Last week we met in Plymouth at the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Communications Facility (ECF). The ECF houses both the data center and the PSAP or public-safety answering point (ie: 911 call center). The $32 million building, which opened in 2014, is an awe-inspiring hunk of concrete. The PSAP area of the facility is built to withstand winds of 150 mph or the equivalent of an F3 tornado. The data center area, which also houses technical services, can withstand winds of 250 mph or the equivalent of an F5 tornado.
Note to the big, bad wolf: You can huff and you can puff, but you probably aren’t going to blow this house down.
As you might expect, PSAPs, or public-safety answering points, are call centers that answer calls to an emergency telephone number for police, firefighting, and ambulance services. Plymouth’s PSAP is one of a handful in Minnesota, answering emergency 911 dispatch calls for most of Hennepin County (excluding Minneapolis). The PSAP answers over 600,000 calls per year for 37 communities, 21 fire departments, and 23 law enforcement agencies.
Information sent to and from Minnesota’s PSAPs is delivered through the allied radio matrix emergency response (ARMER) program which was developed after 9/11. ARMER is the infrastructure for emergency responders within the State of Minnesota.
ARMER services the radio communications needs of almost every city, county, state agency, tribal government and non-government public safety entity across Minnesota. The only part of Minnesota that’s not covered by one of ARMER’s 328 radio towers (due to the terrain in that region) is the northwest corner of the state which includes Clay, Norman, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, and Red Lake counties.
We tour the 911 dispatch area and see a moving video which includes the quote, “Just because you don’t see my face, doesn’t mean I’m not saving your life.” We listen to calls coming in, and watch as the location and type of each call flashes across a flat screen on the back wall: a found pet, a domestic disturbance, a missing person, even a shooting.
Interesting things we learn:
- Hennepin County residents can call 911 for any type of emergency and will be connected to the right department.
- If you call 911 by accident please stay on the line. Don’t just hang up.
- 911 dispatchers categorize each call that comes in from first to fourth priority. A burglary report is an example of a fourth priority call.
- If someone’s missing, the police need a search warrant to find them. However, if an officer has a life-threatening situation, 911 can override a court order. Life-threatening emergencies include Amber Alerts, domestics in progress, and a verified suicide threat.
- 911 can get a geographic location and address for landline phones right away. With cell phones, they can triangulate and identify the area where the call originated, but not the exact location.
Our time at the Hennepin County Citizen Law Enforcement Academy is coming to an end (sniff, sniff) and it’s been an amazing experience. I’ve learned so much more than I’ll ever be able to write in this blog, but I’m sure the information will come in handy as I continue to write my novel, The Rip. As Midge’s husband, Tim, said to Sheriff Stanek, “Why is the academy so good? It’s almost too good.” I agree with Tim; the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office rocks.
Here are some photos of my Sisters in Crime friends, Midge Bubany and Kristin Lerstrom, Rose Stanley-Gilbert and me at the graduation party. Standing next to us are Sheriff Richard W. Stanek (left) and Chief Deputy Mike Carlson (right):
Ways to get involved with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office:
- Sign up for the Fall 2015 Citizen’s Academy and learn more about law enforcement. Sheriff Stanek said our friends and family would have preferred sign up for the Fall 2015 academy which starts in September.
- Become a Special Deputy.
- Join the Community Advisory Board the next time there’s an opening.
- Volunteer at the HCSO’s MN State Fair booth. Here’s some information on last year’s event.
I would like to thank Sheriff Richard W. Stanek, Chief Deputy Mike Carlson, and Sergeant Jennifer Johnson, the driving force behind the academy and the recipient of a 2014 Award of Merit from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. Sergeant Johnson told us we were her favorite group yet, and I think she was telling the truth because let’s face it — we were pretty great. 😄
Two other individuals who made the academy a wonderful experience for everyone are Deputies Mary Lelivelt and Kara Vanderkooi. Several others (too numerous to name) have been extremely generous with their time and expertise.
Mil gracias. Many thanks to you all.