Category Archives: Local Articles

Radio Project Management

December 3, 2012

Organizations are increasingly turning to project-based work to facilitate success and to allow for more efficient prioritization. By breaking projects into manageable pieces, employees can be assigned by skill-set and allocated to several different projects at once instead of to one large, lengthy project at a time. This trend has forced many enterprises such as Erie County Department of Public Safety (ECDoPS) to look into efficient ways of managing these interconnected projects and subprojects. A Project Management Process (PMP) is a centralized forum for keeping these projects within schedule and budget, and also aligned to business goals through the creation and enforcement of policies and procedures.

The PMP allows ECDoPS’ top executive managers to create standardized processes and maintains control of all project process for the entire organization. As a result, Erie County Department of Public Safety’s Information Technology Sector decided to develop a project plan that aligns major radio communication activities, resource requirements, and project timelines from a Radio Check List Master Plan to Radio Project Flowchart.

The benefits of implementing a Radio Check List Master Plan to Radio Project Flowchart in our organizations are to:


(1) Identify resources and their availability;

(2) Improve project success with minimal pain or change;

(3) Ensure adequate project progress tracking and accountability;

(4) Ensure understanding of team member responsibilities to create consistent stakeholder expectations; and

(5) Ensure that the project progresses well; and (6) Ensure that the organization is ready to leverage the results.




 Submitted by Abdul Osman, Public Safety Chief Information Officer 






One of the most often asked questions from the public is, “Why is the call-taker asking so many questions? Please, just send me help!” I hope to be able to answer this question by providing an explanation of our 9-1-1 call processing procedures.

How many 9-1-1 call-takers and dispatchers are on-duty?

The Erie County 9-1-1 Center has determined our minimum staffing levels utilizing industry standard formulas, based on call volume versus time-of-day and day-of-week, to be eight call-takers and dispatchers—otherwise known as Telecommunicators, plus a shift commander on every eight-hour shift. On every shift, there are two 9-1-1 call-takers, three law enforcement dispatchers, three EMS / fire dispatchers, and a shift commander. The 9-1-1 calls will always be routed or assigned to the two dedicated 9-1-1 call-takers. There are instances, due to heavy call volumes, that the two call-takers are not available due to being on another 9-1-1 call. When this occurs, the shift commander will assign one of the dispatchers to answer the overflow 9-1-1 calls.


What is the 9-1-1 call waiting queue?

Overflow 9-1-1 calls enter the “9-1-1 call waiting queue” and the caller will hear a pre-recorded message stating, “You have reached Erie County 9-1-1, do not hang up! I repeat, do not hang up! Your call will be answered in approximately twenty seconds.” The first available call-taker will be presented with the 9-1-1 call in the order it was received. We all understand the sense of urgency when someone dials 9-1-1, and no one wants or expects to receive an audio recording. The public has an expectation that their 9-1-1 call will be answered by a live person, a qualified 9-1-1 call-taker. And they are right! However, the truth is that there are forty-eight dedicated 9-1-1 trunk lines from the selective router (telephone provider) to the Erie County 9-1-1 Center. This means, at any given time, forty-eight 9-1-1 calls may be received without the 9-1-1 caller receiving a busy signal. It would be cost prohibitive, and fiscally irresponsible, to staff forty-eight call-takers per eight-hour shift for occurrences of heavy call volume. Our methodology is simple. We prefer the 9-1-1 call to enter a call waiting queue with the caller hearing a voice recording, advising them that they have reached the Erie County 9-1-1 Center. The only other option would be if we were to reduce our dedicated 9-1-1 trunk capacity. The problem with this option is during heavy call volumes, the 9-1-1 caller may hear a busy signal. Therefore, the caller would have to hang up and redial 9-1-1. What if the caller only had one chance to dial 9-1-1? In our professional opinion, this is not a viable option.

What happens when you dial 9-1-1?

When you dial 9-1-1 from any landline, wireless, or IP device (internet phone service), your 9-1-1 call is selectively routed by the provider through dedicated 9-1-1 trunk lines to the Erie County 9-1-1 Center. Your call is then assigned to the first available call-taker, as determined by a call routing scheme in our phone system called Automatic Call Distribution. The 9-1-1 system detects how many call-takers are available to answer incoming 9-1-1 calls, and then assigns the call to a specific 9-1-1 call answering position.

