Traffic slowed to a crawl Saturday morning on a normally brisk moving eastbound McGinnis Ferry Road corridor on approach to Sargent Road.
A hundred yards back in traffic, Johns Creek Fire Marshal Chad McGiboney looked ahead and knew from the snarl that something was amiss.
He spotted it in an instant.
And without hesitation, McGiboney reached for his CB radio with his right hand as he flicked a switch with the left that lit up his department-issued duty truck in red-and-white strobe.
A Mercury Bonneville with a flat front right tire was impeding traffic. The driver apparently couldn’t navigate his early-model sedan far enough onto the grassy shoulder before it sank to a stop with its left rear quarter panel and trunk hanging halfway out in the road.
With lights flashing, McGiboney eased his truck behind the sedan. Meanwhile, his CB radio call instantly patched in to an operator at the Chattahoochee River 911 Authority in Sandy Springs, also known as ChatComm.
Public safety and a professional oath to protect life and property dictated that the Gwinnett County native and Johns Creek Fire Department division chief don a dayglow green safety vest to direct traffic the old-fashioned way until Johns Creek Police arrived to relinquish the call.
Whether the timing was by providence or proxy, not more than 30 minutes earlier McGiboney and Deputy Fire Marshal Greg Ramey led a guided tour of the very ChatComm center that answered his stranded motorist call.
And this was how Week 2 went down during this inaugural Johns Creek Citizens Fire Academy program. The eight-week program is open to all Johns Creek adult residents who can pass a criminal background check. Prompt and regular class attendance is mandatory.
Three of 12 cadets riding back to Johns Creek Fire Station 62 with the fire marshal from their early morning ChatComm field trip got to see in real time and in real life how emergency calls are relayed from the field.
“He’s actually out there directing traffic,” said cadet Maggie Ladd who rode shotgun with McGiboney. “I thought we’d wait for police. But look at him go.”
McGiboney’s encounter with the motorist and his police back up response were all backed up by a staff of approximately 60 full and part-time state certified and highly trained ChatComm shift operators and supervisors who handle 911 calls for Johns Creek and Sandy Springs fire, police and ambulance and Dunwoody police.
ChatComm was established in October 2008 to provide the structure for what would become 911 operations for the newly minted North Fulton cities. In January 2009, the design, implementation, management and staffing of this state-of-the-art call center was outsourced to Cranbury, NJ-based public safety communications consulting firm iXP Corporation under a shared resources agreement between Sandy Springs and Johns Creek.
Today, iXP Georgia LLC manages the ChatComm initiative under a performance-based contract that is recognized as the largest known 911 public-private partnership in the country.
The two primary performance requirements of the contract are 911 call answer time and call processing time. Specifically, iXP is required to answer 90 percent of 911 calls within 10 seconds and process 90 percent of those calls for dispatch within 60 seconds.
The ChatComm facility build-out cost $5.6 million and includes the latest 911 technologies and staff amenities.
ChatComm’s total operations occupies 16,000 square feet with the communications floor spanning 3,800 square feet. It features 14 console/dispatch positions with each operator assigned to a specific jurisdiction and emergency operation.
The call center was surprisingly quiet Saturday morning, almost sedate, even though inbound volumes were steady. Overhead lights were dimmed to prevent glare on computer screens. And operators seated behind individual pyramids of computer displays wore headsets and spoke in low, calm tones that barely carried over the confines of their open-floor cubicles.
On their computer screens, operators could access and track every in-service emergency vehicle on their watch in real time via GPS - badges scattered across a satellite map represented active call police vehicles and small flame icons were fire units. Moving vehicles carried blue for police and red for fire.
In a separate heads-up display, 911 operators could see each available vehicle and determine the best one to send depending on traffic patterns and access routes.
To send the closest vehicle on the map to a call would at face value be the logical choice. But depending on time of day and traffic congestion an alternate may be dispatched because Atlanta traffic is so unpredictable, reasoned one operator before he took a call. Every second counts, he said.
“This is becoming the new thing,” said swing shift supervisor Stephanie Moody, a former public safety dispatcher for eight years in Cobb County. “It’s efficient because there’s more accountability as a private entity. We’re fined by the cities if calls get dropped, lost or not answered by the terms of our contract.”
“And we’re team here, a family,” Moody added. “And we’re treated as such. If something goes down you better believe we’re on it.”
Johns Creek Patch readers with Windows-based operating systems can listen to ChatComm live by dowloading a free player here.
In addition to various local and state designations, ChatComm is also part of the Smart911 network. Smart911 allows the public to set up free and confidential online profiles that local emergency responders can access en route to a call. How many children or pets in the house, is one example. Medications and allergies for another. To log on to Smart911 go to www.smart911.com.
Follow Johns Creek Patch as Citizen’s Fire Academy cadets enter the third class instruction on June 19 with the basics of fire science and the use of fire apparatus and equipment.
The class concludes July 31 with a graduation ceremony.