Harvey Shows Progress On Emergency Communications Since Katrina

THE DAMAGE DONE by Hurricane Harvey is, as the National Weather Service, tweeted ominously over the weekend, “unknown & beyond anything experienced.” Rain continues to fall over the water-soaked region of Southeast Texas where the category 4 hurricane made landfall Friday night. It’s a living nightmare already drawing comparisons to Hurricane Katrina.

One comparison offers a glimmer of hope amid the devastation: Communications networks have held much better. While connectivity was almost completely lost in Rockport, Texas, which was hit hardest by the storm, the Federal Communications Commission says just 4 percent of the 7,804 cell sites in Harvey’s path were wiped out, affecting 148,565 people. By contrast, more than 1,000 cell sites were knocked out during Katrina, preventing millions of calls from going through, according to a post-Katrina FCC report.

Now, Texas’s 9-1-1 system has been overloaded with calls, but “those calls are going through,” says Adm. Jamie Barnett, former chief of public safety and homeland security at the FCC. “By and large we’re hearing that the cellular networks stood up. That means there’s been some learning.”

That may come as cold comfort to the families fleeing ruined homes in boats and on floating air mattresses, but it is crucial nonetheless. As central as connectivity has become to our everyday lives, in times of disaster it is a matter of life and death. That’s particularly true of cellular service, as disaster victims use smartphones to send SMS, Twitter, and Facebook notifications about their needs and their whereabouts.

“Communications ranks up there with having fuel in the police cars,” says Trey Forgety director of government affairs at the National Emergency Number Association, 9-1-1’s official professional organization.



First responders rescue West Houston residents

HOUSTON - As unrelenting rains pound Houston, Buffalo Bayou is pouring over the banks in West Houston, flooding the neighborhood nearby.

"I've been here about 15 years in this area. I've never seen the water do this," said Henry Arrilla who came out to look at the rising water Monday afternoon. "It's incredible."

Arrilla said he's hoping for a miracle; that the rain stops and water recedes before it reaches his home.

"We've got about three feet before the water starts coming into our apartment. So again, we're just really hoping that it doesn't rise any higher,'  he said. 

First responders from Nebraska have traveled to the area to help with search and rescue. Crews used FEMA boats to pull people and their pets out of their flooding homes.




Dispatch center at heart of emergency response

By J. Harry Jones, San Diego Union Tribune 

Before cops or firefighters arrive to answer a call for help, it’s the real first responders — the dispatchers — who have laid the groundwork for everything to come.

They go mostly unheralded and unappreciated.

“Nobody ever knows about them or thinks about them,” said Escondido Police Department Communication Manager Martha Ellis, who was a dispatcher for nearly 20 years before being tapped to head the department.

The Escondido dispatch center is unique in the county because both law enforcement and fire calls are handled in the same area. That means no time is wasted transferring calls.

At any time, three to five dispatchers are manning the 911 lines and dispatching police officers and fire personnel.

Annually the center — deep within the new and cavernous Escondido police and fire headquarters built six years ago for $61 million — handles more than 200,000 phone calls, an average of 23 an hour. Of those, roughly 60,000 result in a police officer’s response and 15,000 fire crew dispatches. 



Emergency dispatchers help end armed abduction with text-to-911 program

Tori Fater, The Elkhart Truth

Emergency dispatchers in St. Joseph County were able to foil an armed abduction thanks to a program that lets people text 911 when they need help and cannot make a phone call.

The hostage was able to text dispatchers and give them details about the suspect Wednesday, according to the county’s Public Safety Communications Consortium. Based on the victim's information, police stopped the suspect’s vehicle in Laporte County and freed the victim from danger.

People only have to send a text to 911 to use the service, called TexTTY. This was the first substantiated "citizen in need of service” to use text-to-911 in St. Joseph County since the program was implemented in December, public safety authorities said, though dispatchers have received 273 texts since it started.



Mississippi first responders learn battlefield medical techniques

By Kaitlin Mullins, The Daily Leader

This week, local law enforcement officers and first responders participated in a course that applies lessons learned in the battlefield to emergencies at home.

The course teaches the people who are first on the “tactical” scene — almost always law enforcement — the quick and dirty ways to keep the injured alive until they can exit what is called “the hot zone.”

“We’ve always taught civilian EMS to soldiers, now we’ve flipped the script and we’re teaching violent, or tactical, medicine back into the civilian setting,” said Mickee Ramsey, a field training officer and tactical paramedic with American Medical Response Central Mississippi Operation in Jackson. The class was sponsored and funded by the Central Mississippi Trauma Region and co-sponsored and co-funded by the Southwest Trauma Region, with instructors from AMR in Jackson as well as AMR-Natchez.



Sebastian County Woman Assists In Saving Lives On The Grind

By Kate Jordan at The Southwest Times Record

Renee Nichols was on the phone when she heard a caller scream, “Please help her, she’s dying! This little girl is dying!” after the vehicle she was riding in was hit by a drunken driver.

Keeping an equal balance of calmness and professionalism, Nichols knew what the deputies on their way did not; that the little girl, who was about 6, had been ejected from her booster seat and might be dying in the arms of a passer-by.

And knowing this, she began painting a portrait of the scene for the deputies en route because she is the communications coordinator for the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office.

“We may be listening to two different conversations, one in each ear, and we have to process them both,” Nichols said.

In all, she is the voice that many hear, but few will ever see her face.



Dispatchers prioritize, remain calm as tornado calls come in

By Andrea Lucia, CBS 11 KTVT

Hundreds of calls for help flooded 911 centers in Rowlett and Garland when an F-4 tornado struck those cities on December 26, 2015.

“All of a sudden, I think we had 50 plus calls come in at one time,” said Jessica Forsyth, one of three call takers at Garland 911. “The first call I took was a house that collapsed on a lot of people….You could hear the baby crying. It was pretty bad.”



Kidnapping victim ordered to call boyfriend, dials 9-1-1 instead

The Washington Post

A sexual assault victim in Georgia was able to reach help mid-attack thanks to quick thinking by herself and a 9-1-1 dispatcher. She was ordered by her attacker to call her boyfriend but instead dialed 9-1-1. A quick-thinking dispatcher played along while sending police to her location. "[It was] the most extreme call of my career," dispatcher Deonte Smith said.