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Computer-Aided Dispatch: A New Era of Emergency Response for Pleasantview FPD

Author: Samuel Hageman, EnRoute Emergency Systems

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2013-01-05
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Pleasantview (IL) Fire Station 1.

The evolution of technology poses an interesting challenge for the public sector. Replacing antiquated systems isn’t a straightforward process when those existing systems remain effective. Efficiency isn’t grounds for complacency.  There is no better proving ground for this than an emergency call center, the staple of the public sector. Pleasantview Fire Protection District (FPD), a department in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, has emerged as an example of progressive thinking with their adoption of a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. Implementing technology such as this requires a forward-thinking attitude, abundant patience and a willingness to take necessary risks.

Hesitation is healthy when evaluating new technology. When public safety is at risk, there is no value in rushed decision making. The idea of replacing antiquated technology is not as straightforward when the existing systems are effective. Conversely, without constantly reinventing and challenging standards, technology can become stagnant. During a time period when many neighboring departments were still entrenched in paper-based systems - and would be for years to come - Pleasantview FPD identified a better way to serve the community.

Right: Pleasantview FPD Dispatch Center. 

Decision makers recognize that new systems come with new protocol. That means a new cycle of personnel training, procedural processes, and quality assessment.  Maintaining status quo may seem like the easier course of action; however, technology is not a fad. Technology must be viewed in the same light as all the other equipment, requiring regular assessment and upkeep. When gear isn’t functioning properly, it should be replaced to prevent failure. The vision of CAD implementation is often paired with a budgetary stigma. After 20 years of careful evaluation, decision makers at Pleasantview FPD decided to proactively replace a system that was no longer as effective.

Once the decision to supplement a system is reached, the selection process becomes paramount. Logically Pleasantview FPD reviewed solutions from neighboring departments, as well as EnRoute, their former solutions provider (now part of Infor). The fragile nature of the economy makes cost a critical factor when justifying a new implementation. The need to replace a failing system is balanced out by functionality requirements and the desire to surpass expectations. The cost for implementing CAD systems include more than the software itself. They require considerations such as a geographic information system (GIS) staff, network technicians and data base administration (DBA). Without the resources to accommodate these needs internally, Pleasantview FPD tapped EnRoute to help manage the CAD implementation.

The company forged a blueprint for a technological transition. They provided Pleasantview FPD with a fresh perspective on CAD and helped to maximize the disruptive technology. The latest CAD technology replaces the old mainframe which had single point of failure issues. The new vision for CAD is one of map-centric dispatch, mobile data, text notification and real-time data transfers. The robust nature of the technology is clearly beneficial for users, but the pitfalls of implementation can be telling as well. Many organizations have taken on this project without proper funding or a clear workflow process. The result of this poor planning and rushed implementation can produce programs with underwhelming results or ones that are incomplete.

Shortcomings associated with existing processes led management to weigh the pros and cons of CAD implementation. More often managers contemplate what might happen if the systems aren’t replaced in a timely manner. There is never an ideal time to invest in replacing legacy systems; however, failure to mind the information gap can result in future issues down the road. Replacing a questionable system that is 20 years-old, makes more sense than waiting ten years and being forced to replace an antiquated 30 year-old system regardless of budgetary restrictions.  Caution is a mandate, not a luxury when dealing with public safety technology.

One real-world example of the new system in action, occurred in early hours of a Sunday morning when staffing was sparse. The CAD went down and most essential personnel were difficult to reach at this hour of day. This failure is amplified once the realization that the system has permanently crashed is understood. Not only can this failure occur, but it has occurred and the legacy server had no redundancy or backup. Recovering a 20 year-old server is a challenge in it of itself. This is a technological relic that was during the heyday of the floppy disk, but isn’t a task for an inexperienced user. Rebooting a volatile server in the wee hours of a Sunday is a formidable task that could have been prevented. The ending of this scenario is definitive proof that going the extra mile can truly pay dividends.

When Pleasantview FPD began their partnership with EnRoute, Bill Srejma, the director of communications for Pleasantview FPD, opted to use the extra data-building exercises to learn more about the dispatch product. With the new systems transition on schedule, Bill envisioned an opportunity to turn catastrophe into triumph. With the old system out of commission since Sunday morning, dispatch functionality in the new system was able to come online without a formal transition or training. Rather than struggle to recover the old system, Bill was able to call EnRoute and activate the new dispatch software so that Pleasantview FPD never skipped a beat. Detailed planning and decisiveness helped alleviate a potential disaster scenario. For organizations that are familiar with CAD systems, the gravity of this situation is a compelling endorsement for preventative maintenance.

A well-trained workforce is a crucial part of crisis management. An emergency call center is an atmosphere brimming with tension, the decisions being made convey drastic consequences. This sentiment rings true throughout any public sector department. Any investment in personnel must be weighed against the resources at their disposal. For Pleasantview FPD, ensuring that all equipment from boots to trucks to servers is reliable and efficient is a top priority. Arming a well-trained cadre of workers with best-of-breed technology and training will ensure optimal vigilance in the face of calamity.

The small community on the outskirts of La Grange, Illinois, where Pleasantview FPD is located, may not be well-known; however, the technological strides taken by their fire department stand out ahead of the pack. The ability to evaluate the current assets and account for future innovation makes them a pioneer for the new age of public sector technology. The implementation of their CAD system required a mitigated risk and meticulous planning but the value of investment has brought their residents into the new era of emergency care.

 

With nearly 20 years in Public Safety dispatch technology experience, Sam Hageman has been the Support Operations Manager since 2007 at Enroute Emergency Systems (now a part of Infor).  Prior to that, he served in the Fire/ EMS Service and Law Enforcement, focusing on technology, modernization, and integrations.  In 2004, left the Village of Orland Park in Illinois as Assistant Support Services Supervisor to pursue an opportunity with Infor.  He is a graduate of the University of Phoenix with a Computer Science degree.
For more information on Enroute Emergency Systems, see: http://www.enroute911.com/

 

 

 

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