Computer-aided dispatch systems (CAD) has been an essential tool for public safety organizations such as Law Enforcement, Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Security Guard company, first responders, and dispatch personell for decades. Replacing the handwritten and punch card style of call for service management, modern dispatchers have come to rely on CAD’s efficiency. Its advantages continue to improve emergency and routine responses as well as enhance communication between field units and the dispatch center.
As CAD has evolved, the inclusion of single-software record management systems (RMS) and mobile technology have combined to create a state-of-the-art system designed to further the ability of public safety professionals to serve their communities. Additionally, modern CAD software is adaptable to new technology. As a system designed to grow, its benefits will continue to increase.
Public Safety Dispatchers and the CAD system
The organizational structure of a public safety answering point (PSAP), can vary depending on the jurisdiction. Some answer only 911 calls, others provide dispatching for one or more public safety agencies, while others handle a combination of services including emergency medical dispatching in which first aid instructions are given to callers. Regardless of their function, today’s PSAPs rely on their CAD system for both routine and emergency incident management.
The ability of a CAD system to prioritize calls for service based on their urgency is a vital component of PSAP operations. Not unlike the triage process in the medical field, calls to 911 centers must be evaluated to determine the order in which they will be handled. Always taking a “life first” approach, those incidents in which a clear threat of mortality is apparent are justifiably given priority.
Events that do not currently place one’s life in danger but have the potential to do so if not addressed are usually the next in line for a response. Additional calls for service are categorized based on factors such as the likelihood of suspect apprehension, evidence preservation, and public relations. There are a host of other factors in law enforcement as well as those in the fire service and EMS which are prioritized in CAD to provide the best possible service to the public.
Units in the Filed Realize the Importance of CAD
Law enforcement incident commanders are increasingly finding the advantages of utilizing CAD and mobile technology during major events. Once an incident command structure is established, the roles of law enforcement supervisors are usually well identified. This is true of line-level personnel as well and event management depends on those assigned to a task completing it as expected. For instance, incident commanders rely on perimeter security posts, entry teams, surveillance units, and often dozens of other key roles. Managing these assignments through CAD’s mobile integration has proven highly advantageous for 21st-century law enforcement leaders.
One thing staff on the scene of a major incident and those in the 911 canter can agree on is the workload does not allow for repetitive conversation. As new players become aware of and respond to a scene, the need for information is obvious. Detectives, additional patrol units, SWAT team members, public information officers, administrators, and others can inundate an on-scene incident commander or PSAP personnel with inquiries about event details.
With CAD’s mobile features, those needing information about the event can all get the same details, in real-time, with unit ID numbers, assignments, and locations. Detectives can scan CAD notes to determine suspect and witness information. Additional patrol units can identify the location of the command post or staging area. Additionally, they can use mobile technology to show their availability and location, allowing the incident commander to give an assignment as needed. Public information officers can garner details to provide an appropriate statement in an attempt to divert traffic, alert the public, and establish a media staging area.
Of course, all of these and more advantages found in CAD’s use for incident management extend to firefighters and EMS command as well. Staging areas for specialty equipment can be particularly important to fire and hazardous material scenes. EMS personnel will find the benefit of using CAD to assist in patient triage locations or medical helicopter landing zone determination.
CAD’s Importance to Public Safety Administrators
The ability of CAD to utilize its time-stamping feature to record precise details of an event extends beyond routine data collection. While this feature continues to prove beneficial to filed units to aid in accurate report writing, CAD’s use in the aftermath of a major incident can also have lasting positive effects. The completion of a comprehensive after-action report (AAR) is vital to the operation of public safety agencies. It not only stands as a summary of the events, but an AAR also serves as a training guide for areas that may need improvement. Previous record-keeping systems purported to document the details of large-scale events often consisted of a designated person assigned to the command post who was tasked with producing a handwritten log. Eventually, this ad hoc scribe may have used a word processor or even a note-taking feature on a cell phone. Regardless, none of these resulted in the intricate, accurate data found in the real-time CAD system.
The technology available to administrators through CAD’s activity log function also aids in the assessment of their agency’s routine activities. Individual shift logs allow first-line supervisors to measure productivity, make appropriate assignments to zones or precincts, and gather details of a particular event when accolades are in order. Mid and top-level managers can use much of this same information to assist in big picture evaluations such as future personnel needs and determining a change in patrol zone geography. Finally, CAD’s importance to an agency’s budgeting process should not be overlooked. It can provide detailed data to support changes in budget requests. This is especially beneficial when new personnel, equipment, or workspace is being sought.