Thursday, December 8, 2011

Where in the World?

Great. Now I have the theme song to Carmen Sandiego in my head.

Not only do people not know where Carmen is, much of the time, they don't know where THEY are.
There are several different issues that cause this.

1. What is the name of this street, really?

I overheard something on the scanner yesterday that reminded me how disastrous it can be not to be sure of where a call is. It was a simple thing, an alarm activation, but the dispatcher told the responding fire department that they were on the phone (!) with the alarm company because they weren't sure (!) whether the location was on a road in one town, or a similarly named road, in a town on the opposite side of the county.

Fat lot of good a fire alarm is going to do if it ends up sending the wrong fire department to the wrong town. They got it figured out (when the arriving dept confirmed an activated alarm where they were), but what if that hadn't been the case? What if it had been an actual fire, with the fire department delayed by ten or fifteen minutes while they FIGURED OUT where they were supposed to go?

Over the past few years, there has also been more than one EMS call with the ambulance sent to the wrong address, because of similar street names.

Another thing that happens is that some people have lived around here for a long time. Street names change. People still call them by their old name. There are also roads in this county that have an official name, and a sort of nickname that everyone uses. People may call something in using the informal name, but the CAD system won't have that listed.

And then, my favorite. In the next town over from us, there are street names that all sound similar to each other. And those roads intersect. AND, to make it even more fun, one of them keeps the same name around corners, so sometimes, if you go straight, the name changes, but if you turn, the name stays the same, then at the next intersection, it's different.  wtf?

Dear people who name streets: Pay attention. One name per street, please. And quit with all the similar names. Make it obvious what the name is. Make SENSE.

2. Signs, labels and numbers, please.

It is a constant struggle around here to get people to put numbers on their houses, or at the end of their driveways, that we can SEE. No matter how we try to phrase it, they simply don't understand that we have to be able to see those numbers in the dark, while driving, in the rain, in a hurry. And please, if you only put numbers on one side of your mailbox, make it on the side that WE come from, not the side the MAILMAN comes from, okay? The person who delivers your mail KNOWS where your house is. They go there nearly every day. WE don't, and when we go, we are in considerably more of a hurry than your mail.

And what about those house numbers themselves? There are four places in our town that I know of where the house numbers do not go in order. Right. How did that happen? Did the person handing out house numbers not know how to count? I'm not talking only about a mismatch from side to side, where odd and even don't match up well, but places where the numbers on the same side are out of order. Where, for example, 99 might not be between 97 and 101. Why would anyone do that?

And street signs. Could we have them, please? Consistently. At every intersection.
Reflective. Large letters and numbers. Facing where we can see them.

3. General inattentiveness.

This one, I don't have an easy fix for.

The problem is simple: people don't pay attention to where they are, especially when they are driving.

Sometimes, it's hard to tell. Get on one of those long stretches of interstate, and you tell ME how you're going to call a report into 911 if you witness an accident. Or worse, on some long stretch of two lane road in the middle of nowhere... oh wait, that would be almost anywhere around here, wouldn't it?

I've driven around here for thirty years or so, and there are some places that I wouldn't know how to tell dispatch where to go, or who to send. What about people driving through someplace they don't live?

Better signage would help some.
And again, better numbering on houses, visible from the road at a distance.

But mostly, people need to learn to pay attention. And they pretty much won't. Most people, most of the time, don't need to know exactly where they are, as long as they know where they are going.

We practice.
Whenever we're out driving, I'll keep in mind how I'd call in an accident. I pay attention, especially in unfamiliar places, to how the roads are marked, what information is on those little markers. I remember exit numbers, so I know the most recent. I remember what county I'm in. I notice and remember obvious landmarks. Even if I don't know exactly where I am, I'll be able to say I'm heading North on Middle-of-Nowhere Highway, between this town and that one, in this county; I just passed exit 3 (to other-small-town), and I'm near a big barn with three blue silos. Hopefully, that information will be familiar enough to get me found.

Which brings me to the next thing:

4. Learn Your Way Around

A good idea for anyone.

A critical skill for anyone in emergency services.
Learn your response area cold.

And please, dispatchers, you do this, too. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you should know the names of roads, especially any that may cause confusion. I know you sit in your cozy little space, with all the computer screens, and you can't see out, but you don't LIVE there, so whenever you aren't at work, drive around, and get to know where things are. Especially any that have caused confusion already. Is that asking too much, for you to spend some of your own time learning to do your job better?

We have a relatively small response area, and I've lived here for twenty years, and in the area for much longer. So I pretty much know my way around.

Even so, I have a map. I use it. I've driven every road in our town. Even the seasonal ones, which I don't necessarily recommend unless you have a truck.

This is how I know about those places where the numbers are out of order. Been there. Seen them.

This is how I know where there are steep hills, and what might be a better way to get somewhere in an ice storm.

This is how I know which way to turn at intersections to get to a particular house number.

This is why I know the house number for the newest house in town, just finished a couple of weeks ago. And how I know that the people have moved into it.

Seems to me, this should be standard procedure, to learn your district. Yet it doesn't seem to be. We had a situation a couple of years ago where mutual aid tankers were given the wrong directions to a fire because the person giving the directions gave bad directions, and then, when the tanker radioed because they ended up somewhere else, didn't recognize where they were to be able to guide them to the right place.

Which reminds me... learn your mutual aid response areas as well. Maybe not in excruciating detail, but certainly enough to be able to follow directions. And have maps of them. Handy.

We are behind the eight ball enough already. Delaying a response because people didn't do their homework is inexcusable.

I'd love a world where passers-by give good locations, dispatch knows where they are, and relays accurate information to responders, who know exactly where it is, and how to get there, and when they do, everything is clearly marked, easy to spot, and no one ever has to slow down, squint through the rain and try to pick out non-existent numbers on the side of a house 100 yards off the road.

I can dream, can't I?

Now go back to singing along with Rockapella.
Where in the world is.....

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