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Case Study: Mobile Communications Made the Difference in Union County, N.C.

Author: Larry Brinker, Director of Emergency Communications, Union County, N.C.

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-08-31
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Intrado’s THOR Shield kept emergency communications functioning when the 9-1-1 call center couldn’t

As the director of a public safety answering point (PSAP), the idea of having a 9-1-1 call center go down is a worst case scenario. Over the past decade, the public safety community has seen firsthand the devastation that can ensue when terrorists, hurricanes, tornados, or widespread power outages cripple an emergency communications network. Because of this, operational continuity has become a mission-critical task for 9-1-1 authorities from coast to coast. 

For Union County, N.C., however, it wasn’t Mother Nature or violence against the nation that threatened our emergency communications. In July 2011, we faced an unexpected but critical need for major building renovations at our county’s only PSAP. The 9-1-1 center had to be vacated for an extended period of time; yet, temporarily shutting down an emergency communications operations center that handles more than 22,000 calls per month and dispatches assistance to residents from 18 fire departments, five law enforcement agencies and the county emergency medical service (EMS) was out of the question.

We were facing a real dilemma. We had very little time to assess our operations, and the traditional solutions were not appealing from a technical, operational or financial standpoint. Then we discovered Intrado’s THOR Shield Program. It was the perfect choice for us to maintain uninterrupted 9-1-1 emergency communications while our primary call center was being renovated.

 

All-In-One Solution

THOR Shield is a rapidly deployed mobile 9-1-1 emergency communications solution that is relatively new to the marketplace. It includes a specialized mobile communications/command center vehicle and trained technical staff that are designed specifically to provide on-demand, scalable operational continuity and technical support whenever and wherever 9-1-1 communications are impacted. This unique program gave us a workable, cost-effective alternative to a full brick-and-mortar back-up facility. It was on site when we needed it and delivered an operational environment that was able to process the full call-handling functionality of our center. Our call takers and dispatchers literally walked across the parking lot from our center and worked their normal 12-hour shifts with virtually no disruption to their daily routine.   

Flexible, Scalable Operational Continuity

Union County is not alone in our need for a new take on protecting 9-1-1 emergency communications. Nearly every emergency services jurisdiction in this country has 9-1-1 operational continuity procedures in place that would keep emergency communications functioning in most situations. However, many operational back-up plans are built on strategies that are outdated, untested or prove to be inadequate for extreme circumstances.

Comprehensive 9-1-1 operational continuity planning must be an integral element of the emergency response strategy for every municipality and emergency communications jurisdiction across the country. The difficulty is in knowing what type of back-up plan is the right solution. When planning for operational continuity, it is essential to consider factors such as historical natural disasters, geographic vulnerabilities, the capabilities of neighboring PSAPs, not to mention budget restrictions and funding mechanisms.

For many emergency communications jurisdictions, a full-scale, comprehensive back-up facility is too much, not to mention financially out of reach. At the same time, a simple overflow plan or interagency transfer strategy may not adequately protect operations during a catastrophic or regional event. In these situations, a mobile emergency communications strategy like THOR Shield might be the best solution. This type of program can provide all-in-one, on-demand operational continuity that can be customized to the precise needs of the PSAP, and it can be scaled up or down to meet the exact demands of the situation that is impacting emergency communications.

Our situation was somewhat unique. We did have the benefit of some time to plan for the renovations, but we did not have an adequate backup facility in place to handle this event. The THOR solution and the Intrado staff made this a manageable situation. Our staff was able to maintain daily operations and answer calls around the clock despite severe weather. During one storm, the wind and rain were so extreme we were worried we might need to vacate the mobile unit; yet, the vehicle withstood the storm without any trouble.

 

Planning for Disaster

In the face of floods, fires, illness, accidents, natural disasters, man-made catastrophes, and even facility maintenance, people from coast to coast, in both metropolitan cities and rural communities, expect their 9-1-1 calls to be answered promptly and help to be dispatched quickly, no matter what the situation. In order to ensure that this happens, comprehensive 9-1-1 operational continuity planning must be a central element of the emergency response strategy for every municipality and emergency services jurisdiction across the country. For Union County, N.C., THOR Shield provided the unique solution we needed to make sure the people of our community heard a calm, reassuring voice at the other end of every 9-1-1 call that came in despite the fact that our 9-1-1 center had to be temporarily shut down.

For more information on Intrado's THOR Shield program, see http://www.9-1-1magazine.com/Prod-Prof-Intrado-THOR-Shield

Born and raised in the Indianapolis suburbs, Larry Brinker graduated Ball State University in 1986 and worked for the campus police department his senior year.  He began a career with the Plainfield (IN) Police Department and spent 24 years with the agency, serving as Public Relations Officer, Support Services Commander and Chief of Police.  Larry has been involved in the consolidation of 4 small communications centers in Hendricks County. Indiana and served as the Executive Director upon inception.  After 4 years with the Hendricks County Communications Center, he accepted the Director of Emergency Communications with Union County, North Carolina.

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