Was that 336 calling for help?
Within the small group of dispatchers at the Lenexa, KS, 9-1-1 center, everyone gets a name.
When she started working for the department about 12 years ago, Debbie had attractively cut short hair, which she wore combed straight back. To a TV viewer of the 60s and 70s she was a ringer for Eddie Munster, hence the name: Eddie (Edward for more formal occasions.)
Eddie was working the weekend evening shift with Joe (“Stinky”) and Jennifer (“Annie,” as in Little Orphan), and there was substantial confusion on the street. Officers were using each others’ radio numbers, and overlapping incidents on the interstate were making radio traffic difficult to understand. Dispatcher responses were slowed, and units were asked to repeat.
“Why can’t we have some sort of speech recognition system, so we can tell what these guys are saying?” was the general complaint.
That’s a good question, I thought. The problem in this particular case was the wind and highway noise on the interstate. Regular portable radio speaker-microphones seem extra-sensitive to wind noise, which is how high-ambient noise sources seem to manifest themselves. We’ve tried the noise-canceling microphones with minimal success. They are usually physically large, and unless the talker holds them close to the mouth, the message is lost.
Fortunately, Lenexa is embarking on a scheduled radio system improvement project. As with any decent government capital project, this one has been in the financing and funding pipeline for five years. Curiously, the “plan” itself hasn’t been modified much since its inception back in 1997. Our main goal was and has remained surprisingly simple: provide high-quality, reliable voice communications. Anything else would be gravy. Our new plan expands our conventional UHF radio system and incorporates technology features, such as simulcast transmission with operational features, such as ANI or unit ID.
Given current economic conditions, system price has become a more significant consideration for our small town. To multiply the effectiveness of our project, we’ve spoken with neighboring municipalities. Both operate conventional UHF systems and are interested in a joint-venture project whereby all three cities can share tower sites, facilities and operating frequencies. For a fraction of the cost of constructing a new, high-tech system, we believe that we can all enjoy substantial benefits of this joint participation.
But how is all this municipal fellowship and technical goodness going to help out the dispatchers, which is where the “rubber meets the road?” With the embedded signaling included with many newer conventional radios, we intend to incorporate basic ANI features (signal on de-key) specifically to overcome that basic question. “Who was that calling?” If they don’t recognize the voice or can’t identify the radio number, at least there will be a visual display for dispatchers to read on the console screen.
Dunford, MRT’s public safety consultant, is technical services consultant for the Lenexa, KS, Police Department. He is a member of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. You can email Dunford at [email protected].