Hi-tech gear makes our 999 service second to none

Reporter:

Rob Bellis

THE tide has come in to Llandudno Bay.

For two unfortunate walkers, the rising seawater has left them cut off, stranded on a sandbank with nowhere to go – they are in real danger.

Luckily the pair have been spotted by someone with binoculars on the promenade.

That person has dialled 999 and in the police and fire joint call centre in St Asaph there is an officer ready to help.

As it is an emergency call it bypasses the switchboard and goes straight to the call handling team which aims to answer such calls within 10 seconds.

The call handler asks questions. It is vital that they get as much detail as possible from the caller and they are highly trained to know exactly what to ask and how to deal with the situation.

As the handler receives information he types it into the system.

On another desk, a few yards away, a member of the dispatch team deploys resources as appropriate.

This officer can see a map on which the system has pinpointed the position of the caller in relation to the nearest phone mast.

Using GPS he can also see where the nearest police officers are on the ground and, using CCT – the centre has access to every camera in North Wales – is able to actually see the stranded couple.

He informs these officers of the situation and watches the screen as the numbered blocks that represent them move towards the scene.

He also calls the lifeboat station and within minutes sees the boat arrive and the walkers rescued.

Another job well done.

In the year 2009-10 North Wales Police (NWP) took 95,500 emergency calls as well as 452,211 non-emergency calls. Their colleagues from North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, also based in the centre, took 11,321 999 calls and 90,174 non-emergency calls.

Chief Inspector Darren Wareing, who is in charge of NWP operations at the centre, said: “This is the hub. From here we ensure the right resources are in the right place at the right time.

“We control the staff and specialist units and give them the information they need to respond.

“Because we have access to all force systems officers are able to get real time information.

“If it is a domestic, for example, if the people involved have a history of being violent towards police officers or have access to firearms, we are able to risk-assess and apply the right resources.”

According to Chief Insp Wareing, on an average Saturday, NWP might take 1,000 non-emergency and 300 emergency calls, but on certain days they can see that figure double.

“It all depends on what’s going on,” he explained. “If there is a major sporting event, or if it is one of our ‘top 10’ days – Halloween, bonfire night, the Friday before Christmas.

“A full moon makes a big difference – I’ve noticed it since day one of my police career that began 20 years ago.”

Day to day, a force incident manager – a police inspector such as Sharn Harrison, who was on duty when the Leader visited – oversees the NWP side of the call centre, supporting his or her staff with the help of two supervisors.

Should a major or critical incident come in it is their job to take charge and ensure the correct resources are deployed.

In the case of major incidents the Chief Constable or his deputy will be called upon to decide on a strategy while the Chief Inspector in charge of the call centre will assume the role of tactical commander.

Resources might include the firearms team or police helicopter as well as sophisticated systems such as the automatic number plate recognition used by call centre staff.

The Force Occurrence Recording Bureau and Police National Computer officers are dedicated to ensuring incidents are recorded and databases updated accordingly.

Many emergencies require a response from more than one emergency service and the joint nature of the centre has brought huge benefits in this respect.

Linda Roberts, fire control manager, explained: “It’s the improved communication that has helped us with our response – building information and getting it out there to our resources.

“When a call comes in we now have a better understanding of each others’ capabilities. By both services being here we have removed a delay.”

The centre in St Asaph is at the heart of police and fire emergency response and is the first point of contact for members of the public for non-emergency calls.

Staff, whether they are police or fire and rescue, are trained to deal with any situation that may arise.

With the help of sophisticated technology, they are on hand to make North Wales a safer place.

See full story in the Leader

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