PCOs participating in relocation exercise

Public Safety, Emergency Management, and Baltimore City 911 collaborate on the first exercise of its kind.

“This is an exercise,” says police communications operator (PCO) supervisor Shawnta Privette, MSL. She informs the PCOs about a (fake) power outage, resulting in a (fake) loss of access to radios, Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system, and the campuswide camera system. As a result, the PCOs must relocate to their alternate communications center in the University of Maryland BioPark.

With that, PCO Kayla Key and PCO lead Ashley Combs jump into action. Combs begins notifying University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) police and security officers that they will be moving to a new location. Key hops a ride with an officer to the UMB Police Department BioPark substation and starts up multiple computers, signing into the many operational applications they use every day to support the daily operation of the communications center.

UMB Police and Public Safety Assistant Chief Tonya Bell, whose Support Services section oversees the PCOs, identified the need for the exercise during Continuity of Operations (COOP) planning of the University’s core departments, led by the UMB Office of Emergency Management (OEM).

“We identified a potential vulnerability and orchestrated a collaboration with OEM and Baltimore City,” said Bell, adding that the department successfully completed a financial audit and Clery audit.

Asking for the PCO relocation exercise was one more piece toward the pursuit of excellence in public safety. “This collaboration between UMB Public Safety, OEM, and Baltimore City is extraordinary,” Bell said. “This is the first of its kind.”

UMB OEM fellow Jackie Ferreira took the lead on planning the exercise as part of her fellowship. PCOs were not provided advance notice of the exercise, which allowed OEM to test their current knowledge.

“Our communications center performs lifesaving functions to serve our community,” said Hayley Markman, MS, UMB OEM COOP program manager. “We wanted to help build up our capability.”

Leadership from the Baltimore City 911 Center attended the exercise as observers. Baltimore City is the primary public safety answering point (PSAP) and works with UMB Public Safety to coordinate emergency response through the Aware Portal.

“We’re here to bridge the gap between our primary PSAP and your secondary PSAP so we all know what the other is doing,” said Tenea Reddick, 911 director for Baltimore City. “Building these partnerships allows us to all help each other in the public safety communications community.”

Privette echoed her sentiments, saying, “This collaboration with Baltimore City 911 gives us another layer of response for the two campuses we manage [UMB and the University of Baltimore]. When something happens, they’re ready to back us up.”

With observers looking on, Key and Combs checked systems used to assist police and security officers. The phone rang. Without missing a beat, Key was able to help callers without any indication the communications center had relocated to the backup center.

PCO lead April Carter stayed back at the primary police communications center in case of any challenges to ensure there was no disruption to services for the UMB community. At the end of the exercise, the observers were impressed with the PCOs’ response.

“Ashley was newly promoted to PCO lead and Kayla is one of our newest hires, about to complete her field training,” Bell said. UMB Police and Public Safety leadership were thrilled with the overall successful completion of the exercise.

“Our dispatchers have done an excellent job,” said Lt. Matthew Johnson, who oversees police communications under Bell. “They followed established procedures and showed us some ways we can improve in the future. They realized they could accomplish more with less — they only needed three radios, not the six we thought. They were able to recognize that and adjust.”

That’s what it’s all about, says Markman — emergency preparedness, continuity planning, and teamwork. “Nothing is possible without collaboration,” she said. “And I think our UMB Public Safety team can be really proud of what they accomplished today.”

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