I’m a lieutenant and in charge of implementing and managing Brentwood’s upgraded emergency response systems. We’re making three important improvements to public safety.
Last month the City of Brentwood connected with a nation-wide Smart 911 system. Smart 911 is a national database that citizens can connect to and create a personalized profile providing instant information to dispatchers during an emergency. They can view the person’s name, relevant medical information, and the names of any dependents. They access instructions for the residence, vehicle information, pets…. Citizens can enter as little information or as much as they want to help dispatchers make informed choices about what resources may be needed.
Even if a 911 caller can’t speak, the dispatcher instantly sees the profile, knows who the person is, and has details about their situation. If the caller’s home is on fire, the dispatcher can see where the doors are and what people might be inside. If the caller is trapped in an overturned vehicle, the dispatcher can give the responding officers the vehicle description including make, model, and license number.
The nationwide part of 911 is an amazing asset. If you register in Brentwood and then have an accident in New York City, the 911 dispatcher will instantly be able to see who you are, what kind of car you are driving, etcetera. And of course, Brentwood dispatchers can see the profile of any visitor from New York who calls 911 on our Brentwood system. You can register any time at www.smart911.com
In 2014 the Brentwood City Council directed us to improve public safety, and in particular, to create premium 911 dispatch services. It was a case of closing the barn door before the horse got out because the partnership we had in place for the past two decades with Antioch’s dispatch services was actually working fairly well. However, shortcomings and problems with 911 were beginning to appear. Populations in both cities were rapidly expanding, and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to prioritize calls for service.
The handwriting was on the wall. Continued growth, especially our moving towards Brentwood’s projected 80,000 build-out, made it clear that before too long the increasing calls for service would overwhelm the system’s limited capacities and we would lose our ability to respond efficiently to emergencies. Therefore, in 2015 the council approved a 2.6 million dollar capital improvement project to fund a state-of-the-art dispatch center. They followed that up with a second million-dollar project to replace the police department’s aging record management system with a new CAD-based system.
The dispatch center is the result of a year of intense planning and implementing both with construction of the facility and hiring of staff. Our goal was to have the best emergency response center in the region both in terms of leading-edge technology and usability. We visited several centers throughout the area. We interviewed managers and dispatchers. We asked them what they liked about the facility and what they didn’t like. We also asked them what changes they would make if they had the money. As we brought our new dispatchers on board, we would solicit their advice and ask what they would like to see — then implemented their requests and suggestions as far as possible.
Our dispatchers are subjected to a lot of pressures and are sometimes called upon to work a 16-hour stretch. A person can be more effective at a task when they are not distracted or uncomfortable, so we provided a suitable personal environment at each workstation with personalized antimicrobial climate control, individual lighting controls, plus ergonomic and adjustable chairs that can be lowered or elevated to the most comfortable position. We also provide ergonomic keyboards and headsets customized to the contours of their own heads. The center has broad windows to let in natural light. One of our two supervisors, Kate, made the observation: “The city has thought of everything. They made this a good place to work.”
The center will be staffed by two supervisors and ten dispatchers. At least two dispatchers will be on duty at all times with more during busier hours. The facility is expandable. We currently have four workstations, which can be expanded to eight, to meet the expanding population.
The center is new but each of our staff has at least two years experience; we only needed to familiarize them with our equipment, policies, and procedures. One of our supervisors Nicolle Zanotelli said that during her ten years of service she has been involved in dramas covering the whole range of human existence. For example, on several occasions she has helped deliver babies over the phone. She has also been a compassionate presence as she listened to callers take their dying breaths.
The center went live on the 15th of March. We might eventually be handling hundreds of calls a day. Calls are categorized according to 200 event types. When a call comes in, the dispatcher performs a triage, assigning the call an appropriate priority, from 1 to 3, according to such factors as whether or not an event is in progress at the time, whether it involves life or property, and whether or not it requires an officer response.
The other capital project is our state-of-the-art record management system that increases officer efficiency and streamlines report preparation. Calls that come in to the dispatch center requiring an officer response are entered into the CAD system that routes them to the nearest available patrol officer and generates a radio dispatch to the location. The officer handles the call and then enters the disposition, either directly from the patrol car or through the dispatcher. The record management system files the incident, generates reports, submits them for approval, forwards them to the district attorney, as appropriate, and files them in the PD database.
The system provides instant access to relevant incident information. Officers can access vehicle information as well as information on individuals including past incidents and mug shots. An enormous wall in the center integrates a dozen large flat-panel screens to display a map of the city with the current status and location of all active calls-for-service and officer locations. In the event of a major incident, the display can be reconfigured to focus on the area of interest using camera and readouts. The other three walls in the center have 25 large flat panel monitors that are easily configurable to keep track of things that are happening, showing the view from any of more than 100 cameras that are mounted in strategic places around the city including all the city’s facilities, public gathering places, and other strategic locations.
Four of our patrol cars are outfitted with license plate readers that automatically record license numbers of passing and parked vehicles, looking up in the database for cars reported stolen or connected with a crime. Besides that we have four license-plate readers at fixed locations around the city constantly searching for license numbers of interest.
Our emergency response system is transportable. In the event of a disaster, we can load the system on laptops, take them away from the Dispatch Center to any remote location, and continue our work from there.
The safety of Brentwood residents is taking a great leap upwards. We’re doing everything we can to help our people make it through whatever critical event might befall them. “SERVE & PROTECT” is not just a tagline. It’s the truth.