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Information - A First Responder's First Line Of Defense

Author: David N. Heffner, VP and General Counsel of CODY Systems

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2011-11-14
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In Pittsburgh PA, 2009, three officers are dispatched to what they think is a routine domestic dispute call. When they arrive on the scene and approach the residence, shots are fired from within. The officers quickly take cover as the shots continue. What the officers need now is information: Who lives here? Do the residents have a documented history of violent behavior?  Are there any registered weapons on file for the residents? Have there been incidents like this in the past at this address? And the list goes on and on.

While the officers wait for answers to their mission-critical questions to come back from their dispatch center, a male exits the house and opens fire, killing two of the officers and critically wounding the third.

Tragic events, like the ones in the true, real-life scenario above, happen every day as police officers, investigators, sheriff’s deputies, and all types of law enforcement field agents protect our communities and our families from threats both here and abroad. Many times, it is the information the officers didn’t have that could have potentially saved their lives, or at least given them the chance to evaluate the situation and prepare for it, and the suspects involved in it, accordingly.  So, while it is certainly true that the First Responders above needed the information after the situation became emergent, it is even more true that they REALLY needed it before the situation escalated at all.

We live in a mobile era of cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, and email. Information is only ever one search away on a computer, MDC, Smart Phone, or other handheld device, so the question becomes, why didn’t the First Responders dispatched to this domestic dispute call illustrated above have this mission-critical and potentially life-saving information at their finger tips? While many answers exist, perhaps the most important one is that many dispatch centers lack both the infrastructure and the software to make this real-time transmission of critical data and information a reality. Emergency responders need access to mission-critical data the second a call comes in so that when they dispatch any officer on a call, they arm her with the most up-to-date information available, across all agencies, databases and/or RMS/CAD systems in the region, whether it be a county, city, state, or even nationwide. It is first and foremost the integrity, quality and ‘up-to-the-second’ nature of the data and information (including pictures) that the emergency dispatchers have at their finger tips that becomes vital.

Records management systems across the country are flooded with this type of mission-critical data, but many Public Safety  Answering Points (PSAPs) lack the tools necessary to take that data, from disparate RMS databases and other foreign query engines like NCIC, and turn it into information that is meaningful, actionable, and delivered in real-time so that emergency dispatchers can provide the most current, up-to-the-second public-safety information to our First Responders whenever and wherever they might need it .  Or, perhaps even more important, to provide true real-time access to such cross-agency/cross-database information with one simple search directly to First Responders in the field on their MDC, Smart Phone or Tablet device, so they can do their own instant searching on-site or en route in preparation for a field encounter (e.g. traffic stop, domestic disturbance, warrant service, narcotics raid, etc.). When a law enforcement agent or other emergency personnel is dispatched to any type of incident, they  deserve to be armed with up-to-the-second information they need to be as prepared as they can be for the situation they are about to enter.  Having this real-time, mission-critical information in an instant, whether it came from the emergency dispatcher or from their own search on an MDC, can and will prove vital to ensuring the safety of our field agents and the communities they are sworn to protect.

Too often, in order to find actionable information on a person/situation, dispatchers or First Responders are forced to perform many different searches for the same data – one for each database, RMS/CAD system, or state/federal database that may contain the one vital piece of information that could be the difference between a calm encounter and the critical situation recounted above.  The sheer number of potential places to search many times leads to dispatchers or First Responders not being able to search everywhere they need to, in the interest of time.  This leads to a higher likelihood that critical information will be missed.  That is why dispatchers and First Responders need software systems that provide instant search access to all relevant data sources with only one simple search.  Not one search per data source; ONE total search across all relevant sources in one integrated search app.  Having such instant, one-stop search access to an entire region’s RMS databases, federal sources, state sources, and any other relevant databases drastically cuts down on information response time, which leads to more frequent use and ultimately a much higher likelihood for the search to retrieve useful, potentially life-saving information.

The men and women in our nation’s dispatch centers provide the critical information life-line for our First Responders.  To fulfill this critical mission, both dispatchers and First Responders deserve software systems that deliver the best weapon a first responder can have in the field – actionable, real-time information.

David N. Heffner is the general vice president for CODY Systems, as well as being the corporation's general counsel and chief legal officer. In his role as CLO, Dave has varied experience with the challenges of Data Sharing from both an operational and legal perspective, having successfully negotiated and handled multi-million dollar contracts and projects at the county, state, and federal tier. 

For a video about CODY's C.O.B.R.A.: Officer Safety First Information Sharing, click on this youtube link.




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