1. #1

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    Default Paging Alternatives

    I'm a volunteer at a small rescue station. We have about 50 members and 500 calls per year. Only 20 to 25% of those calls will be emergent, but we like to have a timely response to all of our calls. Paging out our members can be a time consuming process. Right now, we call our members on their cell phones when a call comes in. This is clearly an inefficient process, but it has proven to be more reliable than commercial pagers which lack coverage in this area. It also allows members to acknowledge that they got the page and are responding to the station. Our membership rotates on-duty shifts when they're required to be either at or within a few minutes of the station. Most of the time they're just up the street, but they're always within a mile or two.

    What other options do we have for alerting our membership? We would really like to have a system where members can acknowledge a page, so we know whether or not we have to page another person. Also, the ability to page out individual members is nice. However, for the more urgent calls, we would like to be able to page the entire membership with the press of a button. Finally, it would be nice to be able to remotely control this system over the phone or internet. We're a small department, and our communications center is not staffed full time unless we're on a call. When our call taker gets the call (forward to his or her house) they could initiate a page from wherever they are instead of first responding to the station.

    We've considered voice paging, but that would not allow members to acknowledge that they got the page. Most Alpha systems appear to be only one-way, but since our members would only be a mile or two from the station, there might be a two-way industrial paging solution out there that would work. We considered SMS, but there are numerous reliability problems and delays.

    There's no urgent need to change our system now. Because we are in a small town, our response times are well within acceptable limits. This system sounds horribly inefficient compared to a voice paging systems, but it allows us to page only who we need. We can call up a full crew in about a minute, but if we could find a new system to simultaneously page out a full crew, that could potentially shave a minute or so off our response time.

    I would appreciate any advice on this.

  2. #2
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    Let me see if I have your requirements gathered correctly:
    • Two-way to allow acknowledgment
    • Paging possible from multiple locations
    • Individual and Group paging

    My preference in this situation would be to set up a dedicated repeater and use two-tone voice paging. Issue Icom IC-F50V radios to members in place of pagers (these radios have audible and vibrate alert plus voice storage) so that they can acknowledge the page. Each radio would be set up with a different individual tone but the same group tone. Paging would be accomplished by sending the alert tones through the repeater. The call-taker would just need a radio that could send the tones. The only possible problem might be finding a portable radio that could send enough tone sets...I'm not sure what's available on the market. All two-tone pagers can be set up for multiple tone sets to allow individual and group paging.

    Where are you located? I'm surprised that there are still departments out there doing alerting via telephone and without a dedicated dispatch center.

    Andy

  3. #3
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    Cost is going to be the killer on whatever you switch to. Voice paging is not cheap with the Minitor running $300-400 per person.

    I did a quick search and could not find any two-way paging systems that were self run. This one was the closest to being "equipment only" and geared towards emergency services. http://www.criticalresponse.com/ I have no idea what it would take to set up a system like this.

    One question I have is that if you have duty crews and scheduled coverage, why is a general page not sufficient?

    If everyone is within a mile of the station, and you have committed to respond, you could almost live with the old horns or siren on top of the station.

    Brian

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    I just started using a program for our dept that sends messages via cell phone text message, you also can send via voice mail, has a alot of options so far the feedback from our guys is awesome.

    Group2call message center

  5. #5
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    Sounds like you do pretty well with your current system provided your call volume. That is a LOT of phone calling in my opinion but good job on making it work.

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    Lets back up a minute first. WHO is dispatching you? Is it a dispatch center?
    Last edited by nmfire; 12-16-2008 at 12:21 AM.
    Even the burger-flippers at McDonald's probably have some McWackers.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by nmfire View Post
    Lets back up a minute first. WHO is dispatching you? Is it a dispatch center?
    It sounds to me like they don't have a dispatch center. The emergency line gets forwarded to someone's home phone (who it gets forwarded to changes depending on who's available), who takes the call and then starts dialing everyone else. Cutting edge eh?

    Way back before I joined my department was alerted with a party emergency line...when someone called the emergency line it would simultaneously ring the phones of about ten firefighters, who would then call everyone else who wasn't on the party line. The first one to the station would set off the air raid siren to alert anyone who wasn't near a phone. That system went away a long time ago...sounds like these guys are still using a similar system.

    Andy

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    Caution with SMS or text to a phone. Cellular companies will tell you this service is 'best effort'. Don't count on it, especially when the fan has taken on additional load. Messages get to the phone when there's excess bandwidth in the network and on the air. With Nextel, I sometimes get a txt message days later. FEMA uses all methods at once so I include SMS on both my work and personal cell phones, but SMS is the last one to get to me usually. Sprint is somewhat better. We just got switched from Sprint to ATT at work so time will tell what will work there.

    I like the idea of the take home radio with the two tone decode. Some repeater controllers will trigger a series of tone with a command sent via DTMF (TouchTone). The dispatch center could also trigger tones with a phone call to the repeater controller's phone patch. You should be able to do a group call and individual tones in each radio. If you have less than perfect radio coverage, I would avoid fast DTMF tones. Two tones, each one second long, are pretty forgiving. For your most dedicated, a two tone decoder board could be connected to a scanner or radio for an always on alert at home. Since the tones are in the audible range, you don't need a discriminator output from the radio, just speaker level, as long as you never turn down the volume control. If you got money, a Motorola 1225 mobile can be programmed to do the decoding and a contact closure for you.

    Another system I have heard off, but haven't tested yet: Some conferencing services can dial out. Your dispatcher calls an 800 number, enters a password, and the system dials out to everyone in a list at the same time. As they answer, they join the conference, like a party line. Get everyone to get a second number on their home line (distinctive ringing service) so when they get the double ring, everyone at home knows it's for the FF in the house. Or they can be taught to ignore the calls from that company's caller ID. I have a caller ID box that talks. Says the number or a name if I've given that number a name. Then you only pay for caller ID, often free with some services.

    Let us know what you try.

    Thanks, Ray

  9. #9
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    Default eDispatches

    www.edispatches.com
    This site has a growing number of services that may help you.

  10. #10
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    Remember, ANY dispatch system that depends on commercial service such as cell phone or commercial pager, is not recognized for primary dispatch by NFPA or ISO.

    It sounds like an ideal project for an AFG grant.

  11. #11
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    Please check out our DAPage(tm) Hosted Notification Services. We designed this for a M/A organization and have been developing and expanding it for years now.

    http://www.dapage.net

  12. #12
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    Since you said everyone lives within a mile or two, how bout a outdoor siren?
    Your a daisy if you do.

  13. #13

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    I have developed a system software application that allows for dispatching via text messages sent directly to your member's cell phones. You can check it out and download a free 30-day trial by clicking the link below.

    http://www.vfdsoft.com/products/tone-to-text/

    Keith Huster
    http://www.vfdsoft.com
    http://www.sunmanfire.com

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