County officials were notified in 2010 that the 911-program technology by Interact would no longer be supported by the company. The Walker County Sheriff’s Office was notified of a similar discontinuation of software, providing further urgency to find software solutions.
Officials collaborated to find a software system that integrated 911 operations with law enforcement necessities with the added bonus that it could be expanded to include local police departments.
“A year and a half ago, as we were looking at options, we actually experienced a shut down of the system,” Ashburn said. “It took a (full) day to get it back up completely, but it lost some data.”
Extensive efforts tried to recapture the data, which is vital to upcoming court cases, with approximately 90 percent being recovered, according to Ashburn.
The New World software systems, selected nearly a year ago, offers redundancies that will continually archive the information in three locations.
The previous data systems (for the 911 center, sheriff’s office and emergency services) were not integrated and required manual entry of data multiple times in many cases.
“All county emergency services will be on the same system now,” Ashburn said.
Central server systems are located at the 911 Center, the sheriff’s office and in Trenton.
“If a tornado wiped out this building (911 center) today, we could call Dade County and they could dispatch everything in Walker County,” Ashburn said.
Officials from Walker and Dade County partnered in the effort, in part to reduce the price.
The new system will be utilized with vehicle mounted laptops, allowing officers to begin a sole case file while on the scene and allowing for a quicker return to patrol instead of hours of paperwork and typing as had been done previously, according to Ashburn.
“The way our system worked before was like a big index card system,” WCSO captain Steve Rogers said.
With the new system deputy responses will have all of the initial data entered by 911 officials and can be merged into the case file as the investigation progresses in the field.
The extensive nature of the database will consolidate all incident information, searchable by name or address, according to Rogers.
We will be better able to look at patterns of crimes,” Rogers said.
“The more (the database) grows, the more of an investigative resource it will be,” WCSO major Mike Freeman said.
The previous protocol required officers to ask questions of 911 operators that searched Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama databases separately, a time consuming process that is now a thing of the past.
The Walker County 911 Center became the first site for the improvements, which went online in June 10, 2012. A projection-enabled map of Walker County dominates one wall of the room where as many a five 911 operators coordinate efforts in emergency situations.
The “Big Board” as it is called was installed in October and operates similarly to a smart board in a teacher’s classroom. There is an icon to represent all active responding vehicles and even one that appears from the resident calling 911, the icon is more approximated but fairly precise when cell phones are used to call the center.
The same screen view is offered on the first responder’s laptop, showing the path to respond, similar to a GPS screen.
“The difference (from GPS) is that we own the map, we’ve built the map and we maintain it,” Ashburn said. “(It) is current and we update it weekly.” The addresses assigned to homes that are being built are already in the system prior to the homeowner gaining occupancy.
While not as savvy as Apple’s “Siri” system, a voice recognition component allows data entry by voice command, which allows the responders to remain focused on driving to the scene. “Dash cam” video and crime scene photos are also linked to the master file.
Officers will be able to access driver’s license data from the three surrounding states for quicker determination of outstanding warrants or other information critical to officer safety.
Captain Steve Rogers Jr. and Lt. Anthony Gilleland (WCSO) have worked with county officials to develop the software to fit the needs of the department.
A trail phase of the program showcased its value to deputies that have already received a one-day training session on utilizing the new system. It will be fully operational with the Georgia Criminal Information Center database soon.
Upon entering a license plate, the system will display the type of vehicle, previous traffic stops and even a photo of the registered owner. It will be especially useful for stolen vehicles, allowing officers to call for back up and proceed with caution with situational awareness that wasn’t available previously.
Walker County Emergency Services will also benefit as the streamlining automatically generates and submits (to Medicare) bills for ambulance services and even allows access to floor plans of commercial buildings to plan at attack a potential fire.
“It will make our system more proficient, less (erroneous) and more cost efficient, because ultimately you don’t need to have as many people to process it through,” Ashburn said.
Chickamauga is the city in Walker County to incorporate the new software at a cost of nearly $20,000. Officials are establishing a terminal at the police station with laptop upgrades for their cruisers.
LaFayette, Lookout Mountain and Rossville will also receive a terminal, but have yet commit to further system improvements.
“Down the road they may choose to take on the rest of the (mobile) software and make the system complete,” Ashburn said.
Testing the new system
On Nov. 1 Walker County Emergency Services and the Walker County Sheriff’s office enabled a test run of the new software, with a particularly challenging day of incidents occurring only a few days later.
Rainy mornings regularly increase the number of accidents in the county, which require varied responses by WCSO and WCES personnel, however a dreary day for voters became hectic as accidents dominated the call volume to the 911 center on that morning.
One of the many advantages of the new response system is the real-time prioritization that assigns personnel based on conditions and location, a feature that aided in the numerous responses that occurred on Nov. 6.
A collision between a tractor-trailer and a small car occurred near LaFayette was one of two lengthy responses mid-morning. One of the ambulances responding to that call (from the northern end of the county) was diverted as an even more serious head-on collision occurred on Hwy. 27. There were a total of 17 accidents during a 12-hour period on that day, according to 911 records.
The system rerouted a few of the responses, proving its value only days after it was initialized.
The county is divided into three horizontal response sectors for assigning personnel and patrols: A sector includes Rossville and is bordered by Ga. 341, B sector includes Chickamauga and is bordered by Ga. 136, the largest and most rural area is C sector which includes LaFayette, it is nearly as large as the other two sectors combined.
“The AVL (Automatic Vehicle Locator) system recognizes who is the closest (regardless of sector) and put that first responder on the call,” Ashburn said.
The system would also have been beneficial for communication by utilizing a text-messaging feature during situations like the April 27, 2011 tornadoes. Cell phone towers were maxed out with high call volume, according to Ashburn.
It also would have helped during the response as first responders scrambled due to dozens of roads being impassable. Had the system been in place then, any roadway obstructions would be updated and then been avoided by first responders until being cleared by county crews.
The Walker County Emergency Operation Center is in a room neighboring the 911 Center, which was utilized for several months during the tornado recovery.