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9-1-1 Dispatch Technology and the New Situational Awareness

Author: Margaret Moran, Infor Public Sector

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2015-07-24
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Imagine the following scenario: A call comes into a 9-1-1 center for a woman who has fallen and passed out. The call-taker asks the caller for the address where the incident occurred and then verifies it on the 9-1-1 screen. The address is then typed into the computer system, along with the nature of the call and any additional information. The caller stated that she got out of her car and walked into a store and found the woman lying on the floor, unsure whether she passed out or fell.  She informed that the woman was breathing but seemed confused and that she walked next door to dial 9-1-1.

The dispatcher then sends the closest Fire/EMS unit from a station about three miles away from where they believed the woman to be, and the dispatcher tells the caller that help is on the way. The EMS unit is en route, but encounters a traffic light that is out, backing up traffic and delaying the response time, so the unit notifies dispatch. The unit arrives at the call about four minutes later and informs dispatch that there is a large pothole in the street at the driveway, asking dispatch to notify public works. About one minute later, the unit informs dispatch that there are actually two people down and they will advise if they need another unit.

The 9-1-1 dispatch phones start ringing off the hook. Not only are there two women down, but there are two firemen lying on the floor inside of the store. The call-taker asks, “Have they been shot” and the caller answers, “No, they just fell down.”  The call-taker then dispatches a full fire station response, notifies the commander and asks the police department to respond. Upon arrival, the commander sees the computer-printed new business sign in the window and declares the store a hazmat incident.  The firemen put on breathing apparatuses and pull the now four victims out of the store. The two non-EMS people are transported to the hospital by ambulance, while the two firemen/paramedics are taken separately to another facility. Luckily, all four of the victims are released from the hospital later that day.

This scenario needs no imagination, because it actually happened in Florida.

In the past, emergency responders have been satisfied with only receiving basic, essential data for a call, such as the nature of the situation and the location to which they were responding. Over the past 15 years, major advancements in public safety technology systems have allowed first responder dispatchers to provide better information to enhance the decision-making process. Advancements like the launch of wireless networks and the development of digital mapping have automated communications between dispatchers and responders, also improving critical access to data and serving to better protect emergency response personnel and the public who rely upon them.

The first wave of upgrades provided emergency responders with real-time data systems for field use and came in the form of mobile data computers. Digital maps from the dispatch center would plot out calls and provide the command center with better situational awareness. Dispatchers were not able to send the full-array of data to the emergency responders, but the capacity for collecting important data was getting stronger.

Once emergency response providers began using Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) and cell phones, response times were significantly reduced. This advancement provided responders with access to a “true point” for the location in which they were needed, and they were able to leverage this intelligence against the location of available vehicles, allowing the closest unit to respond. These capabilities are now recognized as operational and procedural milestones for the emergency response industry.  

So, looking back at the very real scenario provided above, could the confusion and miscommunication have been prevented? The short answer is yes – and it all comes down to an issue of “situational awareness.” Today’s first responders should demand that if data is available, the existing silos within governmental organizations be “torn down” so it can be disseminated for the health and safety of both employees and the public. Technology exists today that can support the managing of such data and ensure that it’s retrievable in real-time for all municipal workers, not just emergency responders.

Now, let’s revisit what happened in the incident above, and replay what would happen in a state-of-the-art community with next-generation technology: The enhanced 9-1-1 system rings and as the call-taker answers the phon;, the data is automatically sent to the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system. The map instantly centers on the call location and shows not only the recent inbound, call but all open calls and available units in the surrounding area. While the call-taker is verifying the address and learning details about the emergency, the CAD system is querying the loosely-coupled data elements from all systems connected by the address, regardless of whether all systems are provided from the same software company. 

As the information is being presented, the dispatcher continues with the call process, now having the system recommend the closest and correct type of emergency response unit using real-time AVL data. As the route is plotted, the system once again uses real-time situational awareness capabilities and checks live traffic updates to re-route the units to circumvent the broken traffic light - all while displaying the public works information, along with a photo of the pothole that was sent into the 3-1-1 system by a citizen using his smart phone. 

When the units are en route, the hazmat data sheets are flagged, the type of business and assigned violations are known, and only one victim is on-site because the call-taker relayed to the caller to stay out of the store until help arrives.

Believe it or not, the process is not nearly as complex as it sounds; it’s highly intuitive and cost-effective.  The key component is that each department must input the data they receive within a system that can be accessed using other public safety systems. This ensures data continuity and promotes wider access to information that is critical for performing emergency services. Data does not need to be sent from department to department, meaning no time is lost waiting for systems to be updated.


Margaret Moran is Vice President of Public Safety, Infor Public Sector, with worldwide responsibility for software, professional services and support for the Public Safety market. Margaret has been with Infor for close to 25 years. Prior to her current role Margaret served as Director of Sales and Partner Integration. Margaret is an expert witness in the area of public safety communication and workflow, and has testified to the Department of Justice on ADA issues within 9-1-1 systems.  For more information on Infor Public Sector, see



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