South Carolina 911 center replacing on-premises CAD system with cloud-based RapidDeploy solution
Charleston County (S.C.) Consolidated 911 Center today announced that it will replace its on-premises computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system with RapidDeploy’s cloud-based Nimbus CAD during the next year in an effort to enhance the center’s informational capabilities while lowering costs during the next five years.
Charleston County tested RapidDeploy for two years prior to signing the new CAD contract. The 911 center hopes to begin utilizing the RapidDeploy CAD in its operations in November, although RapidDeploy could be ready much earlier, according to James Lake, director of the Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center.
“RapidDeploy would be ready sooner than November of 2020, but we have this thing called a hurricane season,” Lake said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We try not to implement any big changes during hurricane season.”
Lake said the center’s existing on-premises—or server-based—CAD system works well but is limiting, particularly in terms of letting call-takers and dispatchers access helpful information that is stored in online databases. With RapidDeploy Nimbus CAD—cloud-aided dispatch, according to the company—accessing such applications is not a problem.
“They [server-based CAD solutions] are closed systems, so they don’t generally allow an Internet connection into them,” Lake said. “It limits what we’re able to connect to, even things that are commonly used by the general public.
“One of our big deals is that we have railroad crossings all across the county, which delay our response units. But by identifying a company that can give us that [railroad-crossing] information, we can plan a different route for our responders or choose different responders, so we’re not delaying. That type of opportunity allows us to provide a better service to the citizens.”
Another similar example is Waze, the GPS-based navigation application, according to Lake.
“Being able to incorporate live-time traffic into our response plans helps the citizens and the officers choose better routes—the route actually gets chosen for them—which allows them to get there faster and give better service,” he said.
Another benefit of the RapidDeploy Nimbus CAD is its flexible use in the field, Lake said.
“With the server-based [CAD], you have a mobile license that is assigned to the laptop,” Lake said. “With RapidDeploy, it’s user-based. So, whether that user logs in on their laptop in the cruiser, their tablet or their phone, it doesn’t matter. It’s a different concept.
“I think that’s probably been our biggest challenge, adapting to the different way of business. With a server-based, you do things this way; in a cloud-based system, you have more options and you can do it a different way.”
This significantly enhanced functionality does have one financial drawback: a need for more mobile-data subscriptions. As a standalone CAD system, RapidDeploy Nimbus would cost less than the current server-based CAD, according to Lake. However, the additional mobile-data costs will mean that the overall package will be slightly more expensive initially for the 911 center, he said.
“I expect to pay a little bit more on Day 1 when we go live,” Lake said. “But, over the next three to five years, I’m going to be able to shut down systems that will result in a cost savings.
“As an example, we have a company that provides us with geographic data and predictive models on where the next call is going to occur. Based on the RapidDeploy platform, I will no longer need that program. I can remove that program—resulting in cost savings—without any additional costs on the RapidDeploy side.
“And, because we’ve gone to a cloud-based system, I’m able to reduce the servers that I use. In the next five years, it’s estimated that we’ll be able to shut down approximately 15 to 20 servers that we’re obviously paying an annual service fee on, as well as the replacement cost for those.”
Removing these servers also will free personnel to work on different initiatives other than maintaining servers, according to Lake.
Obviously, I could do away with the positions, if I wanted to, but I’m finding the ability to repurpose them,” he said. “As times change and technology changes, I’m taking these great people and just moving them from maintaining server-based equipment and have them helping maintain cloud-based databases.”
Of course, any cloud-based solution like RapidDeploy requires reliable connectivity to the cloud. With this in mind, Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center has three Internet providers and will utilize FirstNet service as a backup to ensure that the center is always connected via at least one of the redundant links, Lake said. Meanwhile, connecting to the Microsoft Azure Government cloud platform used by RapidDeploy also helps ensure reliability, he said.
Charleston County 911 is a large consolidated center that supports more than 40 agencies, including the seven law-enforcement departments and 20 fire departments. The center also has contracts with the National Parks Service, local colleges and the Joint Base Charleston military facility, Lake said.
With so much critical and sensitive information in the Charleston County Consolidated 911 Center, ensuring the security of the center data is critical, Lake said.
“We always are concerned about security, and we look for all of the mitigation that we can,” he said. “We’re confident that, with Microsoft Azure government service and the expertise that RapidDeploy has employed on the cybersecurity side, our site is pretty secure, as far as we’re concerned.”
For RapidDeploy, gaining the Charleston County 911 contract is a significant step in the company’s rapid growth, according to CEO Steve Raucher.
“For computer-aided dispatch—or cloud-aided dispatch, as we call it in America—that’s our largest single agency,” Raucher said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.
RapidDeploy has made tremendous progress since June 2017, when Raucher attended his first national NENA conference and the company had just three employees.
“We’re actually hiring our 100th employee in January, so the company’s really going through a bit of a growth cycle,” Raucher said. “And still, to this day, we have not made an outbound sales call in America—it’s all inbound. The customers are still coming to us.”
Raucher said he believes believe that this trend of 911 centers adopting cloud-based technological solutions will continue to accelerate, especially as they are proven in real-world public-safety scenarios.
“Our first few customers bet their jobs on RapidDeploy, because we were an unknown entity with a relatively new technology being applied to public safety,” Raucher said. “Now that we have these reference customers in America, it’s much easier for these other agencies to procure, knowing that we are tried and tested and gone through evaluation with very sophisticated customers, like Charleston County, S.C., and Sarasota County, Fla.
“We’re still going through exercises with Collier County in Florida, and there are other statewide implementations in the state of Kansas and the state of California with some of our other products. Every one of these is a validation of our technology, methodology, team and commitment to public safety.”
Lake also said that he believes more 911 centers will opt for cloud-based solutions in the near future.
“Until somebody comes along with something different, I think it probably is the way of the future,” Lake said. “I think the days of maintaining physical servers is becoming too cumbersome. Just like citizens do now with a lot of their pictures and videos—there has to be some type of cloud component to it, so that you can not only store that information but you can [access it] … We need to be able to connect to those programs that are out there that give us live-time data.”