COOS COUNTY — Text 911 is being rolled out across the county on Friday, Dec. 1.
“The motto for this is ‘Call when you can, text when you can’t,’” said Dispatch Supervisor Joanne Beck with the Coos County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re the first center to have this on the southwestern Oregon coast.”
Text 911 only works if there are minutes on a phone, unlike dialing 911 which will go through regardless. Not only that, but if a there’s a lot of calls going through a cell tower, 911 calls get priority. With text 911, that won’t happen.
“These texts won’t get that priority, which is why they say to still call when you can,” Beck said.
Beck provided examples of when text 911 should be used, including hikers and mushroom pickers when they get lost and are out of cell service but can still send a text.
“Or say the burglar gets into your house and you hide in the closet and don’t want them to know you’re there, so you send us a text,” Beck said. “Or you have an abusive boyfriend who is telling you not to call the cops. In that case, send us a text.”
The additional benefit is that it better serves the hearing impaired and deaf communities.
“In the past, they had to be hooked to a landline with a TTY (teletypewriter),” Beck said. “Here at dispatch, we have TTY on our phones but that requires a landline and that doesn’t go with you everywhere. Now if they get into an accident or have a problem, they can text us which will be a great help to the hearing impaired.”
The first sentence for emergency texts should only be your location as best as it can be given. If it doesn’t go through, a bounce back message will be sent immediately. If it does, a dispatcher will begin texting back.
“There is no app to download to use this,” Beck said. “All you have to do is open up a text message and have it sent to 911. Don’t send it as a group message or it won’t go through. Also don’t type in short hand codes or use emojis. Try to spell words out the best you can, use plain language. Remember that someone else not in your age group is reading those texts.”
The initial startup for the new technology cost $4,000, which was paid for by Oregon Emergency Management.
Beck expects new generation technology of the text 911 to one day include photo, video, and translations, but for now none of those are included.
Also, anyone with AT&T who live in Coquille are unable to use text 911 for the initial rollout. Both the Coos Bay Police Department and Douglas County Sheriff’s Department are working to acquire the same program soon.
As dispatch supervisor, Beck reminded the public that it is not appropriate to dial or text 911 when the power is out, asking why there are sirens, or if the neighbor’s dog is barking. If the power goes out, Beck urges people to have flashlights and the numbers needed to report it to the proper power company.
For non-emergency’s, people can call 541-396-2106, 541-396-7830, or 541-396-7833. These numbers are staffed 24 hours.
“Program these numbers into your phone contacts,” she suggested.
MYRTLE POINT — There is a 9-foot man-eating plant at Myrtle Point High School.
Drama students are performing “Little Shop of Horrors” this weekend at Myrtle Point High School at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“It took us a while to find the perfect play for us since we are rather boy heavy right now, and we wanted something with intriguing roles,” said director Lisa Crew. “One of our biggest obstacles was finding the life-sized puppet to play Audrey II, because it eats part of the cast.”
At first Crew and her cast contemplated building the puppet which starts out as a “seedling” in the musical before growing into the 9-foot tall monster by the end.
“But building it wasn’t an option,” Crew said. “We thought of renting it from another district and then received an email from Southern Oregon University, who was willing to give us their puppets if we picked them up.”
Senior Jack Isenhart stars in this weekend’s show as the lead character Seymour and it was his brother and father who made the trip to pick up the set props.
Isenhart has been accepted into the prestigious Oregon Shakespeare Festival over the summer, which The World reported here.
“The only consideration that Southern Oregon University gave us, other than picking up the puppets, was that when we’re finished with our production we pass them on to another drama group without charge,” Crew said.
The cast and crew of 15 students have been excited about the musical and even performed one scene during a school assembly in hopes that students would attend.
“Having a giant puppet basically eating people on stage is a compelling reason to come to the show,” Crew laughed. “It’s a satire, not serious at all, though there are dark parts. It is a PG-13 show.”
The cast and crew includes Jack Isenhart, Kaylin Brickey, Tom Isenhart, Shay Bateman, Ivy Celestino, Makenzie Larsen, Hailey Waterman, C.J. Seals and Jes-C Tessman, Cyrus Kenyon, Elea Kenyon and Caitlin Huff.
