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2020 Team of the Year – Valley Com

2020 Team of the Year – Valley Com

Valley Com serves South King County, from the south end of the City of Seattle to Pierce County. May 31, 2020 was the second day of protests and riots in Seattle following the George Floyd case. For situational awareness, Valley Com supervisors were monitoring the regional radio channel being used by Seattle for the protests and riots.  In the afternoon of the 31st, the riots unexpectedly spread into the City of Bellevue and more looting began. In response, the Valley agencies geared up in anticipation of the crowds moving further south towards our jurisdictional area. The Valley Civil Disturbance Unit (CDU) was also activated as they had assisted Seattle Police on May 30th.

Around 1945 hours on May 31st, our worst fears were confirmed. Rioters and looters entered the Valley. The first disturbances occurred in Renton and then quickly moved to Tukwila.

Edited excerpt from Tukwila PD’s Facebook page: “A group of upwards of 100 individuals ran onto Tukwila Mall’s property from where they had gathered across the street. They attempted to gain access to the mall from the north side but were quickly dispersed back to the Bowlero parking lot by officers who gave clear, verbal commands. The group grew to approximately 300+ on foot and in vehicles. They began throwing rocks and projectiles at officers & split up on foot and in vehicles and began looting Bowlero, REI and Firestone.

During the Tukwila looting, multiple reports of gunshots and subjects discharging firearms were called in to 911 as well as heard by officers. Looters also moved north and broke into businesses there. Multiple teams of officers were required to clear looted businesses to ensure there was no one inside. It took several hours for officers to disperse the looters in vehicles and on foot to restore order.

In Tukwila Approximately 26 businesses were damaged by looters. No officers were injured. One individual reported an injury to their finger. Nine arrests were made.

The Tukwila Police Department was assisted by Port of Seattle Police, the Washington State Patrol, King County Sheriff’s Office, and the Police Departments from Renton, Federal Way, Auburn, Kent and Normandy Park.”

After being pushed out of Tukwila, rioters dispersed towards Auburn and Federal Way. The Outlet Collection Center was targeted in Auburn as well as nearby businesses. The Washington State Patrol (WSP) was called in to assist by shutting down all offramps on State Route 167 to deter the swarm of vehicles moving south. South Sound 911, the PSAP in Pierce County, was made aware and their agencies took precautions as well.

In the five (5) hours the main incident was active, Valley Com received a total of 994 emergency and non-emergency calls averaging almost 200 calls an hour. That is a 109% increase from the previous Sunday where a total of 473 calls were received.

All team members answered the call when asked to work one of the most historical and grueling events our center has ever faced. From residents concerned about their livelihood and how to protect it to pleas for help because there was no safe place to find. From each radio transmission received, littered with sounds of screams and chaos in the background, to the dreaded shouts of “code 3” (officer call for help); the Valley Com team banded together. They worked diligently, with composure and compassion, to ensure each officer, firefighter, medic and citizen went home that night in one piece.

When an incoming emergency call holds for more than eight seconds, an alarm sounds on the com room “reader board”. This alarm sounded for more than three hours straight due to the influx of calls.  All personnel worked non-stop during this time unless they had to take a break; some were even forced to take a break! Several employees offered to stay late, come in on their day off, or work additional hours after working an already extended 12-hour shift.

In addition to the normal workload, there were two dedicated dispatchers that worked the lootings in Tukwila and Auburn. Dispatchers were flexible and quickly responded to supervisor direction when another tactical channel needed to be manned or to help with overflow emergency calls. Supervisors also assisted by troubleshooting issues, taking overflow calls, and giving breaks.

The city that took the brunt of the rioting incidents was Tukwila. During normal daily operations, Tukwila shares a radio with Des Moines Police and SCORE Jail through patched channels. There was so much radio traffic during the incident that the console was split into three: one for Des Moines Police and SCORE Jail, one primary channel for Tukwila and one tactical channel for Tukwila’s mall area where the looting was occurring.

The two dispatchers working Tukwila coordinated seamlessly, with the primary dispatcher, Sari Beerbower, reviewing each call for dispatch, redirecting any mall area calls to the tactical dispatcher, Nicole Franco, and handling the rest herself. Both Tukwila dispatchers remained composed throughout the constant flow of incoming calls and radio traffic. They didn’t panic when an officer called “code 3” or when the tactical channel stopped working during the height of the incident. Nicole, the tactical dispatcher, adapted to the situation, assigned a new channel and resumed working with minimal interruption.

Each call receiver took a constant flow of 911 calls for more than three hours straight. They spoke to many hysterical and stressed callers while the phone overflow chimer bonged continuously in the background. Breakers had to be extra assertive to get overworked employees up from the almost constant traffic at their consoles. The Operations Manager responded on her night off to oversee the chaos and offer support any way she could, even if it was just to turn down the volume of the overflow chimer. Any dispatcher that was available to take calls did so to keep up with the completely unexpected workload caused by hundreds of lawless rioters. After seeing the news, several employees volunteered to come in on their day and help with the workload. Those already on shift, offered to stay longer – several worked 14-hour shifts. At the end of the day, everyone what they were trained to do, and they did it as a team.

