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Trust... But Verify...
Author: Dave Larton, Associate Editor
Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content
Using that old Ronald Reagan quote has a lot to say about address verification. Every once in a while, we see another bad outcome of a dispatcher or calltaker who sent responders to an incorrect address, an incorrect jurisdiction, or a location that did not exist. Why does this happen?
Whether calltakers are using one of the most modern CAD systems on the market or simply a yellow legal pad, determining exactly WHERE the event is occurring remains one of the most important functions we do every day. Most CAD systems, in fact, have the WHERE blank as the first (or one of the first) blanks that we have to fill in as we take each call. If we don’t know WHERE to go, the response cannot be initiated. Nothing happens.
Dispatch Centers have different policies and procedures for verifying an event’s address. Some require that calltakers repeat the address back to the caller, while others simply look at the screen for the address of the caller. (We all know from experience that the screen ALI only shows the current address of the caller, not where the event is occurring…) And simply repeating the address back to the caller may only elicit a quick ‘YES!’, even though the address is incorrect; callers frequently answer with a ‘YES!’, just to get us to hang up the telephone so the response can begin.
One of the most important questions to ask regarding address verification is the location of the cross-street. Callers may not recognize the words ‘cross street’; many calltakers will ask instead, ‘what’s the closest street on the corner?’ Many of the mistakes made in address verification, including those involving incorrect jurisdiction, involve a simple street address without asking for the cross street. Don’t forget to ask the caller to ask what they see around them…if they see an Auto Zone on Third Street, there’s a good change there is only one Auto Zone on Third Street….ask what else they see around them. Even if there is more than one, there is only one with a Kentucky Fried Chicken next door.
Is the address on East Main Street, or West Main Street? As a young paramedic, I remember being sent to an address on the 1800 block of East Main, then having to suddenly turn around and retrace my route when the dispatcher sheepishly informed me that it was ‘West’ Main….a difference of thirty six blocks.
Popular names can change over time, as well. I once had a sergeant yell over the channel that he was involved in a fight in front of the ‘Green Hut’. CAD would not verify the location, and I wasn’t familiar with the reference. Asking on the channel, officers told me that the ‘Green Hut’ was a bar that had closed years ago, (before I had come to work at the agency, and way before we had CAD) but was now called the ‘Aloha Cub’…The sergeant, on the bottom of the pile, yelled out the name that he remembered as a rookie beat cop. Officers quickly arrived and the sergeant wasn’t badly injured.
Landmarks are used by the locals because they work. If you’re told to drive to the ‘house that burned down’ and turn left, that’s an important piece of information to pass to responders. I know of a PSAP that I’ve found by turning on the street where a car has been covered by kudzu (a fast growing ivy-type plant that grows on practically anything that isn’t moving in the South)…I drive until I see what looks essentially like a giant Volkswagen Beetle Chia Pet and make my turn. Questions like ‘house to the rear?’ or ‘upstairs apartment across from the laundry room’ are considered gold to our responders.
Finally, don’t forget to involve the caller to assist the responders, if it can be accomplished safely. ‘Go out front and flag down the ambulance’ is a simple, but effective way to help responders find an event. Admittedly, it’s old school, but it works.
CAD is a wonderful tool. It has access to an incredible amount of information to the dispatcher or calltaker, but it can only know the information that has already been programmed into it. I still remind new dispatchers that CAD stands for Computer AIDED Dispatch; it needs you to help it function effectively.
When it comes to getting the correct address: trust, but verify.
Associate Editor Dave Larton has been involved with public safety for 35 years, 15 of them in dispatch. He is currently the State ACS Training Officer for the Auxiliary Communications Service,Telecommunications Branch of the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA). He also serves as the Deputy State RACES Officer for the state Radio Amateur in Civil Emergency Service (RACES) program. A nationally known dispatch instructor, Dave continues to provide training and consulting services for dispatchers and PSAP managers through First Contact 9-1-1.