Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Response time dissected

An important issue on my plate these days is a plan to improve Lincoln Fire & Rescue's ability to respond to life-threatening emergencies. We believe that by building four new fire stations, then repositioning our existing personnel and apparatus to those stations (while abandoning others) we can significantly improve travel time to places that are more than four minutes away from a fire station.

Travel time, however, is not the same thing as response time. Rather, it is but one component. When you dissect response time, it can be divided into three basic components: call processing time, turnout time, and travel time. I am going to write a series of posts this week to describe each of these, beginning today with call processing.

Call processing time is the interval from when the emergency call is placed to when a dispatcher notifies the emergency responders. A lot of stuff has to happen during that period: the ringing phone must be answered, the call-taker must gather and/or confirm basic information (address, nature of the emergency, level of consciousness, breathing status, etc.). Sometimes the caller must be calmed or reassured in order to gather this critical information.

In all but the smallest public safety answering points (PSAPs, commonly known as 911 Centers), the call processing is split between call-takers who handle the telephones, and dispatchers who handle the radio. Once the call-taker concludes that the event is emergent, he or she forwards it to a dispatch position. After the call has been forwarded for dispatch, the call-taker usually continues to gather and forward supplementary information, and provide instructions and assistance to the caller.

Meanwhile, the event has landed in the dispatch queue, the database of pending calls awaiting dispatch. Computer-aided dispatch software helps dispatchers deal with those queues by assigning priority rankings and colors to pending calls, and by recommending the appropriate response units based on pre-designed criteria. Nonetheless, the dispatcher must conclude any current dispatch, read and absorb the contents of the pending call in the queue, recognize it as emergent, check the availability and status of the recommended units, key the mic and get the attention of the resource to be assigned, and voice the pertinent incident details. While much of this same information is also sent electronically to a mobile data computer in the response vehicles, the voice dispatch and confirmation is still a crucial step.

All of this takes time. Even when the call processing steps proceed smoothly and quickly, those small periods of a few seconds add up. Multiple emergencies often exist at the same time, requiring call-takers, dispatchers, and responders all to multitask efficiently. Ideally we'd like to get 90% of all critical incidents dispatched within 60 seconds from the time the 911 line first rings. This doesn't mean that we will be done with the call in 60 seconds, only that we have determined that an emergency exists, forwarded the essential information to a dispatch position, and notified the assigned units to respond.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Early adopter

These days, it seems that everyone has a smartphone.  I recently read that 37% of the cell phone market consists of smartphones today, and that it is now a more popular personal computing device than the computer itself.  It hasn't been that long ago that I could flip up the antenna on my Palm VII, connect to the Internet, and impress every other geek in the room.  Clair Lindquist, our Information Technology manager, has a knack for recognizing and preserving future collectibles.  He is the keeper of the stack of now-obsolete smartphones, which someone in a future generation may appreciate as much as the typewriter.

Clair's collection includes that Palm VII (technically not a phone, but a wireless Internet device), a Kyocera 7035, an HTC, and a Samsung Omnia, all of which rode in my pocket or clipped to my belt.  There is at least one missing from the pile: the orginal Motorola Droid.  I think my smart phone habit dates to about 1999, but I was using handheld devices considerably earlier.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Depressingly common

The news reports about this case surely must have shocked a few people.  How on earth could a mother of twins, hire a babysitter, allow her to invite some friends over for the night, then leave town, but only after (allegedly) smoking some meth with one of the sitters, and (allegedly) providing a supply of alcohol and marijuana for the group?  All this resulted in a 12 year old guest dead the following morning.

I think the average person is left speechless over these allegations.  Not me.  After a few decades in this business, including a stint as the commanding officer of the Family Crimes Unit, as a member of the state Child Death Review Team, and as chair of the Nebraska Commission for the Protection of Children, I am no longer easily shocked.  The amount and extent of child abuse and neglect in this community sometimes seems staggering.  To maintain your sanity, a police officer must try mightily to put it in perspective and remember that it is still a very small percentage of families.

Still, it is incredibly disturbing.  One of the toughest things about being a police officer is learning and knowing things that you just wish you didn't have to learn and know about the mistreatment of children.  No doubt the same things is true in a few other professions: juvenile courts, child protective services, teaching and emergency medicine come immediately to mind.  So far in 2012, the Lincoln Police Department has investigated 956 reported cases of child abuse and neglect.  We're only five months into the year.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Remembering Craig

This is Police Week, so declared by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.  Peace Officers Memorial Day is on May 15 each year, and was marked by a ceremony on the steps of the Hall of Justice and Law Enforcement Center on Tuesday.  Today, the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office is holding a ground breaking ceremony to dedicate Craig Dodge Memorial Park at 421 Main Street in Hickman, NE.  This is the location where Deputy Craig D. Dodge was killed on March 14, 1987.  Craig was the last law enforcement officer in Lancaster County and Lincoln to be killed in the line of duty.

