Designing & Operating Your Dispatch Center

Just as fire stations have evolved from simple sheds into the multi-bay structures of today, the new generation of emergency communications centers has little likeness to those past. Underground bunkers that were products of the Cold War era have...


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FirstNet will bring with it 4G communications capacities that allow for the transmission of both voice and data. This fourth generation of wireless technology is often referred to as Long Term Evolution (LTE). The 9-1-1 center will serve as a connection point for NG 9-1-1 and FirstNet features, making for a more seamlessly integrated public safety communications system than ever before. The potential exists for the video received as part of the original 9-1-1 call to be directly relayed to first responders. Video too will be integrated from responders back into the EOCs, from traffic, school and other publicly owned cameras. Feeds from local and network news will be added, and facilities designed to allow local news teams to broadcast from the facility during major emergencies.

Call-handling procedures will also continue to evolve. Emergency medical dispatch (EMD) and emergency fire dispatch (EFD) will continue to change in order to address these new challenges. CAD systems that allow users to generate their own call-handling decision trees are also gaining in popularity, and the increased use of mapping will continue. Logging recorders and Records Management Systems (RMS) will also evolve as a result of NG 9-1-1 and FirstNet, and an increasingly open architecture will allow for barrier-free transfer of data between applications; something that does not routinely happen today. An increasing number of radio systems that meet the Association of Public-safety Communications Officials (APCO) Project 25 Standard will also be brought live, which will further increase interoperability and also place demands on logging.

 

Decades of change

During the past 40 years, perhaps no other area of the fire-rescue service has seen such radical change as emergency communications, and nowhere can these changes be more easily seen than in the dispatch center.

Just as the contents of apparatus bays have progressed from horses to diesel, so too have the contents of the dispatch center. Massive telephones with rows of buttons have given way to electronic images on a computer monitor. The punch cards that replaced the pen and paper have now themselves been replaced by CAD. And the ritual of changing the recorder tape at midnight has now passed into memory. Accordingly, the facilities themselves have also changed. What is seen today is a brand-new century in dispatch design and operation. Many external connections can be expected to involve Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) netbooks and eventually devices that have not yet been invented.