Never ignore the human factor
The key to making communications work is the dispatcher.
A couple of months ago I mentioned that I’m good for a “few” war stories. So here we go. It was in the mid-’80s. There I was, flying at 30,000 feet … er, make that driving down I-70. I was aboard the LFV Aerostar (Lesser’s Family Vehicle, and it was a Ford Aerostar). My co-pilot was my wife, Judy. My son Ben was behind me, manning the hot seat (he had the sun), and my daughter Carly was positioned in the “Are we there yet?” seat.
As we drove down the highway through the expanse of Kansas, we observed strange-looking beasts. A local native referred to them as heifers. Bizarre. But then I’m a city boy. What do I know?
And then it happened
The LFV was on autopilot as I looked for bandits (state patrol) who might slow our progress back to our home base in Denver. It was then that it happened. The LFV began to lose forward thrust. The speed indicator was falling off rapidly. Outside air temperature indicated in excess of 100°. Engine oil temp took a nosedive, and I was forced to make an emergency stop. It was obvious what had happened. The LFV cooling system had failed.
We were in the middle of a hostile environment. Nothing but waves of heat and heifers surrounded us. As commander of the LFV, it was my responsibility to take immediate action. I quickly jumped from the vehicle and performed a quick-thinking maneuver — I slapped electrical tape around the offending tube, threw what water was available into the cooling system and headed West with a prayer on my lips: “Dear Lord, where the heck is a cop or a gas station when you need one?”
Well, here it is some years later. I now have a cellphone that I carry with me when I travel. I really am one of those folks who rarely uses a cellphone. I carry one for roadside emergencies. Do I feel better today than I did in the mid-’80s? Yes and no. Yes, when I’m near a major city and, no, when I’m on the open road (as I was in the LFV).
Technology is great but …
While I’ve had some fun recreating my war story for you, I realize that the need for emergency communications is no joking matter. People get in trouble when they are on the road. The problems range from car troubles to medical emergencies. Having a cellphone can make the difference between getting rescued, or getting to a hospital.
But, it isn’t always going to help.
Not long ago a woman in Kansas City, MO, lost her life because the police could not find her location based on the signal from her cellphone. Here in Colorado, a man was driving down a rural road when he suffered a heart attack. He died before help could reach him because the police went to the wrong location. The man had told them he had just passed a church. The police went to the wrong church.
Although depending on technology is important, one factor cannot be ignored — the human factor.
Dispatchers are the key
While we await the completion of E9-1-1, the key to making communications work is the dispatcher. They have what I consider to be one of the most difficult and important jobs in public safety. They have to make quick decisions often with little information.
Although E9-1-1 will be a great tool for public safety officials to have, the need for the dispatcher to make a decision and communicate it to the right individual (or agency) is paramount. E9-1-1 will help, but it will be the dispatcher who makes the call.
Thank goodness for radio
How do they do it? Well, with good ol’ dependable radio technology. While there is talk of more use of cellular technology by public safety agencies, I believe it will be some time before that happens. Thus, the need still exists to maintain legacy systems, and, where possible, to upgrade to new radio systems. And, if you, dear reader, are a decision maker who is looking into new systems, let me offer you one word of advice: interoperability.
This is an issue I find frustrating. This should be a no-brainer. Interoperability should be on the top of every public safety manager’s agenda. The barrier is cost — Who is going to pay for it? If the funds are not coming from an outside source (i.e., the Feds), then any changes will be a long time in coming.
But, even when we get interoperability, the human factor cannot be ignored.
And thank you
I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated the emails welcoming me to the MRT team. I really do enjoy hearing from readers, and to get this kind of email is awesome. We are always looking at how we can serve our readers better. What better way to find out than to exchange communications? Please email or call me with your opinions and ideas. I answer my phone and usually respond to email within the hour. I promise to keep the war stories to myself.