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What if the emergency center has an emergency?

How one Georgia 911 center stays ready to deploy a pop-up dispatch center when disaster hits

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Dispatchers at Roswell 911 in Roswell, Georgia have a portable backup system that can be quickly deployed should the dispatch center need to be relocated.

photo/Roswell 911

Sponsored by Cradlepoint

By Laura Neitzel, Police1 BrandFocus Staff

Whether due to a natural disaster, a plumbing problem or a construction crew digging where they shouldn’t, any damage to the building or interruption in the power supply of a 911 call center can disrupt services and lead to life-threatening delays should the center need to be evacuated.

“When you call 911, you expect somebody to answer, no matter what the emergency is,” said John Potrzebowksi, 911 deputy director for the Roswell Police Department and 911 Center in Georgia. “It’s not their concern if our building has no roof or we’re working out of a spare room somewhere with a backup center – they expect the call to be answered. That’s just what we are trying to consistently and constantly deliver.”

To prepare Roswell 911 for a potential relocation, Potrzebowksi has made it his mission to ensure that his team can quickly deploy 911 operations in a backup location.

“Here in Georgia, it’s very common for backup centers to be other 911 centers. At the same time, if we’re in a weather disaster, our backup center may not have space to take on an entire set of staff. They’re already being overwhelmed with calls themselves, most likely, or could even be impacted themselves.”

Even if the backup 911 center works on a temporary basis, what if the outage lasts for days, weeks or even months? Here’s how Roswell 911 Dispatch has prepared for relocating operations for as long as needed using solutions from Cradlepoint.

Planning redundancy

Being in the business of saving lives, Potrzebowski takes the approach of thinking though every contingency, preparing a backup plan and then another backup plan to the backup plan.

His first idea was to deploy backup laptops that could be easily transported and set up in another city building with internet access so that 911 dispatchers could connect directly to the city network. But if there was no space in a city building or if its network also went down, Roswell 911 would need a device that could connect.

To solve that contingency, Potrzebowski looked at using a small Cradlepoint device. To make sure he was considering the solution from every angle, he consulted with the city’s IT manager, Maurice Price. Price was familiar with the Roswell Police Department’s use of Cradlepoint devices and suggested a more robust Cradlepoint solution that would allow Roswell 911 to connect directly to the city network, as well as provide a secondary backup by enabling the relocated center to create its own virtual private network and WiFi hotspot.

Getting the calls

The first step in any 911 response is to be able to get the call in the first place, so Potrzebowski started by getting a backup 911 phone system in place.

Using a Cradlepoint dual-modem AER series router with embedded LTE to connect city phones via the POE (Power-over-Ethernet) ports, Roswell 911 then created a number that can forward 911 calls to city phones connected to the router. Roswell 911 can also power and connect four or more additional phones by plugging the IP system into one of the Cradlepoint POE ports.

Once Roswell 911 got this phone solution in place, they invested in backup 911 laptops as well. In addition to being able to connect city phones to the router via the POE ports and plugging in the IP system, the Cradlepoint router also provides mobile wireless connectivity for the laptops so they can be also used to answer 911 calls.

Staying connected

Because the Cradlepoint router also has dual LTE modems that enable Roswell 911 to connect to both major broadband carriers at the same time, Roswell 911 always has an available network and 24/7/365 connectivity. If the router leaves one carrier’s service area or one carrier goes down, the router will automatically switch to the other provider.

“Our city network is always the best option – that’s just the reality of it. But if something happens to that direct connection, we still have the backup of the broadband connections, for both AT&T and Verizon, to keep us going,” said Potrzebowski. “It’s like a secondary backup for us to have this.”

With the Cradlepoint solution, Roswell 911 can create a private network into the main city network as well as back to dispatch headquarters. When the dispatch center laptops connect to the Cradlepoint router, personnel have access to all the city files, the CAD network and the city’s shared drive – from any location where the 911 center may be set up.

Configuring remotely

Along with the AER series router, Cradlepoint’s solution includes NetCloud Manager, a cloud-based platform that allows Potrzebowski’s team to deploy, configure and manage the network remotely from any location. Using this technology, Roswell 911 can create a fully functioning, independent dispatch center in a new location with minimal disruption in service.

“We can recreate 90%, maybe, of what we actually have in the center,” said Potrzebowski.

Looking ahead

It took Potrzebowski a year to get the backup plan and tools in place, but he continues to look for ways to speed up deployment so that when the need arises, Roswell 911 will be ready to serve.

Potrzebowski regularly tests the system and has identified several locations where he and his team can set up a fully functioning system in a matter of hours at a single location or even spread out their resources across several locations. He is also focused on training others and making sure everybody understands what the system can do, how to do it and how to test it.

“You always want to continue doing what’s best for your first responders, for your citizens, for the people that you serve, ultimately,” said Potrzebowski. “My advice to other 911 centers is to make a short-term plan and make a long-term plan. If you have to slowly invest in it, slowly invest in it. If you have to build it in pieces, or buy things here and there, do it that way. A long-term plan is better than no plan at all.”

Thanks to his backup plan, when disaster (or human error) strikes Roswell 911, the dispatch center will still be there to answer the call.