Since 2017, SimpleSense has been untangling the lines of communication for 911 dispatchers and transforming the way first responders receive critical information. Through the secured dissemination of data and an at-a-glance interface, SimpleSense’s platform converts disparate data into actionable insight that first responders need—and delivers it when they need it most.
Simply put, founders Eric Kanagy and Alex Brickner built the platform to do one simple thing: save lives. After thousands of hours of research, experiments, and field interviews, Kanagy and Brickner realized that the best way to accomplish this was to eliminate information silos between emergency services providers.
Joe Weindorf, the newest addition to the SimpleSense team, shares this vision of a straightforward, interoperable means of communication. Weindorf, SimpleSense’s first Public Safety Advocate, is a seasoned safety consultant and licensed private investigator, and previously held positions as a Police Officer, Senior Magisterial Court Judge, and as the Director of Public Safety in Erie County, PA. While Weindorf’s resume speaks for itself and underscores why he’s come aboard, we thought we’d introduce him and highlight what makes him such an asset through a candid Q&A.
Q: Tell me about your time as a police officer.
JW: I started almost 50 years ago. I came on at a time when there wasn’t a big call for the profession, and no one was taking (or passing) the test (The National Police Officer Selection Test [POST]. I think at the time there were 80 of us who took it, 24 passed.
Back in 1972, I started $6,900 a year. So, you had to work a lot of extra to get extra jobs to support a family.
Q: How long were you a police officer?
JW: 12 years, and then I was elected District Judge. I held that position for about 20 years.
While I was a police officer, I ended up earning two degrees in the discipline. I have a bachelor’s in law enforcement and a master’s in criminal justice administration. I went to a lot of trainings, including the FBI Academy. I graduated from the FBI National Academy in 1981.
I also learned how to teach. I took an education curriculum. At the graduate level, I got a very good perspective on how to teach police officers. One of my extra jobs, even after I became a judge, was to teach in what’s called the Act 120, the municipal police officer’s training act, and Act 180, which is the in-service. So I taught and trained pre-service and in-service police officers.
Q: From education to law enforcement, it sounds like you’re well-versed in the state of emergency service. What did you see was the issue in terms of emergency services in Erie?
JW: Well, there are two main issues. One is manpower. The other problem is communication—it’s what brings us to SimpleSense. There were improvements over the years, but Erie County didn’t seem to move much. The vehicles improved, weapons improved, even the uniforms improved. However, we were still pretty much in the dark ages as far as communications.
I noticed this problem when I was in my fourth term and then 9/11 happened. The red flags went up about communications. I think we still see people talking about the lack of interoperability between not only very different disciplines, such as police, fire, EMS, but also the various police departments that are contiguous to one another. They can’t talk, and it’s still that way. For instance, (the city of) Erie can’t talk to Millcreek (Township).
This lack of interoperability was the motivating factor for people to find a solution to a significant communication problem.
I left the office and became the public safety director for the city of Erie. One of my first objectives was to create a team environment. Police and fire as your co-disciplines within a municipality are like oil and water. They compete, and they really don’t get into each other’s world.
Q: You think they’d work pretty closely.
JW: You would think. With that first objective, I was trying to get everybody talking and working together. There’s no animosity, but it’s pretty much like, ‘you go your way, we’ll go ours.’ However, there is a lot more we can do when it comes to saving lives.
Once again, the lingering problem is the lack of interoperability.
Two years after my role in the City of Erie, I ended up moving to Erie County as the countywide public safety director. One of the assignments I was given was to raise enough money to build a facility that would combine everybody into one very target-hardened, state-of-the-art building.
From here, I had to consolidate communications throughout Erie County. At the time, Erie County had almost 40 different frequencies that were being used.
Q: Can you think of a local example where that lack of communication affected an emergency situation?
JW: Just about any type of multi-discipline response—police, fire, EMS—is affected. They’re not communicating back and forth.
There were 11 dispatch centers throughout Erie County, all dispatching their particular areas. There are 38 municipalities within Erie County, and they would be divided into a dispatch area, for example, East County, West County, Emergycare, Millcreek, Millcreek Fire.