Ticket prices are $5 for students and seniors, $7 for adults, and $12 for families.
Though the performance is in Myrtle Point, the cast extends the invitation to everyone, even in the Bay Area.
“I know it’s a trek from the Bay Area, but these kids are talented and have worked very hard,” she said. “Who knows, you might catch a star in the making and can later say, ‘I saw him when. . . .’ Stranger things have happened.”
COOS COUNTY — When people think of dispatchers, it’s often just a voice on the other end of the phone, but at the Coos County Sheriff’s Office there are a select few known as tactical dispatchers who get their hands dirty. These are the ones who ride into live operations alongside the Emergency Response Team, otherwise known as the county’s SWAT team.
“A tactical dispatcher does communications at a scene of an incident, a search warrant, a protest, or a live operation,” said incident dispatcher Andrew Otton. “What we do is monitor tactical radio chatter and be the on-site communications in case we need to get ahold of an ambulance.”
Otton and incident dispatcher Brian Kent, two of the five tactical dispatchers with the department, were present during the ERT’s live operation of a Mexican cartel marijuana grow two weeks ago. Because the tactical dispatch team is still new, since August 2016, they use missions like that to evaluate how to better improve the technology being used.
“During that operation, it was raining and the trailer where we base our operations isn’t done yet,” Otton said. “Not only that, but here in dispatch we record people. Out there, there was nothing to record with so there’s no way to listen back or double check what we heard and we’re not going to stop what the guys are doing for five minutes to figure out what they said.”
Since that mission, the technical dispatchers are thinking of adding in handheld recorders to take with them on missions to help them verify whether or not they hear radio communications correctly.
“Because it’s still new, operations are a work in progress,” said technical dispatcher Casie Stone. “We’re the only ones using it, so we don’t have experience in this. We’re piecing together what works out for all of us when we go out.”
The tactical dispatch team came together in 2016 after a few dispatchers with the department expressed interest in it.
“We hosted the training in 2016 because, at that time, there weren’t a lot of (tactical dispatchers) in Oregon,” Otton said. “It’s a newer idea that is still growing in law enforcement to have this kind of a team.”
Team coordinator Emma Owens pointed out that having the numbers to support this project is one of the big barriers that agencies face.
“It’s more about being spread out evenly across the shifts so we have an adequate number of people to respond to an emergency, to go out on these missions,” Kent said.
Right now, the department has 12 dispatchers, including supervisors, which allows these five the ability to do training and respond to emergencies.
Other agencies across the state participated in the 2016 training, including dispatchers from Coos Bay, North Bend, Douglas County and even one from eastern Oregon.
“What’s cool about this is we get to be on scene at the same time as these guys and see what you do be applied in real time,” Otton said. “It’s nice to get to know the team more because when we’re back at our office, some of these guys never make it in to see us because they’re busy, so it’s hard to know who you’re dispatching for. We talk on the phone but we never really get to know who they are, so doing this is also a team-building exercise at the same time.”
For Kent, being a tactical dispatcher also means they can take their skills a step further.
“Doing this means we are able to assist them in a way that takes our skills here and applies them there,” he said. “I like that we can take our knowledge and extend it to help the team.”
Not only that, but honing the skills of a tactical dispatcher enriches the dispatch center as a whole. Owens highlighted the fact that depending on the incident, “we may be operating on primary channels, which floods the dispatch center. That means we can respond to the office and be devoted to one channel, so it’s a benefit to normal operations too.”
As the training and missions continue, Otton sees the team becoming utilized in more major crimes in the future.
“We don’t fit just one little piece, but we could fit in anywhere whenever they feel the need for a dispatcher on scene or a need for communication assistance,” he said.
However, it's not just the relationship building between them and the officers.
“Everybody here has had their heart sink at a call when they heard something and it’s so far away and we feel helpless,” Otton said. “Something bad happened and we’re just waiting to hear someone say something on the radio while we’re trying to get a person there. It’s nice that we can be more helpful on a scene instead of just a voice 50 miles away.”