Richmond serves as Virginia's Capital and like most other communities has been heavily engaged in emergency preparedness. Even before Robert Creecy became Richmond's Fire Chief, he was aware of the many commercial wireless services that could enhance their emergency preparedness and response. Upon an initial assessment of services being used, it was quickly learned that there was a broad range of commercial wireless services being used throughout Richmond government and under no coordinated rhyme or reason. A review of services and research into what other communities were doing identified Nextel as being uniquely suited to meet Richmond's needs.
Chief Robert Creecy and Emergency Manager Ben Johnson met with the Honorable Mayor Doug Wilder and CAO Harrell and proposed that by consolidating their services with Nextel they would improve communications between public safety and key city officials. This new level of service through Nextel would provide features which included wireless phone service, Direct Connect and Direct Talk. Direct Connect provides a network push-to-talk walkie talkie feature that functions as a parallel 800 MHz trunked radio. Direct Talk allows direct (talkaround) walkie-talkie feature when the network is not available. An important note to both of these services is that they are not dependent on the public telephone switch as most other commercial wireless services do.
When Chief Creecy was asked why the Richmond Department of Fire and Emergency Services (RFES) identified the need to change, he first noted, "Command officers were having a difficult time performing the necessary email activity that was required during their daily routine." Another identified need was that fire companies could not communicate in any other way than the 800 MHz radio system - no redundancy. RFES was also using a conglomeration of cell phones, Blackberries, interactive pagers, alphanumeric pagers - none of which were part of a comprehensive plan or account.
Chief Creecy points out, "The timing was right for this opportunity." There was agreement between the Fire Chief, Emergency Manager, Mayor, CAO and their Department of Information Technology (DIT). They had already been discussing emergency management and planning issues, and this solution filled a lot of voids. Chief Creecy had a keen desire to gain some measure of order and control over the multitude of accounts and devices in use with some potential device consolidation within the Fire Department. The Mayor, CAO, Emergency Manager and their key staff were equipped with Blackberry devices in this process as well.
Today, the Nextel system includes approximately 30 Blackberry devices for executive, command leadership and key city administration. Fire personnel, fire companies and field staff now operate with Nextel phones to provide dramatically expanded logistical capabilities.
What's Different today?
Today all of Richmond Fire's devices are bundled into one government account which makes tracking usage and effectiveness much easier. Chief Creecy notes that they are in the process of institutionalizing these alternative communications devices into a uniform and comprehensive communication plan for day-to-day operations as well as a redundant/parallel form of crisis management during system failure.
Today, every fire company is equipped with a phone sub-receipted to the captain. This phone is handed off at relief like the assigned portable 800 MHz radio. Nextels have been issued to all RFES staff officers in Administration, Training and Prevention and are used as a daily business tool. Battalion and Deputy Chiefs have Nextel Blackberry phones assigned personally 24/7/365 to stay informed while on and off duty and within reach in the event of a local emergency. Fire companies and logistical support use the Nextels to conduct the routine daily business as well as to assist citizens during emergencies.
"Simple questions and issues get handled very quickly."