A GPS System For Fire Department & EMS Dispatch

Francis Hamit describes how emergency responders around the world are using the Global Positioning System (GPS).


Modern dispatching of firefighting and emergency medical services has become more than a simple reaction to an urgent problem. It is also the strategic husbanding of often scarce resources, in a time when budgets are tight and competitive pressures are intense. "We have very stringent...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

"Sometimes," said John Zuschlag, the ambulance service's senior vice president of information and communication systems, "a crew can get caught up in the moment and lose track of the time. Lives often depend upon getting someone to the hospital as quickly as possible. The system allows us to better manage the triage in a (mass casualty) emergency. Another system also alerts the crew when they have been at a hospital too long and need to get themselves back out in the field to meet other emergencies."

Like REMSA, Acadian uses a scanner to add floor plans and other visual data to the mapping system. That includes a series of 35-mm high- resolution color photographs of night landing sites for its helicopters. Intelligent icons are used to help dispatchers immediately identify hospitals, schools, apartment complexes, mobile home parks and airports. A mouse click on the icon brings up scanned-in schematics and floor plans of these locations, along with other relevant data.

Acadian has been using the system since 1994, and plans to install a new version of the software with even more functionality in 1997. The operating system is the graphics-friendly Windows NT, rather than UNIX, and it is usually mounted on a personal computer with a dual monitor card. (Actually, a system can display on up to nine monitors at once but to date no one has used more than three.)

New Combination Of Ingredients

American TriTech co-founder and director of business development, Christopher Maloney, explained that he and his partners designed the system specifically for emergency medical services. GPS allows users to optimize their operations for quicker response time and more efficiency they know where every unit is at any given time.

When a "request for service" is received by a dispatcher, a link to the telephone system automatically reads the location of the caller and displays that on the monitor. A triage question system also displays to allow the call taker to determine the nature and extent of the emergency for instance, if someone is in need of instructions for CPR or how to assist with a birth. Even as the call taker is guiding the caller through the triage questions, the data is being fed to the dispatcher.

The dispatcher determines the closest unit available to take the call and can ask the system for recommendations.

And note: the system includes an AI component that calculates the best route from the responding unit to the site of the emergency, considering travel time and previous history with calls from that location, while also factoring in weather and traffic conditions based upon previous experiences at that time of day and day of the week. Once the dispatcher commits resources to a call, the system will send all of the relevant data to the crew as the ambulance rolls to the scene.

The average file size for a city or large area map is about 100 megabytes. When the maps are separated into different zones, then the total size of the files may be as much as 300 megabytes: more as scanned-in data for intelligent data point attributes is added.

American TriTech buys the enhanced TIGER data from Business Location Research (BLR) of Tucson, AZ, which primarily provides site- selection data to such customers as telephone companies and fast-food restaurant chains. BLR has two teams of 40 people each, who constantly update the enhanced data. Each team member is responsible for five municipal areas and there are 42 data layers that display such features as street, road, railway and highway boundaries, parks and golf courses, and even political and administrative boundaries such as ZIP codes.

Some of this data is acquired from legacy material such as city maps, some from satellite photography with a three-meter resolution, and a very small amount from ortho-rectified satellite images with a one-meter resolution. All of these varying graphics and imaging sources demand an operating system that is both powerful and flexible.

Maloney said Windows NT was picked as the operating system because it allowed quicker development time and expandability, because the hardware is readily available and less expensive than workstation alternatives and because many people are already familiar with and therefore easy to train on a Windows-based system.

American TriTech already provides around-the-clock service support for its customers, as well as a three-day annual refresher course at the customer's location. It is looking for ways to expand the functionality of the system.