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Concerning CAD Systems

Author: Bill Weaver, Combix Corporation

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-06-29
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Originally Published in our March 2005 issue.

Many CAD systems today are quite expensive, particularly for the small to mid-range customer.  It's not uncommon to find a single position costing as much as $50K/per seat.  Complexity aside, what we've discovered customers really want is a relatively simple method to receive a call from a citizen, generate a call for service record, track service actions and unit status, and produce performance reports to help better manage the agency.  Some of today's CAD systems require double-digit character sets for simple command line entry.  


Money Well Spent

One of the best lessons learned from establishing and managing a large agency's CAD system was our insistence that we set aside $15K for the project and have teams visit leading agencies to understand what was out there, who had the best story to tell, and what products best fit our needs (as we knew them at the time) without modification.  This was the best decision the group ever made and really allowed the user group to better understand the environment, some of the challenges faced by others, and learn from the mistakes others might have made.


Training Delivery

Training systems today often require the user to go off site or off the dispatch floor room to receive training in the system.  In some cases, if we sent a dispatcher to the academy for training, that was a 30-mile round trip.  We insisted on having the ability to train on site in either call taker or dispatcher mode.  Working collaboratively with the vendor, we created a tutorial that walked the student through each session of the user manual, each major function of the user manual, and created mock situations that required action by the student.  A 25 question level appropriate quiz was provided at the end of the training session, and served as the student's training record and grade.  What's more, if the center got busy with an influx of calls, the student could pause the lesson, and return to a "production position" quickly.  When the spike or event passed, the student continued on the lesson to completion.

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Transition Problems

The transition from older DOS-based systems to full-blown WINDOWS has not been an easy one for some agencies.  Add to that the dispatcher's love for command line entry and the problem quickly grows.  In any system upgrade, particularly moving from DOS to WINDOWS formats, we help the customer identify the top 20-25 command line commands they use most regularly and add (or modify) these to our system to make the transition smoother and the new system seem like an "old friend."


Do you want RMS with that Order?

Command and control systems, like CAD, and performance management and data collection systems, like RMS, are often two different systems quite often purchased from and maintained by different vendors.  Our research has shown that customers prefer a system from a single vendor saving the often "considerable" systems integration costs proposed by some vendors to integrate their product with another vendor's or to simply allow their product to receive data from another vendor.  And, each vendor has their own system maintenance cost for each application they provide.  Taking the lead from our customers and applying our underlying research, our business decision for the small to mid-range market segment is to offer both CAD and RMS as a bundled solution and a standard product offering.  We offer a similar solution for RMS: Station house and infield reporting software in a bundled solution.


Get It In Writing

"We'll work with you" is probably the scariest phrase ever to come out of a vendor representative's mouth.  Our experience has shown that customers who believed this verbal pledge quite often found that "we'll work with you" really means we'll give you a quote for the things (functions, capabilities, integration, etc) we don't provide now.  One way we've addressed this is to provide the customer with a list of things that we will do to "work with" them at no additional charge to the customer.  This allows us to be clear and straightforward with the customer, and sets the proper expectation level for both parties.  It's often the little things that can cause the greatest rift in a business relationship and this "we'll work with you" clause is a HUGE one.


2D versus 3D

CAD systems, particularly those with integrated mapping systems, traditionally use 2 dimensional (2D) files to display data related to an event or location on a map.  MSDS safety sheets, floor plans, .pdf files, etc.  Today a third dimension or 3D image is required, particularly for multi-story facilities (hotels, jails, etc) and facilities designated as public safety or homeland security assets.  Many CAD vendors are only now beginning to understand the value and challenges of 3D data to command and control in public safety operations.  As the desktop becomes more powerful, and GIS systems become more common in public safety, we will see more and more 3D data provided to the dispatcher or incident commander on which to make decisions. 


William C. “Bill” Weaver, Jr. is Vice President – Sales/Product Management for Combix Corporation.  He has had over 20 years experience in law enforcement and public safety communications in the Houston, TX Police Department and is the author of numerous articles on public safety communications and command & control systems.

Sidebar 1:

What Is Most Important in a CAD System?

  • The ability to display incoming telephone calls as an icon on a map, and being able to selectively answer those calls from the map icon.  Example = if we are receiving 25+ calls reporting a fire at the east end of the county and a separate emergency medical call is coming in from the west end of the county, I want the ability to selectively answer that 26th call out of sequence by clicking on the icon displaying that call on the map.  I don't want that separate emergency to have to wait in queue behind 25 other calls all reporting one incident.
  • The ability for the CAD system to recommend the closest, most appropriate resource, through AVL, regardless of station or beat order
  • The ability to have separate response algorithms for separate agencies – very important when you dispatch for multiple agencies, each with differing response algorithms.
  • The ability to have the CAD system automatically steer the radio system.  I would like the CAD system to select the most appropriate radio channel and mountaintop transmitter for a specific incident, and the ability to transmit on that frequency & mountaintop directly from the CAD screen.
  • The ability to have EMD protocols automated in CAD by call type, and the responses to the questions be captured and retrievable.
  • System Status Management/move-up modules.
  • Snapshot and GIS playback features.  It takes an extraordinary amount of time to manually recreate the circumstances surrounding a specific incident and there is continuously a need to do so.  A system that can perform a snapshot of the location and status of all units at a specified date/time is essential. 
  • The ability for the CAD system to integrate with the logging recorder system.  I would like to be able to query through the CAD system by incident number and have all telephone and radio traffic associated with that incident identified and accessible without having to search through the logging recorder.

- Steve McClellan, Fire Communications Manager, Ventura County Fire Protection District



What Basic Functions Must A CAD System Provide?

Functionality: A CAD system must provide, at minimum, the basic functions that enable dispatchers to process calls quickly and easily.  These include: verifying caller location; determining incident type; and initiating a process to send responding vehicles.  The application needs to respond quickly to any potential changes in the incident, such as changes in incident type or escalation in severity that result in additional resource recommendations or substitutions.  CAD must provide a reasonable degree of control and automation to allow the dispatcher to manage these processes.  Automated functions should include: rip and run report printing, paging, station alerting, validating information, retrieving relevant property information, warnings, alerts and timers for responding personnel – leaving the dispatcher free to focus on the transactions that require human intervention. 

Configurability: Being able to easily customize the application to facilitate the dispatcher’s workflow, collect data, manage benchmarking, and give users an environment that appears intuitive to their tasks.  Configurable system response logic is also vital to suiting the user’s needs.  Users should be able to make changes without vendor assistance and without a major system shutdown.

Integration: Immediate access to any data that might be beneficial to the call.  The CAD system should integrate completely with Records Management System (RMS) so that any information in the database is immediately available to the dispatcher.  CAD should also be able to message to other CAD systems where a joint or tiered response is needed.  This integration should occur seamlessly and should be invisible to the dispatcher.

Mobile integration: The CAD application should easily integrate with mobile devices to deliver information to and communicate with emergency responders in the field.

Processing Speed: The CAD system must be easy to use and capable of processing the required information for any call within 30-45 seconds, from the initial Call entry to Dispatch.

- Ed Colin, President, FDM Software Ltd, North Vancouver, BC.




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