The call-taker answers the incoming call with our standard greeting, “9-1-1, where is your emergency?” The first series of questions, referred to as case entry questions, are to obtain the location, call back phone number, and nature of the emergency. Let’s take a deeper look as to why the questions are asked and in what order: 1) “Where is your emergency?” We need to obtain the physical location of the emergency. As an example, you may be calling 9-1-1 for a family member who may be at a different location than you; 2) “What City, Borough, or Township?” There are duplicate addresses and street names throughout Erie County. As an example, there are ten Chestnut Streets and numerous Main Streets within small boroughs; 3) “What is your call back telephone number?” If we are disconnected, for whatever reason, we need to be able to re-establish communication with the 9-1-1 caller; 4) “What is your emergency?” Do you need an ambulance, fire department, or law enforcement response? 4


What is ProQA (Priority Dispatch) and why is it important?

Once the case entry questions have been asked, the call-taker will select the appropriate dispatch protocol (EMS or Fire), and will begin asking a series of questions to determine what level of response (resources) are required for this type of incident. Our dispatch protocols are a nationally recognized and adopted system, and are commonly referred to as “ProQA” call interrogation software. Every call-taker and dispatcher has attended a forty-hour course of instruction and been certified by the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch. Our on-staff medical director, Dr. Christopher Cammarata, has reviewed and approved our medical protocols. This protocol system is interfaced with our CAD (computer-aided dispatch) system. The question-answer matrix of ProQA automatically selects the appropriate response determinate, and the CAD incident is sent to the respective dispatch position. While the 9-1-1 call-taker continues with call interrogation to obtain additional, amplifying information, the dispatcher has dispatched the appropriate resources to the incident location. In some instances, the treatment of the patient will begin at the time of the 9-1-1 call, rather than waiting for first responders to arrive. As an example, step-by step CPR instructions may be given by the call-taker for a willing bystander to begin CPR until EMS or first responders arrive.

For fire-related responses, this protocol system provides versatility to the fire chief to specify a certain response on an incident type. A structure fire may be a single-family residential, but then again, may be a multi-residential apartment building. The fire chief can specify through response recommendations which mutual aid departments are to respond and what equipment on either a first, second, or third alarm assignment. Based on the fire ProQA questions and answers, the event type or call determinate dictates the level of response.

A law enforcement response is handled differently by our dispatch center, through a separate set of dispatch protocols defined by our agency. Erie County 9-1-1 initially purchased the law enforcement protocol set from Priority Dispatch, but we discovered the questions contained in this protocol system did not meet the needs of Erie County 9-1-1 or our user agencies. Erie County 9-1-1 staff in conjunction with the law enforcement advisory committee is in the final stages of implementing an internally developed protocol system. Based on event type (i.e., shooting, theft, loud music), defined questions will aid the call-taker in obtaining pertinent information to be relayed to responding police officers. Upon successful implementation, we will work with our law enforcement agencies to refine this protocol system.

In the next issue of our Public Safety Newsletter, we will focus on dispatch fundamentals. I hope this article helps provide a better understanding of our 9-1-1 call processing. If you have any questions or would like to comment, please do not hesitate to contact us by calling our office at 814-451-7920.


December 3, 2012

“9-1-1, Where is your emergency?”

Over 127,000 times a year, that question is asked by Erie County 9-1-1 call-takers to initiate the interrogation of emergency calls-for-service, triggering a complex, interconnected sequence of events involving technology, procedures, and personnel. The calling-citizen in need of a police, fire, or medical response simply wants help as soon as possible, and we want the same thing. Yet, why does it take so long to send help? Why ask all those annoying questions? Why

are calls not answered quickly? Determining the location of the caller or the incident is the most important question. We have advanced technology which assists in locating callers; however, we must verify the location by asking, hence the first question when we answer the phone. Next, we need a call-back telephone number, in case the call is disconnected for some reason.


That happens often and our policy is to call the number back. Our user agencies—police, fire, medical—determine how they will respond within their jurisdictions for certain incidents. Those response plans are loaded in our dispatching computers and when such an incident comes in, we dispatch

apparatus based on those pre-plans. For example, a commercial fire at a certain location warrants X number of specific apparatus, say a tanker, an engine, and a ladder truck. Call-taker questioning generates, via computer, the predetermined response plan specified by the user agency. Therefore, the questions asked ensure we send the appropriate response.

At any one time, the dispatch center is manned with eight telecommunicators: two call-takers and six dispatchers. If both call-takers are busy interrogating 9-1-1 calls, the third caller will go into the waiting queue. Changes have been effected recently increasing our call-taker end-strength without increasing the number of employees – our telecommunicators now multi-task, handling both call-taking and dispatching duties. Effectively, we now have eight call-takers on duty. Please be mindful, on certain incidents, such as a motor vehicle accident, numerous callers report the accident simultaneously. In such a situation, if you are the ninth caller, you will go into the call waiting queue.



“9-1-1, Where is your emergency?”


