City of Allen launches new computer-aided dispatch system
Photos courtesy of Allen City TV -- The city of Allen's newly updated computer aided dispatch system, or CAD, is intended to shorten emergency response times by streamlining the process by which vehicles respond to emergency scenes. The system now automatically tracks emergency vehicles and dispatches them based on their proximity to the scene and provides tools for dispatchers to better help callers in need of medical help.
When police officers and firefighters are dispatched to an emergency, response time is everything. A few minutes can mean the difference between life and death in the case of medical emergency or violent crime situation.
It is for that reason public safety officials in the city of Allen think the city's new computer-aided dispatch system, or CAD, can speed up the dispatch process -- and potentially save lives in the process.
The $1.9 million system, designed by the TriTech company, went online in April of this year. It combines real-time vehicle location tracking, highly accurate map data and automated medical protocol software to streamline the emergency response process and help bring those closest to the scene to the site as quickly as possible.
The system works by tracking the locations of all emergency vehicles in the city. When a call is entered into the system by a dispatcher, the nearest vehicle or station is automatically detected and all relevant information -- including step-by-step GPS directions -- is sent to whomever can respond most quickly.
"Previously, we responded to calls based on what district they were in," said Allen Fire Department Division Chief Jonathan Boyd, who helped implement the system. "For example, if the central district was the area that was around [the incident], it didn't take into account if you happened to be coming back from the hospital or happened to be driving in another area. So now, if the ambulance is coming back from the hospital, if they get a call, even if its not in their district, if they're the closest one they'll go to it. So it has the potential to save several minutes in some cases."
The system uses the city's most up-to-date GIS data and calculates the fastest route of travel using speed limit information and traffic light locations. It can even display the location of individual fire hydrants and display the location of other emergency vehicles at the scene for en-route responders looking for the most optimal way to position themselves on the scene.
"Wherever fire trucks park has to be strategic, because once you park a fire engine and you start pulling hoses off of it, it's very difficult to move it," Boyd said. "So we want to make sure that we coordinate the approach to the fire so the correct apparatus is in the right position."
The city's fire stations have been integrated with the system so that when an incident is called in, responders are notified via tones and lights, with an LED readout and automated, over-the-PA voice providing detailed information about the call.
"In the past, the only alert we had was a tone and a human voice that would tell us the address," Boyd said. "Sometimes you couldn't get the address and the type of call very quick because of misunderstandings. But now it's an automated voice. We have the address and type of call scrolling across the LED screens. We have lights that come on to alert the firefighters even quicker."
Dispatchers can also now give real-time emergency medical instructions to callers using a sophisticated computer program called ProQA, which replaces the manual flip card system that was previously in place.
"They had to flip through the card deck manually and follow a manual routine, where now the system learns as you go," said Sid Hudson, director of information technology for the city. "If it's a heart attack victim, through the clicks and keystrokes that they put into ProQA, it automatically starts taking them down the correct road to help that heart attack victim, while parallel to that a dispatch is happening and an ambulance is being sent."
In addition to the system updates, dispatchers are now wired into a live feed of TxDOT's highway cameras along the 75 corridor in Allen, allowing a real-time view of everything from specific accident locations to highway conditions.
"We're one of the few cities that actually have live access to those cameras," Boyd said. "Anybody can look at those cameras on the internet, but those are delayed by a few minutes."
There are still more updates to come. A records management aspect to the system, designed to automatically plug call information into the required record record-keeping paperwork, is also in the works.
"Really, what we're trying to do is reduce the amount of time that administrators and officers have to spend on reporting," Boyd said. "Now with the CAD, a lot of the information is actually downloaded to the report so that the officer can quickly finish that report and it be a very accurate report."
The city is also looking to bring in hand-held electronic ticket writers for police officers that allow citations to be made and printed using simple push-button protocols and an electronic signature.
"At the end of the day, the officers come back in, dock those hand-helds back at the station, and all that information is automatically transferred into the court," Hudson said.
Sgt. Jon Felty of the Allen Police Department said the system should not only help officers cut back on time-consuming paperwork but help the department better allocate its resources through the vehicle location software.
"You couldn't see where everybody was until this system," he said. "It's more efficient. If there's a call in my district and I'm out on a call already, it's going to send other people, and nobody has to make that decision."
While definitive data is forthcoming on the impact of the new system on response times, Hudson said early, unofficial samples seem to show shorter response times.
"The faster we get fire trucks rolling out of stations, the faster we get police cars moving toward incidents, the quicker we help people and the more people that are [saved], whether it's a crime or a medical emergency," he said.
The records management portion of the new CAD system is hoped to be online by the fall, Hudson said.