Technology is converging rapidly
I really enjoy looking at old pictures of early police communications centers. Those were real radios complete with killer high voltage, huge knobs and complicated manual tuning.
Almost certainly, the adoption of this “new” technology created job security for early dispatchers who needed to be engineers as well as call takers. Our 21st-century communications centers hold a similar promise but with a modern twist.
As every tool at the dispatcher’s disposal becomes “digital,” there is an increasing (perceived) need for “data convergence.” The basic aim of this discipline is to present to the dispatcher all information and communications functions in a practical arrangement on a single graphical user interface or computer screen.
When the screen is fully populated, this fancy display looks more like a full-motion arcade game in action.
Personally, when the system crashes, I’d prefer a simple tilt instead of the common “orange screw” or “blue screen of death.”
On the police side of operations, many departments have already adopted variants of several digital disciplines that would really benefit from “convergence.”
This is because each vendor has historically furnished a complete, separate set of computer and terminal equipment. Extending this philosophy to a logical end would make the comm center look like a surveillance monitoring center at a large grocery store — but without the charm and glitter.
In-house computer systems for basic administrative information and “homemade” warrant files evolved first. Then came computer-aided dispatch systems and, most recently, mobile data terminals and even imaging (which we used to call “pictures”).
Add basic Internet access with email to this digital mix, and each dispatcher would need six display screens.
Even the traditional functions of a comm center — namely telephone and radio voice communications — are now expected to have a “digital” presentation.
Several dispatch-console makers tout a phone system integrated with touch-screen radio system control, and at least one has provisions for CAD data integration that can even include images.
- Buttons and lights “seem” more reliable to them than anything computer-based.
- The spatial placement and tactile feel of buttons and lights are preferred over any computer display.
- They want to be able to call the radio shop when any of the equipment acts up or fails — even the computer equipment traditionally supported by I.T. folks.
Because the fundamental functions of a communications center (at least formerly) were configured, set up, and maintained by local shops and Radioman, it seems natural that center managers would turn, at least initially, to this resource for support with “convergence.”
Sadly, circumstances (such as sales conditions and procurement processes) may dictate that center managers aren’t permitted to involve local support until well after the out-of-towners have left with the local loot and the software maintenance agreement is ready to expire.
It’s a certain fact of life that this convergence of presentation is an approaching feature of the future. Public safety agencies, as well as communications centers, are constantly being lobbied by sales folk, service providers and well-meaning consumers to “link up” and receive a swelling stream of data concerning every imaginable facet of emergency operations.
As I’ve discussed before, communications is the key. If the shop is responsible for the fancy CRT consoles, your staff should already be working on a plan for “convergence.”
Have you spoken with your center manager lately? More importantly, has your technical staff visited with software and system providers at any of the product shows or public safety conferences?
Dunford, MRT’s public safety consultant, is technical services consultant for the Lenexa, KS, police department. He is a member of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International. [You can email Dunford at email@example.com ]