As outlined in previous blog articles, computer-aided dispatching (CAD) software has proven vital for law enforcement operations. Police professionals justifiably avoid the use of the word routine in describing their activities. Too often, a routine traffic stop evolves into a dangerous encounter, a routine verbal disturbance turns into a violent struggle, or a routine day at school ends with the unthinkable. For each of these unique scenes, and countless others, CAD systems are working to provide life-saving information, in real-time, to assist in these anything but routine events.
Public Safety: a “No Matter What” Profession
When it comes to providing service, several organizations fall into a category reserved for only the most essential functions; the unofficial designation of a no matter what occupation. Public safety professionals are among the top entries on nearly any no matter what list. Often joined by the military and health care providers, there is no circumstance, no situation, and no event which permits law enforcement officers, firefighters, or EMS personnel to close for business.
During catastrophic incidents, police and fire departments may rely on neighboring agencies to assist, but help will be available. Events such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods, or terrorist attacks will not deter the life-saving efforts of these public safety professionals. The very definition of a 24/7 operation, closing is never an option.
The Role of Computer-Aided Dispatching in the COVID-19 Response
While the term has been described as overused in 2020, unprecedented is nevertheless an accurate word for the conditions set forth by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for many in policing, the response to coronavirus has been an organized adaptation of contending with the changing circumstances of a major incident. In other words, dealing with the unknown is what modern police professionals do.
Police officers often describe the front seat of their patrol cars as their office. Through the use of mobile technology, usually in the form of laptop computers mounted in these unique, portable offices, patrol officers benefit from CAD software in ways not seen just a few decades ago. The days of returning to the station to write reports on a shared desktop are long gone. CAD enabled tablets and smartphones have only added to the advantages law enforcement officers have with regard to increased safety and efficiency.
COVID-19 brought about the practice of social distancing. As such, for many industries, working from home to avoid the spread of coronavirus became the standard. The preferred response was for employees to work remotely. Of course, this was never an option for law enforcement officers. While facemasks and hand sanitizer were added to the officer’s duty gear, the requirement to respond to an emergency remained unchanged. This is where CAD, once again, proved beneficial beyond its previously recognized value. Officers could receive real-time updates related to the coronavirus through their agency, local and state health departments, and national level disease control professionals. Calls for service which involved potentially infected subjects could include notification to the officer through the CAD system, keeping protected medical information from being broadcast on the two-way radio.
Additionally, events that required a coordinated response, sometimes including the full implementation of the incident command system (ICS), were successfully managed through the CAD system and its mobile components. Drive-through testing locations and grocery store product limitations proved to be variations of other such gatherings before, during, and after significant incidents. Areas for distributing items such as sandbags, food/water, and monetary assistance have all benefited from agencies using CAD systems to help manage the personnel involved and their assigned duties during prior incidents. The COVID-19 response was no different, and CAD’s ability to organize, administer, and memorialize the operation stood as a testament to its adaptability.
CAD, COVID-19, and the 911 Center
While many law enforcement agencies made allowances for some of their civilian personnel to work remotely, public safety dispatchers and 911 call takers remained at their post. Another essential part of the no matter what team, these professionals continued to answer calls and dispatch first responders. Safety protocols to help protect dispatchers from the coronavirus may have included partitions between workstations, the now-familiar facemask, hand sanitizer, and whatever social distancing was possible within the 911 center.
Public safety dispatchers recognize their job is to answer the call for help in emergencies. However, as any experienced dispatcher will attest, when someone does not know who to call for non-emergency help, 911 has unfortunately become the default. From civil complaints to traffic jams, dispatchers expertly handle all the calls for service while relying on the CAD system to assist them sort and triage the level of urgency.
COVID-19 brought no shortage of non-emergency calls from citizens seeking information. Although state and local health departments established hotlines, the 911 centers often addressed questions from the public about testing sites, school/business closures, and proper safety measures. Through it all, and as is the case during any other incident, dispatchers rely on CAD to manage calls and communicate information. As the de facto first, first responders, these professionals count on CAD in their vital role in serving the public.
As Always, CAD Helps the Police Adapt to Changing Circumstances
While COVID-19 may have increased the frequency of the word unprecedented, the public safety professionals who depend on CAD have again solidified its value by adapting to a worldwide pandemic. Each jurisdiction had its own set of issues and variations associated with coronavirus. All the while, the reliability of a state-of-the-art CAD system could be counted on to help manage the multiple events related to law enforcement’s response to COVID-19.