In light of the "turning on" of the emergency button for the fire service and in an effort to continue to be open and honest with you regarding our operations here at DPS, we are taking to the blog today to discuss the activation of the emergency button. The emergency button was a highlighted feature when the purchase of our OpenSky system was announced. We realize it has been a long process to get us to today’s February 1st activation date for the fire service and we greatly appreciate your patience. Getting this feature activated has been extremely important to us and we are pleased to see it going forward. That said, we want to set the record straight and provide you with the story of the emergency button from start to finish!
Early emergency button testing of the P800 series portable radios prior to transition to the 800 MHz system in 2007 revealed the physical location of the emergency button on the portable radio and lapel microphone resulted in a large number of unintentional emergency button activations. The unique circumstances of fire suppression activities and in particular the use of heavy gloves as a part of personal protective gear and the design of the P800 series portable radio appeared to be the leading cause of unintentional activations. An emergency button activation places the radio at the highest priority in the radio system. A concern was raised that unintentional emergency button activation could congest operational voice groups during fire suppression activities causing a potential safety concern for fire fighters involved in incident mitigation. Concerns were also raised at a training exercise at the Old Carlisle Hospital shortly before the transition to the new system regarding the open mic that occurs with the emergency button activation. Originally we did not have the ability to control the 10 second open mic feature and in training scenarios, multiple activations, which can occur in a true mayday situation, created chaos and an inability to communicate with the system tied up in multiple emergencies and open mics. During the hospital training exercise six emergencies were declared simultaneously, consuming an entire minute of air time. These concerns were taken to the Fire Chief’s Association and while not pleased to delay the use of this life saving feature, the association agreed to delay the activation of the feature until these issues could be addressed. It was decided to keep the emergency button feature activated for police and EMS as they did not have the design issue to contend with and it is extremely rare for those fields to declare multiple emergencies simultaneously causing the confusion and system tie up addressed above.
Shortly after the transition to the system, we began the rebanding process and the emergency button topic while not off of the radar, was not the main focus of our department. As a part of an agreement with Spring/Nextel as part of the FCC mandated nationwide realignment of the 800 MHz spectrum, a new model of portable radio was provided to all County public safety services, the result of the P800 series not being capable of handling the software change required for realignment. The new radios were distributed to all services starting in February 2010 and the process concluded in the spring of 2011. The new P7200 series radios are designed with the push to talk switch on the side of the portable radio and the emergency button on top of the portable radio. The lapel mic layout is similar. This new design eliminated the concern over an abundance of accidentally declared emergencies.
Shortly after the completion of rebanding a committee was formed from representatives from the Fire Chief’s Association and DPS staff to further explore the emergency button feature and to seek a change in procedure that would best serve field users. In the fall of 2010 and lasting through the spring of 2011 the committee conducted several training exercises testing the new portables and the emergency button function. Once the new radios were found to be acceptable for emergency button use, the committee began developing procedures for its use and those procedures were eventually adopted by the Fire Chief’s Association in the fall of 2011.
The Fire Chiefs Association established a go live date for the emergency button for February 1, 2012. A training profile in the radios was updated with the emergency button function to allow the fire services time to train prior to the go live date. This would allow users to become familiar with procedures related to declaring and emergency should the situation arise during actual firefighting operations. The time between the adoption of the procedures and the activation date also allowed time for DPS to conduct internally training to make sure our dispatchers know how to appropriately respond when they receive an emergency alert in the communications center.
We are extremely excited about today and glad to add one more important tool to the toolbox for firefighters to look to when faced with a life threatening situation. We understand any frustration that may have resulted during this long process, but hope the synopsis provided accurately reflects our efforts and shows our intentions to make sure you are provided with quality service. This system is as much your system as it is ours and we will not lose sight of that!