Law enforcement agencies know that the secret to a successful response lies in being prepared. Whether it means responding to the aftermath of a natural disaster or apprehending violent criminals, having access to easy-to-use public safety software tools helps agencies react quickly and effectively. Throughout the nation, agencies like the Tuscaloosa Police Department in Alabama and the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office in Maine are using software from Spillman Technologies to meet these and other public safety challenges.
On the night of April 27, 2011, a tornado cut a 1.5 mile wide swath of destruction through Tuscaloosa, Ala., reaching wind speeds of 190 mph, damaging trees, and ripping homes from their foundations. As a result, 41 people were killed, 1,000 were injured, and many parts of Tuscaloosa were unrecognizable. The Tuscaloosa Police Department needed to efficiently navigate the devastation and maintain communication as personnel responded to calls for help.
The police department utilized mapping and GIS software to track the tornado’s path through the city. Using CAD mapping and pin mapping features, officers were able to map the location of damaged properties, pinpoint search and rescue areas, and designate traffic check points at major intersections and neighborhood entrances, said Tuscaloosa Police Department Captain Jeff Hartley. The department also used its automatic vehicle locator software to track the location of Tuscaloosa police officers and firemen as they responded to calls throughout the damaged city, Hartley said, as well as to determine where additional personnel were needed.
After the tornado left the city without electricity, many firemen and police officers were searching for locations without the benefit of street lights. Personnel instead relied on their GIS mapping software to locate addresses where street signs had been destroyed, lights were out, and house numbers were missing.
“This speeded up our responses to critical calls for service that would have been slowed or simply impossible to locate without an accurate mapping program,” Hartley said.
In the tornado’s aftermath, radio communication and cell phone coverage was limited for several hours.
Officers had to rely on their laptop computers and mobile software to maintain car-to-car communications. The officers were able to use the software to maintain real-time communication with other personnel and view a list of officers that were online, offline, or busy.
“We were able to send out alerts, critical information, and have car-to-car communication among officers and firemen during the entire event,” Hartley said.
The Tuscaloosa Police Department also utilized a records management solution to track the locations of search and rescue efforts and damaged property after the tornado. Hartley said the software allowed officers to record the locations of property that needed special attention, as well as note which areas had already been searched to keep from duplicating efforts and hampering operations.
“For financial accountability alone, the ability to search and find locations, determine exact times of specific events, and to maintain an accurate history of responding units, radio logs, and commentaries was extremely important, especially when trying to recreate everything that occurred,” he said.
In addition, Hartley said, the department used the software to create name records for missing people and create alert codes to identify those who were missing or who had been located. The system enabled officers to keep accurate records of tornado victims and quickly retrieve lists of all missing or located residents.
“This capability to manage the hundreds of reported missing persons allowed the city to accurately respond to inquiries from government officials, citizens, and the media in a timely manner and keep city leaders and the public informed,” he said.
The police department also used its personnel management software to quickly access employee information, contact personnel who were needed to respond to the disaster, and check on the safety and welfare of city employees affected by the storm.
Oxford County, Maine
In Maine, personnel at the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office recently relied on their public safety software system to help them respond to a very different type of emergency situation.
On July 25, 2011, one person was killed and another fatally injured when domestic violence escalated into an execution-style shooting in New Gloucester, Maine. State troopers’ only clues to the suspect’s identity stemmed from the comments of a six-year-old witness to the crime.
Oxford County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Sheriff George Cayer was on patrol when he heard a Maine State Police trooper announce that they were looking for a suspect possibly named Joe Hayden, driving a black Cadillac style vehicle.
“The trooper was getting his information from a six year-old witness. [Details about the incident were] pretty vague, and [the call was] chaotic with the children crying in the background over the trooper’s radio,” Cayer said.
Using the agency’s mobile software, Cayer searched for the name “J* Hayden” in the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office’s database. The software allows field officers to search for images and information on names, incidents, vehicles, and property without leaving their vehicle or requesting dispatch assistance.
Cayer immediately received responses for four matching records, one for Joel Hayden. Hayden, suspected of armed drug trafficking, had been entered into the system by Cayer in 2008. Hayden also matched the suspect’s physical description and had an alert attached to his record to signify to authorities that he was an armed drug dealer.
“Based on that information, we knew he was probably going to be the suspect in the Gray shooting,” said Cayer.
Cayer was then able to contact one of the responding state troopers to give him the suspect’s name and a description of the vehicle Hayden was driving in 2008. He also passed along a mug shot of Hayden that had been stored in Oxford County’s system.
“Within an hour of the shooting it was clear that we had identified the suspect. Our agency often assists the Maine State Police, Troop B units in Oxford County. This is just one example of how this technology works,” Cayer said.
After leading Maine State Police on a 20-minute car chase, Hayden crashed his vehicle into a ditch and surrendered to authorities. He was charged with two counts of murder.
As Tuscaloosa and Oxford County personnel discovered, a good public safety software system can make all the difference when it comes to communicating in an emergency situation and having quick access to critical information. Although you never know what challenges you might face in the line of duty, you can be sure that with the right software, you will be better equipped to handle whatever comes your way.