Computer-aided dispatch comes to the Ozarks
Stone County, MO, turns to Windows NT-based CAD to facilitate consolidation of emergency services response.
In the past, computer-assisted dispatch (CAD) systems were out of financial reach for all but the largest cities and wealthiest communities. Now, new technologies are delivering the benefits of emergency response automation to even rural areas in middle America. One such example is Stone County, MO, a small (30,000 citizens) but fast-growing county adjacent to the country-music tourist attractions in Branson, MO, and the Ozarks recreation lakes.
Stone County was faced with rapid population growth, a swelled temporary population during peak tourist seasons, no emergency 9-1-1 service and a push from citizens for an automated system. County officials decided to build a centralized, consolidated dispatch operation to handle calls for police, fire and ambulance services.
Newer CAD systems, unlike the proprietary systems of the past, are based on hardware and software industry standards and deliver the ease of installation, reduced operational costs and flexibility for upgrades that Stone County requires. Using computers to automate 9-1-1 public safety answering points (PSAPs) and dispatch centers, including fire, emergency medical services (EMS) and law enforcement services, CAD provides an automated method of logging calls, dispatching units and tracking activities. This makes emergency vehicle dispatch operations more efficient, more manageable and easier to track.
Stone county has nine volunteer fire departments that must be coordinated in the dispatch system, as well as two EMS districts, a county sheriff’s department and multiple city police forces. To address the county’s need for advanced integration of disparate services, Malcom Vedane, director of emergency services for Stone County, required a CAD vendor with the systems and expertise to handle the various reporting needs of the three emergency categories, as well as the ability to accommodate different jurisdictions.
Currently, Stone County relies on two dispatch centers, one operated by the county sheriff’s department and the other within the Kimberling City’s police department. Neither center has significant automation. Because the existing decentralized structure was inconsistent with a 1996 referendum in which Stone County voters approved funding for both new 9-1-1 and CAD systems, county leaders chose to give voters the opportunity to once again make an investment in the future of the county’s emergency systems. In a bold move toward progress and integration, the citizens overwhelmingly approved the construction of a new, centralized dispatch center in 1998. The county plans to be fully operational by December 1999. [The center’s implementation will be covered in a future issue of MRT.]
Growing pains and rough terrains Stone County faces peculiar population challenges. In close proximity to the numerous entertainment complexes of Branson as well as nearby recreational lakes, the county’s population can expand to a million people in the spring and summer when tourists flock to these popular destinations. The tourist season brings more car accidents, traffic jams and other routine roadway mishaps that place a burden on emergency services.
In addition, the county’s permanent population is climbing, making Stone the second fastest-growing county in Missouri. To accommodate the rapid growth, Vedane sought a CAD system with the flexibility and scalability to grow along with the county.
Stone County officials also have a few geographical quirks to worry about. The county is long, north to south, but narrow and crisscrossed by mountain ridges. Because Stone County has many hills, the new dispatch center requires high ground so that radio signals transmitted from the center can reach all parts of the area. To accomplish this goal, the county is building the center on a ridge about 1,400 feet above sea level. Radio repeaters are also being installed throughout the county to push signals to outlying areas.
“We can’t change the roads, straighten the curves or shorten the mileage between a fire station and a burning house,” Vedane said. “The only thing we can do is get the call into the dispatch center, get the call defined as to what is needed as quickly as possible and then instantly dispatch and do everything we can to make sure the driver has the tools to get there via the shortest route possible.”
Matching necessity with CAD After considering reporting capabilities, mapping features, affordability and the ability to coordinate multiple fire and police departments, as well as ease of use and training, Stone County selected CAD Assist 2.4 from Global Dispatch Technology.
“What particularly interested me was Global Dispatch Technology’s willingness and ability to make product enhancements that suit the needs of a moderately sized yet dynamic county like us,” Vedane said. “Quite frankly, we were looking for somebody who has the system flexibility to fit us. We found that with CAD Assist and Global Dispatch.”
The CAD software is based on mapping technology, digitized information rather than purely database information. The system is designed for dispatch centers serving communities less than 250,000 people. The software is customer-configurable and works on a Windows NT platform. As many as 45 layers of physical and political landmarks (streets, hydrant locations, commercial business, etc.) can be overlaid on the mapping, which is based on BLR subscription maps.
By making emergency vehicle dispatch operations more manageable and easier to track, the CAD system is helping Stone County achieve the increased efficiencies its citizens expect. Now, emergency services management can program custom information into the system, such as what specific type of response vehicle should be dispatched to particular types of incidents. This relieves the individual dispatcher from the pressure of making spur-of-the-moment decisions about which units to send.
The CAD system’s flexibility and mapping functionality are critical tools that help Stone County communicate and coordinate resources among its various agencies. The ability to easily change zones-that is, the zone from which a unit responds to an incident-was a particularly important consideration, given the rapid development and population growth of this area. Stone County can update the system to include new subdivisions and commercial developments in the mapping database.
With all these features working together, the CAD system instantly lets dispatchers know from what district a call originates and also identifies which emergency agency should respond. Because the county’s law-enforcement agencies operate in geographic districts, each agency has a district from which it collects taxes and provides service. All this information is identified in electronic maps within the CAD system, and each address in the database is accompanied by its district information and the emergency agency that provides service in that district. From this database, Stone County is customizing its application of the software by adding information on which agencies provide back-up help in particular zones.
Flexibility in report writing was also a central consideration for Stone County. The CAD system is designed to produce reports tailored for law enforcement, fire and EMS agencies that include patient name and information, mileage the unit travels to the incident scene, automatic location identification (ALI) and automatic number identification (ANI), response time and other customer-specified reports. The mileage information, in particular, is important because emergency agency billing is based partially on how far units travel to an incident.
The benefits of Stone County’s new CAD system are readily apparent to the leaders of the region’s emergency services.
“Our area faces the kind of complex, growth-related management challenges that are typical of municipalities our size,” Vedane said. “Now that these cutting-edge CAD technologies have been made affordable, we can capitalize on the amazing advantages of automation. We’re extremely pleased with CAD Assist and look forward to the many opportunities its flexibility presents for us.”