In a converse context, this question suggests problems within the 9-1-1 center. Public perception of the efficacy of the county 9-1-1 center may be skewed by misinformation or misunderstanding of the call-taking and dispatch process. Knowing the call-taking and dispatching processes are so interconnected, tweaking one minor process may produce results (decrease in dispatch times; more accurately locating a caller) or it may create a ripple effect that interferes with a related or subsequent step in the process. Therefore, effecting improvements requires careful analysis of all steps and processes within the system. So far, we have reduced our dispatch times by 10%. Daily we examine ways to reduce that time further, but we do so carefully, ever mindful of the ripple effect.



During the past twelve months, numerous changes have been implemented to improve our operations. Referring back to the call-taking scenario, reducing the time-to-dispatch involves improvements in training, technology updates and maintenance, operational procedures, personnel management, and agency interactions. For training, we revamped the new-hire Basic Academy and instituted a comprehensive Supervisor Checklist of required knowledge. For technology, we proudly maintain all our systems with in-house technical staff. For the first time, the county has a standardized radio dispatch model for police and fire agencies. Personnel management involves treating our staff with respect and holding them accountable, firmly and fairly. Lastly, on-going committees populated with user agency representatives ensure an avenue for agency input.


9-1-1 call-taking and dispatch operations are stable. Yet we continue to look for opportunities to improve and provide the best possible service to our customers: Erie County citizens and user agencies. Our staff has a passion for public safety.

We truly want to help.

It’s a Tuesday night around 7:00 pm and your pager has just gone off dispatching you to a motor vehicle accident.  When you arrive on the scene, you find that the driver is unresponsive and there is a child curled up in a ball on the floor of the vehicle.  He is not hurt but he won’t respond to your verbal commands nor will he let you physically remove him from the back seat.  What would you do?


This could be the scenario you encounter when the child in the back seat is autistic.  The diagnosis of Autism is used to name a neuro-developmental disorder, which impairs the growth and development of the central nervous system.  This disability affects the person’s brain function in controlling emotion, learning and memory.  It can also affect a person’s ability to interact socially and to communicate.  Autism may also be called Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD) or Asperger’s Syndrome.  Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have a varying degree of severity and no two people could have all of the same behaviors.


The Autism Group of Corry (AGOC) was formed in 2011 to train local first responders on how to interact with an autistic child or adult during an emergency situation.  Last month a decal was introduced by AGOC that families in the Corry area, who have an autistic family member, will display on the back window of their vehicles.  Had the vehicle in our scenario displayed the decal an emergency responder would look in the glove compartment to find a medicine vial which contains an Autism Emergency Contact Form. This form gives important information about that autistic individual.  It includes information about whether the individual is verbal or non-verbal or if they have any other disabilities.  It also states what, if any, medication the autistic individual takes and which medical professionals can be contacted for help when treating the autistic individual.


The Autism Group of Corry is in communication with the Erie, Warren and Crawford County 911 Centers to find a process to “tag” home addresses of autistic individuals so the same emergency information would be available to emergency personnel who may be called to respond to an emergency at a residence.  Until that process is complete, an emergency responder may see the same decal displayed on a door or window of the home.  If a decal is present, the emergency responder will find a medicine vial with the Autism Emergency Contact Form in either the medicine cabinet or the refrigerator.

Currently, the decal pictured is only being used by families in the Corry Area School District, but there is a possibility that more communities in northwestern Pennsylvania will adopt the same decal and begin training their local first responders in the near future.


If you have any questions regarding the autism emergency decal or the training that AGOC provides, please contact the Autism Group of Corry at their email address .


Autism is a disability that has a very wide range of behaviors and communication issues that are as unique as the autistic individual.  Remember, if you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.

Submitted by Christine Benchek, Spokesperson – AGOC


In February, 1985 a group of Los Angeles City officials went to Japan to study its extensive earthquake preparedness plans. They found that Japan had taken extreme steps to train entire neighborhoods in one aspect of alleviating the potential devastation that would follow a major earthquake. These single-function neighborhood teams were trained in fire

suppression, light search and rescue operations, first aid or evacuation. Also, in September of 1985, a Los Angeles City investigation team was sent to Mexico City following the magnitude 8.1 quake that killed more than 10,000 people and

injured more than 30,000. Mexico City had no training program for citizens prior to the disaster. Untrained volunteers rescued many people but through lack of training, many of the volunteers “injured” themselves, and some even “died”.

In 1986 the Los Angeles Fire Department developed a pilot program to train citizens in various basic disaster preparedness skills. In 1987 the Whittier Narrows earthquake spurred the City of Los Angeles to take an aggressive role in protecting its citizens. The Los Angeles Fire Department created the Disaster Preparedness division. Born out of these major disasters, the concept of widespread local volunteer emergency responders was implemented and by 1993 the Federal Emergency Management Agency had made the program available nationwide. In January 2002, CERT became part of the Citizen Corps. By 2004, 50 states, three territories and six foreign countries were using the CERT training program. In July 2010, the CanadianInternet Registration Authority recommended to the Government of Canada to enhance its ability to respond to emergencies by developing a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).