It is hard to believe that 25 years have passed since Craig's death.  At the time, I was the newly-appointed Chief Deputy Sheriff of Lancaster County, 33 years old.  Around 5:30 AM that morning, I was called at home by a dispatcher, and was one of the first arriving deputies at the scene.  I was ill-prepared for the intensity of the days that followed, as our relatively small agency managed a murder investigation, a media spectacle, a huge funeral, and our own emotions, while trying to care for the needs of Craig's family as best we could.

Craig was killed at the door of Apt. 9, down a long hallway on the second floor of the old Hickman School, which had been converted to apartments.  The building was razed a few years ago, and will now be the site of a city park named in Craig's honor. The Sheriff's Office is planning a memorial in the park in remembrance of deputies who have died in the line of duty. I expect it will be a nice spot for quiet contemplation, and I commend the deputies and employees who are working on this project.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New system

Lincoln's Emergency Communications Center has been in the process of acquiring and installing a new 911 telephone system for about a year now.  The process of developing specifications, soliciting bids, vendor selection, and detailed contract development all takes a good deal of time--not to mention the installation of software and hardware.

These systems are all software driven these days, so it's a lot different then just pulling the plug on an old phone and replacing it with a shiny one.  There is a whole lot of technology under the hood, driving things like E-911, Phase 2 E-911, and the interfaces from the phone system to mapping software and computer-aided dispatch software.

During the installation, the staff moved out to the backup center while the technicians tore into the guts.  I snapped this photo one day, during the surgery:

If that looks a little like the backside of your home entertainment system, you are not alone. The good news is that the heavy lifting is now done.  Training is taking place this week, and next week the new system goes live.   My fingers are crossed.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Signs of the apocalypse

Never thought I'd see the day that a stack of IBM Selectric typewriters was relegated to the surplus heap at LPD, but I snapped this picture in the equipment room at the Center Team's station at 27th and Holdrege yesterday morning.  Apparently someone doesn't realize that these are National treasures. What is the world coming to?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Timeless wisdom

Sometimes writing a blog gets a little tiresome, and you wonder whether the effort is worth it. In your moment of doubt, though, you are reminded of the connections.... Last night, someone must have discovered this post from several months ago on my blog. I want you to read the last comment at 6:21PM on May 9.

Your Dad taught you a lot of good things. Me too, and mine, two.  He was a prince of a man.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mug shot history

Officer Katie Flood, a veteran of 15 years at LPD, presently serves as the department's public information officer.  As such, she has a high public profile.  She is frequently quoted in the press, and if often contacted by members of the public looking for information.  Last week, she told me about a very interesting contact she had from a woman who wished to obtain copies of her own mug shots taken for various arrests over a period of time. This person wanted to have a reminder of how her drug abuse had affected her physical appearance.

Several years ago, I assembled my own collection of mug shots of this type: the same person, at various points in time, before and after their LPD arrest record included methamphetamine.  I don't show this in public anymore, remembering that each of these individuals has a family, and all have struggled with the demons of addiction.  They are powerful images however, and several web sites contain such a collection.

I am hoping that the former addict that contacted Officer Flood is doing well, and that her own photos serve to reinforce her resolve to continue her recovery, and maintain her sobriety.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Occupy decamped

Occupy Lincoln had been camped on Centennial Mall since October, taking advantage of a loophole in City law which left the mall in limbo:  not really a street or sidewalk, and not a park, either. The City of Lincoln has patiently negotiated with the group, which originally agreed to leave the mall by March 1.  As that date approached, the City agreed to an extension to May 1, in an effort to minimize the risk of a lawsuit and to avoid a confrontation.

Plans had been underway for some time on a police operation to remove those occupiers who chose to ignore the deadline, but Tuesday evening the group decamped, for the most part.  The police chief, noticing that some of the occupiers seemed to be trying to clean up the area, called for a roll off, and most of the flotsam and jetsam was picked up and deposited by the occupiers.  At 4:00 AM on Wednesday, a contingent of police officers and employees from the Health Department and Public Works Department finished the job, filling a small dump truck and trailer with the junk left behind.

Only three people were on the mall when LPD arrived in the wee hours. Two of those left voluntarily (one carrying his tent), and the third was arrested when he failed to immediately vacate upon being so instructed a few times.   I was pleasantly surprised that the occupiers removed the great majority of the stuff they had brought onto Centennial Mall, as I expected we would have to deal with far more refuse. As it turned out, the job was wrapped up in less than half an hour.  The news media, some of whom were at the scene at midnight, never even knew the operation was underway until after it was over. All in all, it was an anti-climatic end to the occupation.

I smiled over this error in an early version of the news on the Lincoln Journal Star's website. Those Polish police really know how to swat a mosquito with a ball bat.  Dang you, auto correct!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Annual reports released

All three of Lincoln's public safety agencies have posted their 2011 annual reports online now. These are all chock-full of information and statistics concerning our public safety activities. The reports are all in .pdf format, and fairly large, so be patient if you have a slow connection.

Lincoln Fire & Rescue Department
Lincoln Police Department
Lincoln Communications Center