Project – Regional Shared Computer Aided Dispatch System
Over the years since the introduction of Computer Aided Dispatch Systems, the approach in implementing and operationalizing CAD systems have utilized the approach of a single system per Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). This design initially was made up of a mainframe computer system, where the workstations were connected to the mainframe over serial connections running at either 9600 kbps or 19.2 kbps, running terminal emulation, which converted the information into a usable format for operations personnel. Some CAD systems had the ability to run a proprietary mapping system, which would show the location of calls for service, along with the units which were assigned (dispatched) to the call and their status.
In time, technology progressed, where the servers started to gain the ability to provide more processing power in a smaller physical cases and requiring less power to run them. There were advancements for computer workstations as well. They became capable of better handling the multitasking needs for CAD with faster processors, more memory and larger hard drive storage and enhanced graphical user interfaces (GUIs). These advancements, allowed workstations to be connected via local area networks (LAN) and even wide area networks (WAN) eliminating the distance limitation imposed by the use of serial connections to the server. Along with the hardware advancements, software enhancements created the ability to add mapping capabilities that would provide for a more detail and information by being able to add detail related to the geography, such as water, parks, airports, railroads, aerial photographic images, which provided even greater detail about what existed at or around specific locations or addresses.
The one PSAP one system approach, required all of the work to build out the system such as GEO file, Run cards, common place name, intersections, and GIS mapping, were handled by the CAD Software provider and the PSAP staff where the system was being installed. If the jurisdiction implementing CAD did not have city style addresses already available, typically had to perform some type of addressing project to ensure that good address and location information was programmed into the new CAD system.
From throughout the late 1980’s, 90’s and throughout the current day, the effort to move toward centralized countywide 9-1-1 communications centers, was usually accomplished by local community dispatch centers closing to join the newly formed regional or county 9-1-1 operation. Over time, even those centers that opted to remain open, closed over time for various reasons.
The 9-1-1 centers that were tasked with taking on the responsibility for servicing these new areas did not typically have to be concerned with integrating existing systems into their own, as the smaller community based systems did not have automated systems for handling their dispatching needs. In larger cities or region based operations, the presence of automated systems for dispatch were used and in some cases, the technology was deployed with more functionality than what existed in the county communication centers they were migrating too.
The transition can be a challenging one for all involved. There are many things that require thought and attention before the integration of information can begin. Information regarding the type of nature codes, response patterns, GPS, AVL, Mapping, Mobile data terminals and Reporting criteria, along with any Records Management Systems being utilized should be discussed by those who are tasked with working through the consolidation of systems into a single system which will be used to provide dispatch service going forward.
Even before the parties involved can start to agree on things such as nature codes, response types, response plans, and emergency service zones (ESZs), an effort must be made to ensure all involved speak the same language and terminology. This is especially important if any of the parties have used CAD previously or it exists in their current operations. Should the participants not be of the same understanding based on their understanding of the terminology, it will create an environment ripe for misunderstandings, misinterpretations and miscommunication. Attempting to consolidate systems in this type of atmosphere, only makes the task more difficult, if not impossible to achieve a successful outcome.
Once the potential language barrier has been addressed, the project team is able to get down to business and work on the specific information that will be required to consolidate systems. If you are participating in an effort such as this, it is important to have patience, keep an open mind and not be too quick to judge how other agencies may want to do things. Compromise is a key factor in successfully getting through the many items you will need to review and decide how they will be utilized and handled going forward.
Information that may be important to you and how you track that information, may not be available or may require different work flows to obtain the data and information on the new system. Identifying potential “work around” solutions that provide for a desired outcome is not uncommon when agencies are seeking to have their system perform in a certain way or to obtain information required to service their end users.
In reality, it is easy to actually build tables, create data layers and to program response patterns into the CAD system, it is the willingness to work together, establish common ground and trust between those on the project team that are a necessity to enjoy a successful project outcome.
Fast forward to the current day. 9-1-1 Agencies, like all other government agencies are be required to do more with less resources. Government Leaders are looking for ways to hold the bottom line and keep the need to raise taxes in check. With this has come a concept being referred to as “Regionalization”. Regionalization has been defined as the sharing of back room equipment, software and maintenance. This concept is an effort to allow agencies to “cost share” in Capital purchasing, operations and maintenance costs, along with staff resources required to support these systems.
