Chicago officials announced that a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant paid for a recent $6 million upgrade to its computer-aided dispatch system that coordinates police, fire and emergency medical service 911 calls. One of the most groundbreaking elements of the upgrade is the integration of the Operation Virtual Shield (OVS) video-surveillance camera network into each CAD workstation, said Jim Argiropoulous, first deputy of the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) division that oversees the OVS network.

“911 just turned 40 years-old, so when we look at the technology we have in Chicago, it’s ready for a facelift,” Argiropoulous said. “The natural evolution was to integrate the CAD with our camera-monitoring system as the next-generation of protecting the city and integrating a multimillion dollar video system with a methodical CAD system.”

A UNIX operating system runs the CAD system, which supports applications like video from the surveillance network. In addition, the city installed Hewlett-Packard servers to process the 5.4 million calls the 911 system handles per year. Argiropoulous explained that when a 911 call is received, the CAD system scans the OEMC network to find any camera within 150 feet of the address of the call. Within seconds, real-time video data is accessed through the OEMC server and the camera location appears on the call taker’s screen via a mapping system.

“So when a call for service is delivered to a call taker, without human intervention, the CAD system taps into our video data server and then provides video of the scene to help them ascertain information when dispatching fire, police and EMS,” he said.

Call-takers can pan/title/zoom the camera to capture additional details about the incident, such as suspect identification. If a 911 call originates from a landline or cellular telephone, the phone number and location of the call, including building map and vital information of the surrounding area, appears on the call-taker's map screen as well, Argiropoulous said.

Cities interested in implementing a similar system must consider the expense of the technology, Argiropoulous said. As well, training call-takers is essential to ensure calls are “expeditious and you don’t add another layer of complexity to them,” he said.

“Call-takers need to focus on ascertaining information from the caller, and everything in terms of technology should be a tool—not a hinderance,” Argiropoulous said.