MCP Insights

Computer-Aided Dispatch Trends That Should Be on Your Radar — Part 1

Posted on April 25, 2022 by Jack Dougherty

Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems are the lifeblood of every emergency communications center (ECC) — without them, providing law enforcement, fire/rescue, and emergency medical response, while possible, would be much more challenging. Given the importance of CAD systems, every ECC manager should be aware of the following short-term trends.

CAD mapping is evolving rapidly — The ability exists today for agencies to better integrate ESRI’s geographic information system (GIS) mapping layers with its CAD system. This represents a leap forward for the 911 community at large because many agencies — including those in large cities — currently have integrated mapping functionality that is outdated. Integrating dynamic ESRI’s mapping layers gives an agency tremendous additional visibility into incidents. They can view incidents on bike or walking trails, boat access points on waterways, and real-time hydrant information from public works that show out-of-service or dry hydrants, and subway stations. This rendering of dynamic mapping layers improves emergency response as it provides detailed data specific to the incident type to which responders are being dispatched. Telecommunicators and incident commanders not only will be able to see on the CAD mapping display the location of all of the agency’s available resources, but also will be able to perform geofencing, which is a critical capability.

Let’s consider an active shooter situation, like the one that recently occurred in the New York City subway system. The capability would enable a telecommunicator, without the involvement of a CAD system administrator, to draw a geofence on the mapping display that encompasses a radius of several blocks, in order to set a perimeter for the incident. Then the telecommunicator could communicate which personnel are authorized to enter the perimeter.

This functionality also could be used to keep civilians out of harm’s way. In addition, it could be used for after-action analysis to help agency officials better understand how the incident transpired from a geographical perspective, which could help to better inform strategy and training in the future.

In this particular incident, authorities received a tip that the suspect did not leave the train station after the shooting, but rather boarded a train on another line. (The city’s subway system is a complex labyrinth and numerous train lines intersect at just about every subway station). If a geofencing capability had been in place along with an overlay of the subway map, a telecommunicator could have drawn a geofence around all of the lines that service that station, which could have been used to identify all security cameras in the area — subway, police, and private, e.g., bank automatic teller machines (ATMs), gas stations, restaurants, and bodegas.

Then the footage could have been pulled from those cameras to identify the station where the suspect departed the subway system. Armed with that data, telecommunicators could have drawn a geofence to set a multi-block perimeter to track the suspect’s movements based on tips or sightings, which would have made it much easier and faster for police to find and apprehend him.

There was a time when agencies would develop their own mapping software, but the ESRI GIS mapping software has evolved to the point where it serves as the de facto industry standard — indeed, virtually every CAD system vendor has integrated it. Beyond what is described above, this integration enables public safety agencies to consume maps of other municipal agencies — e.g., the water and parks departments — and even those in neighboring cities and counties, to deliver a more holistic view of the environment. This would provide great utility for multijurisdictional incidents, for example a car chase.

But it may require many agencies to upgrade their CAD systems, many of which are operating on software that is a couple of decades old, or even older, to enable the enhanced ESRI integration.

CAD-to-CAD interoperability is building momentum — Ideally, every law enforcement, fire/rescue, and emergency medical agency in a region would share a CAD system, which would guarantee native interoperability. But that’s not always feasible, so the next best approach is to establish CAD-to-CAD interoperability to enable agencies to share system-generated data seamlessly. Doing so will enable faster dispatching of the most appropriate response resources. In addition to real-time information sharing and reduced response times, CAD-to-CAD interoperability has the following benefits:

  • Improved accuracy of transmitted information
  • Increased situational awareness
  • Direct access to CAD event data by more entities
  • Ability of one agency’s 911 center to dispatch field units of another agency, which results in more rapid response by dispatching the closest available unit being sent to an emergency incident.

Of course, CAD-to-CAD interoperability is not a new concept. However, while CAD-to-CAD information exchanges have been implemented in several regions across the country, a prevalent technology has yet to emerge. One reason for this is that very few CAD system components are uniform across vendors because of a lack of standards. As a result, situational awareness suffers, and operational inefficiencies potentially are introduced that can negatively impact the optimal response to an emergency incident.

The Integrated Justice Information System (IJIS) Institute, in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), is developing a nonproprietary, standards-based specifications package designed to create more uniformity when implemented by CAD system providers as part of their solutions. Mission Critical Partners (MCP) will test those standards, which will utilize the Emergency Incident Data Object (EIDO) standard published by the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) last October. The purpose of the EIDO standard is to establish a common language for identifying incident types that ECCs across the country can use.

To do so, MCP, in collaboration with the IJIS Institute, will implement an information exchange test bed based on five predefined use case scenarios between two disparate CAD systems in a lab environment. Then, building on the lessons learned from this initial testing, the use cases will be implemented in two separate pilot sites. The results of the testing will provide valuable information that can be leveraged to ensure that the standards can be implemented successfully in the future across the industry.

Another related initiative concerns a nationwide CAD-to-CAD interoperability study that MCP is conducting in partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)/National 911 Program. Specifically, the study will identify the challenges and costs associated with establishing an interoperable CAD data-sharing capability at ECCs nationwide.

In today’s environment, we suggest that the 911 community starts thinking of itself holistically and breaks down the jurisdictional barriers that constrain ECC operations and prevent cross-jurisdictional collaboration. CAD system interoperability and seamless data sharing is a good place to start. The faster that the appropriate response can be dispatched, the more lives that will be saved — which is the essential emergency response mission.

Greater integration of law enforcement mobile data, CAD and RMS platforms – The more that law enforcement officers know when rolling up to an incident the better, because enhanced situational awareness will enable them to perform their jobs better, keep them safer, and even save their lives. Let’s say that two officers were dispatched to investigate a noise complaint. While en route, one officer uses the vehicle’s mobile data terminal (MDT) to view the 911 call details that a telecommunicator has input into the department’s CAD system. The officer then queries the department’s records management system (RMS) to learn whether any other incidents have occurred at this particular address — and discovers that a domestic violence complaint had been registered just a few weeks prior. A further query reveals that a resident of the state’s firearm registration database indicates that a person living at the address not only has a registered gun but also a concealed carry permit. This enhanced situational awareness will better inform the officers’ approach to handling the incident — and it’s made possible by effective integration of these platforms and their databases. Increasingly, law enforcement agencies are moving in this direction to have unfettered access to CAD, RMS and state/national databases at the officers’ fingertips.

MCP’s subject-matter experts would love the opportunity to answer your questions regarding CAD mapping and interoperability, and how to better integrate the various data platforms used by your agency. They’d also be most eager to help you develop a strategy that will enable your organization to enhance its capabilities in all of these areas — please reach out.  

Jack Dougherty is MCP’s automated systems manager. Email him at Jack

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