There wasn’t much cooperation. This is not to say each area didn’t work with each other tirelessly. However, the cooperation fell apart when different emergency services tried to talk to each other or even train together. So, I was given the task of somehow figuring out how to build a new 9-1-1 Center, from the building to the technology. I was blessed with an excellent team of people. I got everybody smarter than me at the table. That’s the key to leadership: make sure you’re the dumbest one sitting there—you go, and you get everybody at the table that really knows their area inside out.
The team and I traveled to places, such as Chicago, that we thought they may have something we were interested in. We wanted to learn about the best concepts and then build on to it. We started with the concept of building, the building itself, in Erie County. Even today, it’s one of the best in the country. We were able to do it for a fraction of the cost because we did it without a consultant.
We got a bond issued to pay for the project, got the building in order, and started with the concept of how do we get 40 some frequencies talking to one another. The money we had just gotten from the bond issue made it difficult to go back and say, ‘Okay, now we need $30 million for a common radio system’—which we did, we needed it.
Erie County is actually in the process of doing that now. At the time, though, we came up with an interim process that helped us get past the initial phases of what we call the consolidation of communications.
The consolidation itself wasn’t without its political side, we were taking away jobs and upending the status quo. To say the least, it was a difficult sell.
Ultimately, we did succeed and created a new level of interoperability that Erie County is still using today.
Along with that, we thought every emergency vehicle should have a mobile data terminal (MDT). These allow you to not only have voice transmission, but also text coming to you. This technology would let police to do their reports right from the MDT in the car. No running to the station to drop off written reports or anything—everything’s digital.
However, not every department was able to purchase MDTs. Erie Fire Department doesn’t have them, EMS has their in-house MDT, Police have their own MDTs, but they’re not interoperable with other police departments.
Unfortunately, none of them are sharing data.
Q: How did you meet Alex and Eric?
JW: I’m sitting in my office one day and get an email from Alex, saying we should discuss this technology that they developed.
I was skeptical, but I still met them, and within the first couple of minutes I knew what they had. It’s a platform that can be built on endlessly.
Immediately I think of active shooter situations that require a multi-tactical response; that’s where a shared video feed could be game-changing. You see, in almost every other kind of emergency, the first step is rendering aid. However, all of that goes out the window with an active shooter. In this situation, the first step is to stop the shooter. If they don’t, he or she keeps killing people.
So police have to step over injured people. Further, EMS doesn’t go right to the scene in an active shooter situation. They stay back until they’re called in. If they had a video feed, EMS could be locating injured people during this time and getting ready.
Q: Where do you see SimpleSense technology in 10 to 15 years? How do you see that integrating into the current system?
JW: Because of its interoperable quality, I think this technology will become commonplace just like how MDTs [Mobile Data Terminals, essentially laptops in emergency vehicles] became commonplace. It starts from a seed and I think SimpleSense has already planted that seed here in Erie. They already have a powerful corporation like Erie Insurance showing interest.
Q: Why now?
JW: People are naturally skeptical, especially in this space, but when we sit down and talk to these folks, I can explain why this is a valid and valuable solution. Failure here is not something that is taken lightly. It could mean lives. But, this technology will save lives. There’s no question about it.
All this data is there, but it’s in silos; people are sharing files but only in their municipality or department. However, you can’t empty all of that data into the brain of a dispatcher. You need to equip them and first responders with the right tools for the job.
There is also a new generation of leadership, one that grew up with the internet, apps, and information sharing technology. By and large, they’re more receptive and responsive to change, especially if it plays well with the current infrastructure.
Plus, we now have technology for sharing critical information with a proven track record. We use it every day from our phones; we call Ubers, check our bank accounts, and even pay for products.
And, as unfortunate as it is, we’re in a time when active shooter events continue to rise. To effectively address these situations, we need technology that allows us to share information quickly, and to the emergency responders who need it.
It’s Simply About Saving Lives
In some shape or form, Weindorf has spent his entire career exploring and implementing community-focused solutions that make lives better and safer. From experiencing emergency service firsthand as a police officer, to building a state-of-the-art 911 center, his insights into the industry are rivaled by few.
Like the rest of the SimpleSense team, Weindorf wants to synthesize his experience and expertise into a technology that saves lives. With an in-depth understanding of both public and private challenges and how to overcome them, his input will be invaluable when it comes to maximizing the life-saving potential of streamlined communications between departments, municipalities, and private-sector organizations.
Welcome aboard, Joe. We’re happy to have you as part of the team!
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