EMERGENCY RESPONSE/Reverse 911 system has broad application
The Orange County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department was looking for a system that would help it track missing children and issue hurricane evacuation notices. The Reverse 911 system it eventually purchased has done that – and much more.
“We use it for a number of things,” says Orange County Deputy Sheriff Bruce Vale. “When we got it, we didn’t know how much we could do with it.”
Reverse 911 is a telecommunications system that allows public agencies – in Orange County’s case, the sheriff’s department, the local police and the fire department – to call citizens to notify them of events that could affect their safety. The system contacts residents in specific neighborhoods to alert them to problems ranging from hazardous materials spills to burglaries.
Orange County’s system, manufactured by Indianapolis-based Micro Sigma, got its first major test when a hurricane bore down on Orlando last year. “We were able to notify residents of trailer parks to evacuate,” Vale says. “It was really successful.”
However, the evacuation was just the first part of that success, according to Vale. Opportunistic burglars went to work shortly after the evacuation, and Reverse 911 calls to neighborhood residents who had returned to the area resulted in seven tips. The burglars were arrested within three days.
The system does more than help the local law enforcement agencies catch criminals; it also helps them notify residents if those criminals escape. “Residents near the jail want to know if an inmate escapes,” Vale says. “We went through a period when there were three real escapes (as opposed to walkaways by trustees), and we were able to notify the residents. We also had a situation where a deputy was shot, and we called people in the area where it happened. We ended up getting a farmer who saw the suspect in one of his fields. The canine units flushed him out.”
In addition to helping the sheriff’s department catch the bad guys, the system allows the department to aid the “good guys,” including local parents and caregivers for the elderly. A feature called “Guardian Calling” makes random calls to homes with latchkey children and elderly residents. When the calls are made, the children and seniors are instructed to punch in a code. If the system does not get the correct code, parents and the emergency facility are notified.
Additionally, the system saves public safety departments time when they must react to immediate threats. The “Mobilization” feature allows departments to establish a scenario, such as a civil disturbance, input the number of officers needed to respond to the situation and notify those officers. It also can establish a 24-hour voice bulletin board, and it has faxing options.
Orange County has been so pleased with its system that it is adding 24 lines. The average message runs 20 seconds, so each line can make three calls per minute. The new lines will double the department’s calling capacity. Additionally, the county fire department is purchasing 24 lines, and the two agencies are looking to link their systems. Orange County’s system was purchased through a $62,000 federal public safety block grant, and the upgrade also will be funded through a grant.