Consolidating systems as discussed throughout this brief has been difficult enough. Now when you have two or more counties, along with State Agencies and possibly federal agencies involved depending on your local circumstances, it is highly likely that you will need some assistance to keep your project on track, due to the many complexities you will face.
Getting a group of Counties together is not easy and will require effort. Someone will need to step up and become the “Champion” for a Regionalization effort, identifying potential partners. Once this has been completed, a series of meetings will be necessary. All of the parties will need to participate. Early on in these meetings, discussions should be held to determine which systems maybe shared between the parties, along with establishing governance, leadership, procurement and support needs for the group.
This may be accomplished in a number of ways, which will be largely driven by the laws in your state or commonwealth as it pertains to “Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreements”, “Intergovernmental Agencies”, or Authorities. It is possible to accomplish the task of regionalizing without forming a formal IGA, but it is something you will have to determine, before proceeding with any purchasing and sharing of costs.
Once the group has started your governance, an assessment should be performed on all of the systems which may be shared. It is likely that all of the participants are not on the same system platform, whether it be telephony, CAD, Radio, Logging Recorder or GIS.
The assessment should not only provide a baseline on where each participant is currently with respect to each system, but it should identify any wide area network possibilities, as this will be a key component in being able to share systems between counties, state agencies and federal agencies.
In addition to the assessment, the parties should discuss how the system will be configured and deployed going forward. Will it be a single redundant host configuration, a geo-diverse redundant host configuration etc. This is important as not everyone will have a “CAD Server” in their equipment room, only a host site will have this type of equipment. If you are not a host site, then you are referred to as being a remote site on the system. This approach relies on the workstations being connected to the host site on a wide area network, or an ESInet. The network requirements for public safety demand a large amount of dedicated bandwidth and throughput, along with five nines of reliability and uptime.
Network facilities deployed for regional shared systems use must be capable of meeting Public Safety Grade (PSG) criteria. PSG criteria is necessary for public safety agencies to accomplish their mission, it requires their systems to have a high availability and high resiliency, with the capacity to provide for the operational capability required to ensure receipt and response to requests for service from the public. These facilities can be made up of Dark Fiber, Lighted Fiber (subscribed bandwidth), and Leased Network facilities from a telephone company or other service provider or by using microwave technology. It is important that these networks be configured in a manner which provides each public safety agency with a self-healing topology, which is scalable and with diverse connections into and out of each of the PSAPs participating in the regional shared CAD system project to ensure that cable cuts, equipment failures or other types of interruptions, do not cause a loss of service for 9-1-1 operations.
The next step after completing the assessment is to take the information provided in the recommendations and either work with an existing vendor to develop a strategy on how to migrate from individual standalone systems, to a regional shared system platform. Should this not be an option, then seeking assistance from a firm which has expertise in accomplishing this type of effort is advisable.
Once you are in a position to do so, you will need to decide whether or not you want to go first with a Request for Information (RFI) or you want to use a request for proposals (RFP), where companies that provide CAD systems, supply information in response to the RFP, detailing how their product would meet your technical and operational requirements, based on the information gathered on the regional shared CAD solution for all agencies who are participating in the project.
It is important to note, how you establish your governance and structure for the group will have a direct impact on the procurement and contracting process you have to use and ultimately work through should you need to work through any issues that may arise.
Once the procurement and contact phase of the project are complete, you are ready to start the implementation phase of the project. You will need a project manager (PM) to represent your interests on the project and to interface with the CAD Company. The PM is your single point of contact and responsible for the installation and cutover of the CAD project.
More agencies are looking at the potential benefits of regionalizing or other outside the box approaches on how they are able to improve services, while reducing or holding the budget line on capital, operations and maintenance costs.
In choosing to share the CAD system through a regional effort, agencies are able to standardize their approach to functional and operational capabilities. Some of these capabilities are sharing GIS data, transferring calls for service, requesting units for mutual aid response, disaster recovery and sharing support personnel (trainers, maintenance and IT).
For more information on how you might accomplish a regional approach to CAD or other technology, contact Essential Management Solutions today. Our experienced staff will be happy to speak with you and to assist you with all your public safety technology needs.
EMS staff have experience in 9-1-1 and Emergency Management systems and technology. They have been involved in leadership roles for projects related to regionalizing dispatch systems and operations, such as 9-1-1 Telephony, Computer Aided Dispatch, Radio Communications systems and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Essential Management Solutions (EMS) is a Government and Public Safety Consultancy working with State, County and local agencies.