In the world of public safety, dispatchers play a pivotal role in emergency responses. Severe weather, fire emergencies, and criminal acts all require first responders to get on the scene as quickly and safely as possible. To get them there, dispatchers need computer aided dispatch (CAD) tools.
Explore these feature stories to read about how agencies from across the United States help create safer communities when responding to calls for service.
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When a medical emergency happens in the middle of the woods, it's beneficial for the individual and first responders involved to have navigation tools that can get help to where it's needed most.
According to Denise McKinney, Chief of Communications with Ouachita Parish Fire Department in Louisiana, there are some calls where solid mapping capabilities in the communication center's computer aided dispatch (CAD) system are vital.
"Getting first responders to the scene of a crime or medical emergency is always a priority," McKinney said. "We know that speed is of the essence and dispatchers really work hard to send the right response."
When a call came in regarding an elderly man having chest pains in the woods, the dispatcher who took the call knew that the situation could become fatal without an immediate response.
According to McKinney, the man was with his son and they were more than two miles off the road in the woods where they were duck hunting. Using cell phone location coordinates, the dispatcher was able to identify where the call was coming from and send a response.
"When the call came in, we were able to locate the individuals and identify which section of the woods they were in," McKinney said.
With the cellphone coordinates providing a location and the verbal instructions from the 911 caller, dispatchers used satellite views of the CAD maps to view the first responders en route to the scene. This view helped with navigation so that first responders would get to the precise location where help was needed. Within 20 minutes, first responders were on scene providing help to the elderly man.
"We had the tools necessary to show us where this man was located and we got there quickly," McKinney said. "Thankfully, we have the technological capabilities to get help to where it's needed most as quickly as possible. Without this CAD system, that response would have taken much longer."
With map-based computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems, dispatchers in public safety agencies ensure patrol effectively covers an entire area – not just criminal hotspots. The Greenbelt Police Dept. in Maryland uses this technology to keep their community safe.
In the past decade, mapping has come a long way for public safety agencies and helps first responders get to the scene faster and safer.
When the Douglas County Sheriff's Office in Colorado upgraded to digital maps and did away with their paper maps, it helped improve routing and response times while also reducing crime and increasing officer safety.
According to Capt. Brad Heyden, Douglas County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state of Colorado. With that growth, it is important for the sheriff's office to maintain accurate geospatial information systems (GIS) data.
This GIS data helps dispatchers maintain up-to-date information regarding the county, which helps them send fast and accurate responses to calls for service. The Douglas County's Sheriff's Office utilizes the different map layers offered by the GIS capabilities in their computer aided dispatch (CAD) system to identify parcels and jurisdictions as well as retrieve premise history information and set up perimeters.
"Our GIS is so powerful and robust that even before a new construction project is complete, dispatchers have the building's address in our system," Heyden said. "In the past, having that information in our CAD system would have been impossible."
With these mapping capabilities, the sheriff's office is better able to make use of the data pulled from its public safety software system, specifically in terms of identifying areas in need of more patrol and detailing premise history.
Heyden explained that mapping areas with high calls for service helps CAD administrators and law enforcement officers increase patrol in specific locations, which helps to reduce calls for service in the area due to the presence of law enforcement.
The enhanced premise history capabilities are beneficial for first responders as they are aware of more information while on the scene. This information includes anything from prior contact with the individuals to known associates, specifics about the location including any hazards, drug history, and other details that could be dangerous for responders.
"Detailed premise history really helps make situations safer for first responders," Heyden said.
Spending more time on the road means law enforcement officers keep more criminals off the streets.
When officers have tools to use on the road, such as mobile data terminals (MDTs) – which are mobile computer aided dispatch terminals that allow first responders to communicate with dispatchers and each other from their vehicles - they can accomplish this goal more effectively.
In September 2015, a deputy with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office in Colorado caught two shooting suspects from a neighboring county. The deputy had received a "be on the lookout" (BOLO) alert for the suspects' vehicle through his MDT, so he was aware of the situation. Later that day, when the deputy was on the side of the road completing a report on a previous arrest, saw the suspects' vehicle drive by. He immediately entered the license plate number into his MDT and saw that the plate was expired, which gave the deputy cause to stop the vehicle.
Without the ability to run the plate from the road, the deputy would have had to communicate back and forth via radio with dispatchers to get the same information. While this practice is something all law enforcement officers have done in the past, technology helps to eliminate this step so that officers can access mission-critical information on the road without relying on radio transmissions with dispatch.
Similarly, without the ability to complete an arrest report or traffic citation on the road, law enforcement officers have to return to the office or station, which takes them off the road. In this particular instance, had the deputy been at the station and not on the road, it is possible the suspects would have gotten away.
