County Communications Center

County Communications Center

Communications center for Hamilton County, Ohio, handles more than 1.3 million radio transmissions in this console room.

Facility serves 89 fire, police, ambulance services in Cincinnati area

Established 22 years ago to serve the Sheriff’s Patrol and 11 police departments, the Hamilton County, Ohio, Communications Center now handles radio, telephone and teletypewriter communications for 90 agencies. In addition to the Sheriff’s Patrol, these include 33 fire departments, 28 police departments, 27 life squads (emergency ambulance services) and the county park district.

With more than $300,000 worth of equipment, including a computer terminal operation for law enforcement information, the center has a staff of 32 persons and a $500,000 projected budget for this year. Of the $500,000, $57,000 will be collected in fees from the agencies served and the rest will come from county funds. A volunteer fire department may pay as little as $100 a year for the county communications service while a city receiving full fire, police and life squad communications service will pay $6500.

This year, the center is expected to make more than 1.3 million radio transmissions, receive more than 460,000 phone calls and process about 300,000 teletypewriter messages at its facilities in Colerain Township, an unincorporated area about 3 miles north of Mount Healthy on U.S. Route 127, north of Cincinnati.

Serves 26 communities

Hamilton County has more than 40 communities, either incorporated villages and cities or unincorporated areas. Cincinnati and Norwood are the major cities. Then there are six or seven medium-sized cities and some fairly large villages. This is a unique operation in that we serve 26 communities and have a non-contractual mutual aid agreement with 16 other communities that have their own radio systems.

Each agency served has signed a contract for our service. The formula used to determine what each community will pay is based on their tax base, population and use factors. The center obtains about 30 percent of its operating costs from these communities. The other 70 percent is obtained through a county appropriation.

At the heart of the communications system, designed and installed by Motorola Communications and Electronics, Inc., are four identical control consoles. Each console performs the same functions with one exception. The fire control console is the only one with the ability to set off the sirens at a firehouse. A total of 16 frequencies are monitored, with the ability to transmit on eight base frequencies.

The other eight frequencies monitored are dedicated to other public safety radio systems, highway maintenance and the county engineers. In addition, there are eight auxiliary standby transmitters and a 45-KW generator which automatically comes online if primary power is lost.

The center uses 500-watt transmitters. With high gain antennas mounted at a height of 295 feet, brute force is used to overcome the signal limitations imposed by the hilly areas. Normally, the talk-back range is 50-70 miles. Along the Ohio River, where the terrain drops off sharply behind some hills, talk-back problems were experienced. To remedy this, we installed a remote base station similar to the one in the center.

Any of the over 400,000 citizens served can pick up his telephone and dial either the number for the police or the one for the fire department and life squad. The call comes directly to the center. The operator writes the information on a dispatch slip, timestamps it, and sends it on to the radio dispatcher, who informs the proper agency.

Status map used

When the dispatcher receives the slip, he checks a status map above the console to determine which field unit is available. A lighted lamp indicates each unit’s availablity. When the field unit answers his call, the dispatcher time-stamps the slip and places it in a status bin, which automatically changes the color of that unit’s lamp from green to red, indicating that unit is “on-call.” When the unit arrives at the scene and calls in, the slip is timestamped again.

Thus we have a record of when the call was received, when the unit accepted the call, and when it arrived on the scene. In addition, all telephone and radio conversations are automatically tape-recorded with the time electronically recorded.

We receive calls for both paid and volunteer fire departments. The fire control console is similar to the other consoles in that it shows each department’s service status. In addition, this console can be used to do a number of other things depending on the degree of sophistication of each department’s installation.

For instance, one city we serve has installed a system by which, from this console, we can turn on the emergency lights in the city to a flashing amber, turn on the red light outside the firehouse, open the doors, and turn on the house lights. At one time, we were even starting the equipment for them. This is all done by one man here at the center through a Quik-Call encoder, a remote radio tone device.

Alerting volunteers

This device is also used to turn on the firehouse siren to alert the members of volunteer fire departments. The first one to arrive at the firehouse calls us by radio and we give him the necessary information. The average response time is about 5 minutes. Of course, all this information is timestamped so that a permanent record is kept.

A second system is used for volunteer departments members who have receivers in their homes. By pushing the proper button on the console, the dispatcher can send a selective tone that will open up these receivers. Then he announces the location and the nature of the emergency.

Another support service is our computer terminal operation. This is a central teletypewriter computer terminal message dispatching operation and works through three basic systems: the local regional crime information center which has records of local crimes, suspects, and criminals; the law enforcement automated data system network operated by the Ohio State Patrol, which has records of stolen or wanted vehicles, car registrations, and driver’s license information; and the National Crime Information Center operated by the FBI, which has information on nationwide wanteds, criminal records, etc.

Hospital radio network

Life squads (emergency ambulance services) are alerted in the same manner as the fire departments. In connection with the life squads, we have a 15-hospital radio network to coordinate life squads responding to emergencies and hospitals receiving the patients. The life squad reports to the center upon arrival to advise us that they are responding with patients having certain conditions. We, in turn, push a button that turns on a transceiver located in the emergency room of the hospital that will be receiving the patients. Then we tell them what to expect. They in turn prepare for the victims’ arrival with needed equipment and personnel.

During a disaster, the entire network could be opened up and then all hospitals would be coordinated by the Cincinnati General Hospital. We would simply coordinate through them.

The consolidation of emergency radio communications within a county appears to be the logical next step for many urban and suburban areas which maintain independent systems. Our system is the classic example of those to come. It works and works well.

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