Region Forward Blog

Q&A: Charles County's 9-1-1 and Public Safety Communications Chief Tony Rose

Jul 12, 2017

A native of metropolitan Washington, Chief Tony Rose has served Charles County in a public safety capacity for several decades. As the Chairman of the 9-1-1 Directors Committee at COG, Rose leads local government 9-1-1 directors, state and federal partners, and landline telephone and wireless communication system providers as they work to coordinate 9-1-1 technologies and plans to better serve residents across the entire region.

How did you get into public service?

When I was a child, the fellow that lived next door was a captain in the local volunteer fire department. He introduced me and my brothers to the fire department when we got older, and my interest just took off from there.

I’ve served Charles County for almost forty years now. I started as a Fire and EMS Dispatcher, and eventually became a Shift Supervisor. I left communications for a little while and went into planning and growth management. Then, the Chief position opened up, and I've been doing that now for 20 years.

How long have you been involved with COG?

Charles County’s initial introduction to COG occurred around 2005. The county had just deployed a public safety radio system, and suddenly we were faced with managing this monster. We didn't really have an idea of how to do that. Fairfax County sent a group over to help. They were helpful, respectful, and friendly, and we built a rapport. That interaction ultimately led us to being invited to sit in on the Radio Systems Subcommittee at COG. We got to know all of the players from around the region—such as the radio systems managers—and picked up best practices. Ultimately, Charles County chose to become a member of COG.

What do you think are some of the region's biggest challenges?

I think that citizens in the metropolitan Washington region are extremely lucky to have COG involved in public safety and transportation matters. COG brings leaders from various agencies and different disciplines together into a sort of think tank, and a number of very valuable things have been born out of this cooperation and collaboration—like interoperability.

The radio system interoperability that we share in this region is unparalleled, and we are continually working together to ensure it is operating as efficiently as possible. We could easily put an army of fire/EMS employees and resources on the scene of an emergency anywhere in this region, but there’s a ripple effect created by that action. It is critical for all of the communications centers in the region to easily be able to talk to each other to identify gaps and fill them appropriately.

COG has various committees and subcommittees working on these issues. There are police chiefs, fire chiefs, emergency managers—but COG originally didn't have a 9-1-1 group. 9-1-1 is essentially the tip of the spear. They're the first in all the time—the ‘first of the first responders.’ So, the 9-1-1 Directors Committee was born. The committee brings the collective intelligence of all of the 9-1-1 leaders from around the region together at the same time to share best practices, to share things we need to stay away from, to plan the future, and to architect our future—as in Next Gen 9-1-1.

One of the things that I’m most proud of is that the committee recently engaged the wireless community – like Verizon and Sprint—and they are attending our meetings. After working through a couple of 9-1-1 outages, we realized we didn’t have a communications path to these folks. We are building that relationship now to serve us today, but they will also be an important player in Next Gen 9-1-1.

Then there’s Metrorail. You’ll recall there was a smoke incident in the system in 2015 during which a resident, Carol Glover, lost her life. Riders were not able to dial 9-1-1. We have been engaged with Metrorail to address that problem and other emergency protocols. We continue to work with them so citizens will be able to make 9-1-1 calls in Metro tunnels.

What is Next Gen 9-1-1? How is the committee working together to implement this in the region? 

Next Gen gives us the opportunity to better support each other on a regional scale.

In a Next Gen environment, 9-1-1 calls are routed based solely on GPS coordinates. If you’re standing four feet over the line in Fairfax County and you dial 9-1-1, your call will go to Fairfax County where it belongs, not to Prince William County or somewhere else. That is a big deal in 9-1-1.

In today’s world, 9-1-1 centers are essentially silos. There are very limited opportunities for us to support each other if there is a disaster. If a center goes down for some reason, they’re mostly on their own. In the Next Gen environment, all of that changes. We can actually pre-program disaster scenarios, so if something happens the system is able to fix itself.

Next Gen—for the citizen—means that if they can’t call 9-1-1, they can text to 9-1-1. Citizens need to know, under all circumstances, we prefer a voice call. Call if you can, text if you can’t. In the Next Gen environment, citizens will be able to send us text messages, pictures, videos, and automatic crash information. There are apps out there that will allow you to input data about yourself and your family; when you call 9-1-1 in a Next Gen environment, that information goes automatically to the 9-1-1 center.

The possibilities with Next Gen 9-1-1 are almost endless because it’s an IP (internet protocol) network. Every single day something new happens in that world. So, it is really very exciting on the user-end—the citizen side.

The 9-1-1 Directors Committee has a workgroup called the Next Gen 9-1-1 Subcommittee. This group of individuals—the ‘workhorse group’—is responsible for developing day to day governance, planning and operations, and technical coordination of the centers that go Next Gen 9-1-1 in the region. They will absolutely assure that there’s interoperability between centers, that they communicate with each other, and all systems are built to the same standards.

How does your jurisdiction benefit from membership at COG?

The absolute payback—that gives back ten times what I put into it—is the opportunity to collaborate. Working with my peers and other jurisdictions and learning what they know has been priceless. Charles County has benefited hugely from a 9-1-1 communications and emergency services perspective. We now have hazmat people and emergency medical personnel that are involved at COG. For me, this has been a really great experience and has benefited Charles County government and citizens a great deal. 

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