Wayne Sheriff’s office, 911 dispatch exercise simulates outage

Wayne Sheriff’s office, 911 dispatch exercise simulates outage
Doug Hunter

Wayne Amateur Radio Club member Eric Mast, left, and Wayne County Sheriff Sgt. Eric Peters prepare for their patrol during a recent simulated exercise where a cyber attack compromised all communications. Mast, a licensed amateur radio operator, provided communication from dispatch using his Very High Frequency radio equipment.


The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office and 911 emergency dispatch recently held a simulation that included a complete voice and data communications breakdown due to a cyber attack.

Capt. Doug Hunter of the sheriff’s office said the exercise was complex because the dispatch center had to remain operational while the drill played out.

“Certainly, this was a worst-case scenario, and we put some pretty strict rules in place so no caller was ever in danger or unable to receive the fastest response we are capable of,” Hunter said. “If there were a severe incident, we would have terminated the exercise and resumed using our digital dispatch system.”

Hunter said 911 was operating alongside the simulation in real time as dispatch personnel continued to field calls and monitor emergencies.

For law enforcement, communication is an essential part of doing business. Using the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System, each officer on duty can hear the calls and the communication between dispatch and responding officers and have a sense of what is taking place in case they are called into action.

During the simulated outage, officers had no way of communicating and had to rely on alternate methods of communication, like amateur radio.

Dispatch transmitted information to officers using Fldigi (Fast, light, digital modem). This application allows standardized documents commonly used by first responders to be sent over the air using amateur radio equipment without internet or other network protocols.

According to Hunter, during the exercise a request was made with an operator in Summit County via Fldigi to use his radio equipment to distribute an email message using a Canadian email server.

“In an emergency, amateur radio offers more than voice communication,” Hunter said. “We requested the services of licensed amateur radio operators from the Wayne Amateur Radio Club with incident command training. They know how public-safety operations work. An exercise like this is done purposely so you can build those relationships. When an emergency occurs, that is not the time to learn those techniques.”

Hunter said the simulation relied on volunteers making their equipment available and being present to transmit information over the amateur radio frequencies to responders on the scene.

Dispatch operator Josh Glessner said the simulation forced him and his team of dispatchers to put their best foot forward and rely heavily on teamwork to accomplish their goals.

“Previously, we used the pen and paper method, which created some issues with penmanship,” Glessner said. “For this scenario we utilized a fillable (Adobe) PDF file on our computers. Using the PDF, we are able to eliminate information that could be misconstrued due to the inability to read someone else’s writing.”

The exercise proved to be thought-provoking for Glessner.

“I really give credit to Capt. Hunter for his work in the amateur radio community locally,” he said. “But I started thinking about what other agencies are doing. What if we needed to be in contact with them or an out-of-county entity?”

Those types of questions are precisely what Hunter wanted to hear after the simulation concluded.

“This was a practice session that occurred on a Saturday morning,” Hunter said. “But what if it happened at 2 a.m.? How fast could we mobilize volunteers, get their radio system set up and be back in operation? Those are some of the areas that we will look to refine.”

Dan Starcher is a public communications specialist for the Wayne County government.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load