The CERT program educates people to prepare for hazards in their area by training them in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations. With the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members can assist others in their neighborhood or workplace following an

event when professional responders are not immediately available to help.

When events happen, whether caused by nature or man-made, learned lifesaving skills should be an essential part of the civilian sector for not only taking care of themselves, their families and neighbors, but to support first responders.

The recognition of CERT in the public and professional community is growing at a fast pace. Blending together with trained professionals, a dedicated CERT member can opt to go to higher skill levels of training after the 20 hour basic

training program. Together, the professional and a well-trained CERT member can make a difference when a disaster occurs. So, CERT has only one place to go and that’s reaching up and out to their community.

Janet Damico

Erie County CERT Coordinator


Preparedness through redundancy is a critically important public safety tenet, ensuring uninterrupted 24-hour operations. Every primary system we use here in the Public Safety Building has a back-up system: 9-1-1 phones, computer-aided dispatch (CAD), radios and Canopy infrastructure, electrical power distribution, and dispatch consoles, to name a few. Just as system redundancy is important, so too is facility redundancy. In case of a casualty to this building, we need an off-site back-up dispatch center.

For many years the City of Erie graciously offered space within City Hall to house a back-up dispatch center. Four dispatch consoles were available, yet limited growth potential compelled us to look elsewhere for a long-term solution.

The county-owned Maritime Museum solved our problem. In a corner office on the third floor, we created a 5-console, back-up dispatch center with the same systems and functionality used today in the Public Safety Building. Situated on old wooden tables recycled from the library are computer systems and monitors, 5 screens per table. Each console offers Internet-based Sentinel phone system; digital admin phones; hi-tech, Internet-based, Catalyst radio controller software system; CAD; and, an advanced mapping system. Additionally, the back-up center is connected throughout the county by existing fiber optic cable and to generator power in the event commercial power is disrupted.

The back-up dispatch center is operational today, but not yet “geo-diverse.” Phase II of the build-out involves creating a geographically diverse back-up center; that is, a back-up center independent of the primary center. If the Public Safety Building were to be damaged or destroyed, the back-up must be independent, capable of sustained operations on its own. Recently we installed a separate wide-area network server for the Catalyst radio system at the back-up center and are awaiting a Verizon work order which will allow us, with a single telephone call, to redirect all 9-1-1 phone line trunks to the back-up center.

Day-to-day operations in the primary center involve, on average, 8-10 call-takers and dispatchers. Manning the back-up with only 5 consoles will necessitate a change in operations. Planning ahead we created the necessary emergency procedures in our new Radio Procedures Manuals. These manuals, one each for police and fire, govern and standardize our radio dispatch methods. Depending on the circumstances, the dispatch center will upgrade or downgrade levels of operation for both call-taking and dispatching, effectively triaging calls and restricting radio usage to emergency traffic only.

Lastly, during the current fiscal year we modified system contracts and eliminated unnecessary expenditures, saving over $33,000 so far. I am proud to announce our back-up center was created at a cost of $17,040—paid for via our own cost-saving initiatives.

Redundancy means layered preparedness, systems ready-to-go in the event of an emergency. The Erie County Back-up Dispatch Center is online, ready, and robust. Once again our team of professionals embraced an idea and developed a solution. Well done!




Emergency Number Professional (ENP) certification is a mark of a professional association from NENA, or the National Emergency Number Association. In providing the ENP certification, NENA tests competencies which are benchmarks of performance that will signify a broad-based competence in the 911 field. By successfully completing the ENP certification program, Erie County’s four employees are recognized as demonstrating mastery of the comprehensive knowledge base required for 9-1-1 professionals. These four public safety professionals confirm their commitment to the residents of Erie County by demonstrating professionalism and leadership in public safety. As of press time, there were 1033 Emergency Number Professionals registered through NENA.


ENP testing is held four times annually for a two-week period each winter, spring, summer, and fall. To be eligible to apply to sit for the exam, all applicants must have three years’ experience in Emergency Communications.

Erie County’s candidates utilized study groups to great benefit in preparation for the examination. Groups were hosted by Mission Critical Partners – a consulting group from State College, PA. They provided teleconferencing and email groups to help our candidates prepare for the test.

Topics covered within the study groups were items such as management of employees, management of organizations, 911 information systems, telecommunications operations, radio infrastructure, and next generation 911.

The study group process took about three months – enough time to prepare for the test in March, 2012. There was additional required studying for each candidate, also.


Submitted by Kale Asp, Assistant 911 Coordinator