Orrville, OH July 9, 2017 – Imagine that the entire population of the city of Massillon (approximately 32,000) showed up in Orr Park all at once on a balmy Saturday night in July. Add to that the entire population of Twinsburg (approximately 18,000) dispersed throughout the rest of Orrville, a city of approximately 8,300.
That is roughly what happened last night for the annual Orrville Fire Fighters Association fireworks display.
For one night the city of Orrville had a population nearly the size of Youngstown.
As you may imagine, this creates a significant strain on safety services. This is particularly true with the ability to manage information during critical incidents that invariably arise.
Months in advance plans were put in place to essentially create a city in Orr Park. Cody Post, acting Director of the WARCOG Regional Dispatch Center (which provides police, fire, and EMS dispatching for the cities of Ashland, Orrville and Wooster), developed a communication plan that enabled a dozen Orrville police officers and virtually the entire Orrville Fire Department to handle the temporary city. The rest of the city would be managed by three Orrville officers and a bevy of paid volunteers from area law enforcement and fire departments.
Post used his training and experience with the National Incident Management System’s (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) to create a communication template. The “virtual city” inside and around Orr Park would be managed separately from the rest of Orrville.
In order to accomplish this, Post needed to parcel out the radio traffic so that safety forces inside the newly sprung city at Orr Park could communicate without outside interference from safety forces assigned to patrol the rest of Orrville.
MULTI-AGENCY RADIO COMMUNICATION SYSTEM
This is where the power and flexibility of the new digital Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) comes into play.
Prior to acquiring MARCS digital radios, the Orrville police and fire departments were basically relegated to single channels, often shared with neighboring agencies. Historically park personnel, traffic control units and officers on the street used to share the same radio channel on this night.
In the past, that meant approximately 32 public safety personnel, plus the villages of Dalton and Smithville, were fighting for radio time on JUST the police channel. In addition, the portable radios only had an effective range of a block or two.
MARCS radios solved those problems.
MARCS radios, tied into a statewide digital radio network, have the capability of reaching virtually anywhere in the state of Ohio with crystal clear transmissions. Add to that, the newest MARCS radio tower (located in Marshallville) which came online a few months ago, gives excellent coverage throughout Orrville.
Post was able to set aside several channels, and even “borrow” a channel from the Ashland fire department, to pare down the number of public safety personnel to more manageable groups.
Police officers handling service calls throughout Orrville would be assigned the regular police radio channel, which is shared with Wooster police. Park personnel, which consisted of twelve police officers and virtually the entire Orrville fire department, were given another channel. Traffic control units posted throughout Orrville also had their own dedicated tactical channel to focus solely on traffic flow issues. The “borrowed” channel from the Ashland fire department was dedicated to EMS personnel assigned to Orr Park.
Finally, and for the first time ever, Aultman Orrville Hospital’s emergency room was given their very own MARCS radio channel. This is because the cellular phone networks are often jammed during this event. Having a channel dedicated to the hospital provides EMS units the ability to notify the ER staff that a patient is on the way and gives them the opportunity to be prepared to deal with the medical emergency.
MOBILE DISPATCH CENTER
Now that Post had solved the communications bottleneck that had plagued safety forces for years during this event, he turned his attention to creating a more efficient way to dispatch.
For years, the Emergency Management Agency’s Mobile Command Post has been utilized at the park during the festival. Prior to the birth of the WARCOG, the vehicle had been staffed by a single Orrville dispatcher armed with a pen, paper and phone. When something happened at the park, the dispatcher often had to call back downtown to the dispatch center to relay the information to the on duty dispatcher, who in turn had to radio the information out to officers and enter the data into the computer records system.
This year, the full capabilities of the county’s Mobile Command Post were brought to bear.
Post created a temporary dispatch center, capable of dispatching and entering records into the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) software system remotely from the Mobile Command Post in Orr Park. He assigned dispatchers Sarah Miller and Kenny Gallion to dispatch directly from the “WARCOG On Wheels” (WOW). By doing this, Post was able to relieve the call volume from the main dispatch center and enabled Miller and Gallion to quickly get critical information to and from personnel at Orr Park.
At 7:00 p.m. last night, Post’s plan was put into action. Members of the police and fire command staff assembled in the Mobile Command Post to address last minute issues and to review the communication plan one last time.
Miller and Gallion settled into their workstations, donned their headsets and logged into the WARCOG’s Computer Aided Dispatch system at about 8 p.m.
As the old adage goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and this night would be no exception.
As the evening progressed, calls began to stream in. Not just to Orrville though. Wooster police were also busy. The call volume on the main frequency was posing challenges for Sgt. Andrew Dalessandro, who was in the role of Patrol Commander for the road officers and traffic control. Dalessandro called Post and asked to have his road officers moved to a different channel. Post, without skipping a beat, provided Dalessandro with a tactical channel and the issue was solved.
As the sun set, the crowd size was at its’ maximum level. Almost on cue, a report of a fight came in. Park units, working through the temporary dispatch center in Orrville and patrol units, working through the main WARCOG dispatch center in Wooster, were able to efficiently relay information about one of the main participants, who had left the park area. Officer Ryan Pitchure, who was assigned to the road, was able to locate the individual involved in the disturbance and determined she had a warrant from another jurisdiction. The wanted person was quickly arrested on the warrant and removed from the area.
Then came the reports of missing children.
At about 10 p.m. the lights went out at Brenneman field for the fireworks. This is usually when reports of missing kids from frantic parents or friends come flooding in. The first report was of a missing 13 year old girl. Post was gathering information at the door of the command post, while dispatchers Miller and Gallion were quickly entering the data into the records system and simultaneously providing descriptions to the police and fire personnel in the park. At the same time, officers in the park were receiving their own reports of missing children. Within about a 20 minute window all of those missing were located and found safe.
One of the worst case scenarios happened about 10 minutes after the fireworks started. A fire call. Fire Chief Chris Bishop sprinted down the midway of the carnival and met with Sgt. Jaime McGreal and Officer Mitch Zimmerman, who were assigned to be in a “Gator” ATV. Chief Bishop hopped into the waiting Gator and the trio sped over to North Ella Street where the rest of the responding firemen were boarding a waiting fire engine. Fortunately it turned out to be an extremely large bonfire just outside of Orrville, but this pulled a lot of resources out of the park. It also required tremendous coordination of dispatching services between the WARCOG and the mobile command post.
As is always the case, traffic was heavy after the fireworks. It is impossible to know exactly what the impact of the communication plan was on the flow, but one benchmark that has been historically used is the opening of West High Street between Ella Street and Elm Street. Normally this area is closed until midnight, however last night it was open to traffic at about 11:30 p.m.
July 8, 2017 will be remembered as an historic night for Orrville. Not just because of the outstanding fireworks display and huge crowd, but also due to the way large scale events will be handled from this point forward.
As the night was wrapping up, Post was asked about what improvements he looks to make next year. His hope is to get dedicated internet service to the temporary command post next year. Other than that, he was quite satisfied with how smoothly the evening went.
In fact, you could say compared to years past, this night was a walk in the park.