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Deja Vu All Over Again: Public Safety & Civil Disobedience 2011 Style

Author: Barry Furey

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-11-19
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A learned statesman and a heck of a ball player by the name of Lawrence Peter Berra is credited with the title phrase of this month’s piece. Now Yogi – as he is more commonly known – may or may not have said anything that remotely resembled this remark, but nonetheless it makes good reading. I borrow this quote, because as I now complete my 42nd year in public safety, and 40th year in public safety telecommunications, I can’t help but wonder if we are all not caught up in the circle game.

Back in September, I commented on my recollections of 9/11/2001 and discussed where we were now. I would be remiss if I did not also take time to comment about an incident on another sunny fall New York afternoon a decade earlier where terrorists murdered two police officers. The bad guys that time around were home grown; remnants of the Black Panther and Weather Underground groups normally associated with the ‘60s. They were still around in 1981 robbing armored cars to finance their activities, and on this occasion killed a guard during the attempt. They were stopped at a roadblock in Nyack New York, about a mile from where the Tappan Zee Bridge crosses the Hudson River, and a gun battle ensued. Armed with 38 caliber revolvers, Sgt. Ed O’Grady and Officer Chip Brown were badly outgunned and paid the ultimate price.

While I knew Chip, Ed and I were better acquainted from my dispatching days. At the time of this incident, I was managing the communications center, but a few years earlier he and I worked many common shifts. Since we built our houses about the same time, many of our three AM conversations centered on this common experience. Ed was also a Lieutenant in the Nyack Fire Department, and I was a volunteer in the neighboring town.  I still have a picture hanging on my office wall of the two of us manning a hose line on a commercial fire downtown.

I mention this incident out of respect for Ed and Chip, but also to illustrate that terrorism didn’t start with 9/11 nor end with Ben Laden. In fact, the Morgan Guaranty Trust – scant blocks from Ground Zero – still bears the scars of a 1920 bomb blast that killed 30 and injured 300 more. There is also one other tragic connection between “The Brink’s Robbery” in Rockland County as it became known and the collapse of the World Trade Center. The armored car driver who survived the former was killed during the latter while making a routine pickup and delivery. All of this leads me to the hypothesis that what goes around comes around, so to speak.

Our community, like so many others across America, now finds itself in the midst of the current “occupy” phenomenon. The sit-ins and protests cannot help but remind me of earlier times when the news was filled with scenes of people having their voices heard. For whatever reason, I do seem to remember a little more clarity of purpose associated with these earlier assemblies, but perhaps the cause was a little nobler. While the current economy is certainly of grave concern, it’s hard to one-up civil rights and peace. The more disturbing trend, however, may well be that as these occupations linger other people’s tolerance for the inconveniences caused tends to wane. At a time when budgets are in crisis mode an awful lot of government resources are being spent trying to balance the rights of all while maintaining safe communities.

Are we headed for a repeat of the tumultuous sixties? I’m not sure, but certainly some of the divining signs are there. And if that is the case we are going to need to resharpen our skills in handling the types of events that are associated with societal change. So what’s next? Well, hopefully not a return to disco, but I am noticing some interesting trends in technology. For the past several decades we have been moving toward a distributed processing architecture, where applications are run on numerous workstations rather than loading everything on one big CPU. When I first began my career, our facility didn’t even have a computer, but as time progressed “dumb” terminals came along that relied on a host to do all of the work. Interestingly enough, some newer architecture out there is sort of a throwback to those days.  Even the concept of “blade servers” takes the intelligence from the dispatch floor to the equipment room, so it will be interesting to see how far this all goes.

If the Mayans are right, we don’t have much to worry about. Our tickets will get punched soon enough in a cosmic cataclysm. But then again, as Yogi also said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

Our PSAP Management columnist Barry Furey has been involved in public safety for more than 40 years, having managed 9-1-1 centers in four states. A life member of APCO International, he is the current director of the Raleigh-Wake County (NC) Emergency Communications Center.






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