asked to provide. Encouraged by their responsiveness and thorough answer, here is their response:
Twenty First Century Communications (TFCC) does not share any resident data of any kind that we collect in any way with any outside organization, and we never use any resident data for any purpose other than contacting the public when the County launches a message. Additionally, we are legally prevented from sharing or using name, phone, and address data that the County and TFCC obtain from the local carriers (their 911 database of all address and phone numbers) for any reason other than sending messages to the residents that the County launches.
TFCC stores the data in secure facilities, with a focus on both physical security and network security to prevent any unauthorized access to the data from outside parties or internal staff. We perform our own internal audits to ensure data is secure, and also undergo third party audits, which includes vulnerability penetration tests. Counties across the U.S. from the smallest in size to the largest in size trust TFCC with their residents’ data, as do cities, state agencies, federal agencies.
More information about TFCC and our parent company, West Corporation, is here: http://www.tfcci.com/west-corporation-acquires-twenty-first-century-communications/