March 30, 2017
The Communication Haves and Have Nots
While it's not pleasant to think about, the hard truth is that there is a significant disparity in the preparedness of fire departments from one end of our country to the next. I saw this firsthand after I left the northeast and served as an officer in agencies in the midwest and south. This ability to respond is not from regional lack of dedication, but from the cold hard facts of lack of funds. Moving from a fully hydranted region with the latest in apparatus didn't prepare my for the realities of getting water from the closest pond and building fire apparatus from spare parts. Unfortunately, this have and have not saga continues into the realm of communications, where some departments rely upon their membership to buy their own devices. How bad is it? The NFPA took a good look as part of a recent report. You can read my take on the matter, along with my interview of one fire chief who deals with it every day in the March issue of Mission Critical Communications, or by clicking here.
Welcome to Barry' Blog, the place where I share my thoughts on the latest trends in public safety. I hope you enjoy!
February 22, 2017
First the Bad News – Then the Good News
For everyone involved in public safety, and hopefully for everyone who is not, it should be clear that the past year has been a particularly horrific one for law enforcement. A total of 142 officers were killed in the line of duty in 2016; 63 of them were shot to death. Unfortunately, 2017 has also been off to a troubling start, with 18 having already valiantly given their lives. However, these past few weeks have also brought with them some good news. In Berrien County, Michigan, two motorists came to the aid of Trooper Gary Guild as he was being assaulted by two subjects. In New York, similar assistance was provided to a trooper in apprehending a man who had dragged him with a vehicle. In Arizona, a Good Samaritan shot and killed a subject who had shot and was beating an officer. A similar situation recently occurred in Ohio County, Indiana. And by now, most of us have come to know Vickie Williams-Tillman, a 56-year-old, who called 9-1-1 when she saw a Baton Rouge officer being pummeled with his own baton. Then she took further action. She jumped out of her car and onto the assailant’s back. Whether or not this altruism is a recent phenomenon exhibited by folks who have finally had too much, or has been going on forever without being reported isn’t known. But, it’s good news to see people sticking up for the police. The bad news is that the continued attacks on law enforcement make it necessary for them to do so. For those of us responsible for dispatching these officers, let us not forget how even more dangerous the job has become, and remain constantly vigilant for warning signs hidden in telephone calls, and constantly aware of both the status and the location of all of our resources. And let’s also be thankful to those brave civilians who are also willing to put themselves in harm’s way.
May 25, 2017
A Bad Week For Warnings
A prime role of government is the protection of citizens, and a major tool for ensuring their safety is the use of warning systems. Advisories may be issued for a variety of reasons, from severe weather to environmental emergencies, and more recent additions such as Amber and Silver Alerts help refine the focus from the general population down to a single individual. Along with the variety of concerns comes a similar selection of ways to get the word out. Far removed from the sounding of church bells, we now have a variety of methods such as Reverse 9-1-1, cable TV override, and every aspect of social media at our disposal. People count on us to keep them safe by keeping them informed. But what happens when things don’t go as planned?
Earlier this year, warning sirens in the City of Dallas were hacked and sounded by an unauthorized person or persons. But this past week was surely a bad week for warnings. The National Weather Service came under criticism for the timeliness and accuracy of their announcements as tornados hit parts of North Carolina. No one was killed, but several homes were damaged, and the fire station in the Town of Autryville was demolished, damaging all but one of their trucks.
A few days later, residents of Cumberland and Salem Counties in New Jersey were alerted to an emergency at the Salem Nuclear Plant. Such notification would be critical during an actual emergency. The trouble is, this wasn’t. As it turns out the message was part of an ongoing readiness exercise, and was not intended for broadcast. Oops!
I’m not going to throw stones as either of these agencies, because I’ve been in the business way too long, and I know that Murphy, of Murphy’s Law fame, was a cockeyed optimist. We’ve got a million moving pieces to contend with, and a lot of people’s fingers in the pie. Occasionally, something’s bound to break. Maybe things do really happen in threes, and we’ve already moved past the problem. But with the forecast of a more severe than normal hurricane season, and the continued threat of terrorism, it’s a great deal more likely that we haven’t. Given that, let’s make sure that our notification systems and processes are ready for immediate and proactive use when they’re needed, and secure from illegitimate access and activation when they are not.