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Tactical Dispatching: Stand-Off in Susquehanna County, PA Ends Peacefully
Author: Stephen E Frederick
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Developing a Tactical/Incident Dispatcher Program in Northeastern Pennsylvania
Susquehanna County 9-1-1's PCOMM (Portable Communications Trailer) provides mobile communications and incident dispatch support for a search & rescue incident.
In April of 2002 I took my first Tactical Dispatcher class in Monroe County, Pa. I thought it looked interesting. Well after four days of training we learned about SWAT operations, tactical command, and tactical command post setup. We learned what we, as dispatchers, can do for the tactical environment. We did scenarios with a local SWAT team on hostage situations. (I had the opportunity to role-play as a hostage taker. What an experience. Imagine the feeling of having an MP5 pointed at you by a highly trained SWAT team member barking orders at you to “lie down on the ground!”). Since then, however, it has been a certificate in my filing cabinet.
In October of 2007 while looking for some different outside training for our dispatch staff, I came across First Contact 9-1-1. I scheduled an Incident Dispatcher class with instructor Dave Larton and had three of our agency’s dispatchers enrolled along with several others from surrounding county agencies. In this class we learned what we can do in the field to assist with any type of incident, from a hazmat to large fire scenes, to SWAT operations. Again, the certificates sat in a filing cabinet.
Our agency has gone through three different communications directors since I started over 15 years ago. With the proactive approach of our current director, Arthur Donato, we have made some great progress.
Since 9/11 and all of the terrorism and homeland security task forces that have been developed, our task force, the Northeast PA Regional Terrorism Task Force, was able to secure funding through a PSIC (Public Safety Interoperability Communications) grant. This funding allowed for the purchase of three trailers that went to three of the eight counties in our task force region. Additional money went toward upgrading those counties that already had Comm. Vans in service.
In October of 2011 we took delivery of our trailer from Incident Communications Solutions out of Stevensville, Maryland. After all the radios and necessary equipment were installed and programmed our administrative staff was trained on the trailer’s operation. After a few training exercises and trial runs, I am proud to say that we now have the Susquehanna County 9-1-1 “PCOMM” (Portable Communications Trailer) officially available for service.
Since the PCOMM has been in service it has been deployed on a search, double homicide, and gas well compressor station explosion. It has also been deployed twice for 9-1-1 radio tower outages in our County. The fire departments, state police, and gas well industry personnel were very pleased with what we could do for them on the scene of an incident. The PCOMM has been a hit.
The PCOMM, initially thought to be used for communications support with its secure high speed network for communicating via voice and data, has quickly become a tool for the state police and fire departments as a command resource. Once the trailer is set up and the satellite is deployed the system can supply full satellite, cellular, radio and internet capabilities. Since these trailers were purchased as a group they are also interoperable with each other through a wireless mesh. When another unit from a different county within our task force region is deployed to the same incident, both trailers will automatically sync up with each other so the continuity of interoperability stays intact.
The PCOMM trailer and tactical/incident dispatchers in operation supporting a SWAT operation involving a suicidal, barricaded subject.
My First Official Deployment
I received my training on the PCOMM trailer a week prior to the morning of April 25, 2012, when our dispatch center was contacted at around 05:30 AM for police to block a road in Auburn Twp., Susquehanna County, (a remote rural setting in the mountains of Northeast PA). At 07:05 (five minutes after the start of my shift) the state police called our center and requested the PCOMM to be dispatched to assist with a police action in that area. The dispatchers on duty made all their proper notifications while I made a few calls to figure out what this “police action” was. After talking to the neighboring county where the call originated from, I found out that we were dealing a suicidal 29-year-old male who had barricaded himself in his home.
Once our director, assistant director, and systems data manager arrived we loaded the trailer up with supplies and deployed at 07:38. At 08:07 we arrived on scene and had a briefing with the sergeant from the state police. We set the trailer up a few houses down from the actual scene. After acquiring aerial maps from our GIS data for the state police SERT team we erected our satellite dish and cell mast, only to find out that we were just out of range of the satellite because of the mountainous terrain; however with our diverse communications methods available to us we were able to provide cellular communications and data. With the cell connection in place calls were able to be made if needed as well as data sent and received. After seven hours, members of the state police SERT deployed a flash bang (from our vantage point, it appeared to be deployed outside the residence). A few minutes later the HNT were able to talk the subject into coming out of his home without incident.
This gas compressor explosion allowed the PCOMM unit and incident dispatcher team to support the fire department. Once they have seen what the dispatchers can do in the field command post, fire chiefs will be calling for the PCOMM unit more often.
The Future of Tactical Dipatch in Susquehanna County
Our team has been very pro-active in the maintenance of the PCOMM. After each deployment we seemed to find some little ‘quirk’ that needs to be worked out or enhancements that can be made. Once we arrive back at the Comm. Center after a deployment our team will re-deploy the unit in the parking lot and work out the bugs. Any office supplies will be restocked and whatever minor maintenance is needed on the general equipment, fax-copier, generator, lights, etc. will be taken care of then.
Now that the administrative staff has had a few deployments under their belt they have quickly learned that our new “communications” support unit can double as a command post, assisting the Incident Commander with the flow of the Incident Command System, provide data at a click of a button, (MSDA, GIS maps), Assist EMA with flooding and evacuation preparations, and so on - the list of services we provide can go on and on.
The PCOMM has already been pre-scheduled for upcoming special events such as the Fourth of July festivities held in Montrose, PA. and the annual Harford Fair held every year in August. Training has also been scheduled with the state police as well as other dispatchers that wish to become part of the PCOMM team.
After being trained for the last 10 years in tactical and incident dispatching and being an instructor of those disciplines for the last five years, I am pleased to see that we are moving forward with incident/tactical dispatching in my agency. Even though our trailer is small, it delivers a significant service in the field. The state police as well as the fire chiefs in the county who have seen and used the PCOMM will be calling for the support unit more often. Training is opened to all the dispatchers that are interested in getting out in the field and enhancing their dispatch skills. As the Training Officer I will be looking at additional Incident Dispatch classes in the future.
Stephen E. Frederick is a Training Officer for the Susquehanna County 9-1-1 Center in Montrose, Pennsylvania. He has a 30-year background in emergency services, and has been with the Susquehanna County 9-1-1 Center for 15 years. Steve is a tactical incident dispatcher and also volunteers with his local fire department and the water rescue team as captain, fire safety officer, training officer, and fire prevention officer. He is also an instructor for First Contact 9-1-1.