  • STATS:  CAD (Computer Automated Dispatch): From 1900-0000 – 447 CAD incidents entered. (Divided evenly that’s 89.4 calls an hour, 1.49 calls entered per minute.  This is not counting the multiple calls received for the same addresses).
  • PHONES:  From 1900-0000 – 994 emergency and non-emergency calls were received. An average of 198.8 calls an hour or 3.31 calls received every minute.)
  • STAFFING MINIMUMS: Dispatcher minimums were upped from 10 to 12 for the hours of 2000-0000. Call receiver minimums were upped from 10 to 12 for 2000-2200 and from 9 to 12 for 2200-0000.
  • What sets this incident, event or project apart from others that the team has been involved in, to warrant the recognition of the 2020 APCO International Team Award?

The amount of radio and phone traffic received during this event was unlike anything Valley Com had experienced before. Adrenaline and anticipation could be felt throughout the room, like an electric hum. The event was unexpected and alarming to the core, yet every employee rose to the challenge and worked together to manage it the best we could.

Pushing their own political views aside, each person stepped up knowing the ultimate priority is public safety. Several employees working that night reported signs and symptoms of PTSD weeks after the event, but their work ethic and commitment kept them coming back. Working through an event like this is a testimonial to the character and sense of duty that each employee regularly maintains.

Valley Communications Center (VCC) is in Kent, Washington and serves a population of over 785,000 covering an estimated ~443 geographical square miles. We provide dispatch services for nine (9) Police Departments, one (1) Correctional Facility and thirteen (13) Fire/EMS agencies. On a daily average, VCC answers 1,900 calls. VCC’s full authorized staffing is 44 call receivers, 59 dispatchers, and 11 team supervisors, in addition to 22.5 administrative employees.

In 2020, Valley Communications Center handled 409,421 911 emergency calls, with 78% of those call coming from wireless callers. Combined with the 288,534 10-digit non-emergency phone calls, Valley Communications Center took 697,955 incoming calls.

The work environment is fast paced with constant change of workloads and call priorities.

  • Below is a list of each person who contributed to a notable and incredible night of chaos.
    • Brooke Johnson – Kent PD Primary Dispatcher
    • Amara Fitzsimmons – Dispatch Breaker Position
    • Nicole Franco – Tukwila PD Tactical Dispatcher for Southcenter event
    • Meagan Boyett – Fire One Dispatcher
    • Liz Clapp – Renton and Fire Two Dispatcher
    • Sydney McGlothlen – Call Receiver and Renton PD dispatcher – Volunteered to work 14 hours
    • Sari Beerbower – Tukwila PD Primary Dispatcher – Volunteered to work 14 hours
    • Larissa Drashil – Fire Two Dispatcher
    • Ben De La Vega – Fire Three Dispatcher
    • Scott Castonguay – Auburn PD Primary Dispatcher – Volunteered to stay late last minute
    • Rema Strauss – Federal Way PD Dispatcher – Volunteered to stay late last minute
    • Teressa Voss-Curry – Dispatch Breaker Position
    • Peter Permenter –Dispatch Breaker Position and Call Receiver
    • Olivia Manu – Des Moines PD Primary Dispatcher and Auburn PD Tactical Dispatcher – Came in on her day off last minute
    • Tiffany Richard – 911 Call Receiver
    • Megan Hoang – 911 Call Receiver
    • Paul Smith – 911 Call Receiver
    • Ashley Siddle – 911 Call Receiver – Volunteered to stay late last minute
    • Cailin Van Eizenga – 911 Call Receiver – Volunteered to stay late last minute
    • Christina Fisher – 911 Call Receiver Trainer
    • Melissa Ring – 911 Call Receiver
    • Jade Courtright – 911 Call Receiver
    • Karen Gibson – 911 Call Receiver
    • Sydney Bell – 911 Call Receiver
    • Derek Fears – 911 Call Receiver – Came in on his day off last minute
    • Vanessa Young –Dispatcher – Came in to call receive on her day off last minute
    • Trey Crossen – 911 Call Receiver
    • Emily Judd – Dispatcher- Came in to call receive early on her day off last minute
    • Kristi Anderson –911 Call Receiver
    • Veronica Arrants – Supervisor
    • Mark Elliott – Supervisor
    • Crystal Zietzke – Supervisor
  • Length of Service:
    • Brooke Johnson – 8/1/17
    • Amara Fitzsimmons – 6/9/2014
    • Nicole Franco –6/26/06
    • Meagan Boyett –6/16/2015
    • Liz Clapp –1/30/12
    • Sydney McGlothlen – 2/20/18 (no longer works here)
    • Sari Beerbower – 8/15/05
    • Larissa Drashil – 2/4/08
    • Ben De La Vega – 1/3/11
    • Scott Castonguay –11/16/1987 (now retired)
    • Rema Strauss –7/18/01
    • Teressa Voss-Curry – 7/11/16
    • Peter Permenter –1/3/11
    • Olivia Manu – 7/3/07
    • Tiffany Richard – 1/9/17 (no longer works here)
    • Megan Hoang – 11/12/13
    • Paul Smith – 4/4/16
    • Ashley Siddle – 9/8/19
    • Cailin Van Eizenga – 11/6/17 (no longer works here)
    • Christina Fisher –11/12/08
    • Melissa Ring –9/8/19
    • Jade Courtright – 9/9/19
    • Karen Gibson – 6/16/2015
    • Sydney Bell – 9/8/19
    • Derek Fears –7/11/16