The individuals in this case were subsequently prosecuted on the shooting charges and one is already serving time in prison for his involvement (the other individual is still in the court process).
Another deputy with the Garfield County Sheriff's Office used his MDT in a case involving a robbery. In this situation, a possible suspect was detained, but the suspect was not carrying any form of identification. The deputy who detained the suspect used his MDT to access an image from the suspect's prior mugshot for a positive identification.
Before using MDTs, deputies had to travel back to the station to receive mug shots or other images necessary for identification purposes. With MDTs, they are able to query with the software to search for and view images almost instantly. This helps deputies save time obtaining a positive identification while out on the field.
"Mobile capabilities greatly increase the overall effectiveness and efficiency of our deputies in the field" Garfield County Sheriff Office's Chief of Communications Andy Haffele said.
In almost every town in the United States, there are areas that the locals know to avoid if they want to get someplace quickly.
These areas could involve one-way bridges, dirt roads that always wash out after a storm, shorter-than-average overpasses and other potential traffic hazards.
But people can’t always know every backroad in each community. This is especially true when it comes to emergency dispatching services.
Since no community is the same, it is important for computer aided dispatching (CAD) software and emergency 9-1-1 dispatchers using that software to also have solid geographic information system (GIS) data to support real-world scenarios that can impact routing.
Imagine leveraging GIS routing data such as one-ways, speed limits, travel time, max height and weight, and anything else specific to a community right within the CAD software. This would ensure a faster, data-driven response and avoid potential traffic hazards that could delay a response.
For instance, CAD software with the ability to take a community’s unique GIS data into consideration would prevent a ladder truck from being routed over a town’s old wooden bridge with a weight restriction or low overhang.
Using this data, dispatchers would be able to route vehicles to a call for service without ever having to worry about the emergency vehicle encountering a scenario that could delay service.
A community’s unique GIS data helps dispatchers to always send the fastest, smartest response.
There are a few ways to dispatch emergency services when a call for service comes in to a call center.
Without computer aided dispatch (CAD) software, dispatchers send transmissions via radio to first responders. These first responders use pen and paper to record the information or commit the details to memory. To get to the scene, they might use their own mobile phone’s routing features, or rely on their own knowledge of the area.
Then there are dispatchers who utilize CAD software and send a response, but are unaware of the unit’s estimated time of arrival (ETA). Once the unit is dispatched to a call for service, dispatchers calculate the ETA based on the unit’s location, speed and route.
What dispatchers and law enforcement officers have learned is that a much more efficient way to get to the scene is through proximity dispatching. With this method, dispatchers see where police, fire and EMS units are on a digital map in CAD software in real-time along with their continuously adjusting ETAs.
The continuously updated ETAs that proximity dispatching relies on are provided through the use of automatic vehicle location (AVL) functionality. This provides the most accurate information possible, so that dispatchers and first responders can see where all units are by looking at their digital maps either in the CAD mapping system or mobile data terminals in patrol cars, fire engines, or other emergency vehicles. Using this information, dispatchers determine which unit should be dispatched to ensure the quickest response.
AVL works by having each emergency vehicle equipped with global positioning system (GPS) functionality. By pre-programming GPS data into an agency’s mobile server, the mobile software located in police, fire and EMS vehicles communicates seamlessly back and forth to dispatch.
This same signal is sent to other units within the agency, all of which are able to view this information using the maps on their mobile devices.
AVL technology continuously sends latitude and longitude coordinates back to the CAD system so that dispatchers always know the location of a unit.
Increasing patrol in areas of high crime is nothing new for most jurisdictions.
According to CAD Manager Mike Dewey of the Greenbelt Police Department, patrolling crime hotspots is a priority. Ensuring other areas of the city are also covered efficiently is something they do as well through the use of their mapping software.
Dewey said he monitors patrol patterns in real time, which helps to identify areas of high saturation. High saturation can indicate areas known for higher crime rates, which leads to an increase of patrol. It can also show where several police cars are following a response to a call for service.
Being able to identify these areas empowers everyone from supervisors to dispatchers to officers in the field to see where each police unit is located.
From there, officers have the ability to move from areas of high saturation to areas of lighter coverage. This maximizes the police department's coverage of the entire city and provides effective coverage for a community.
"Using the software to watch where officers have been recently allows the shift to function as more of a coordinated unit," Dewey said. "Without this ability, it is much more likely that areas in the community would inadvertently get less efficient coverage."
The mapping capabilities of Greenbelt's public safety software also aids in faster response times. For instance, when a call comes in to the dispatch center but has not yet been assigned, officers in the field can see that the call has been queued up and can start driving in the direction where there is a need for service.
In taking this proactive measure, officers are en route faster and arrive on the scene quicker once the address is provided or units are assigned.
"The capabilities of our software system definitely result in faster response times," Dewey said.
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