Oct. 05--It's not as easy as running out to Best Buy or downloading a new app -- but it's necessary, area public safety authorities say.
"If you had a home computer that was 15 years old, you'd probably replace it," said Albemarle County's fire chief, Dan Eggleston. "We'd expect public safety to be on the cutting edge of technology."
But every time someone calls 911 in Charlottesville or Albemarle, the person who answers the phone uses software that's more than a decade old.
The regional Emergency Communications Center is looking to update its outdated 911 software. Officials say the end result will be faster responses to emergencies and better workflow between the many software programs area authorities use.
The ECC recently issued via Albemarle a request for proposals for a new, integrated public safety data system that would link the ECC's software in a more streamlined way with those of Albemarle, Charlottesville and University of Virginia police; the city and county fire departments; the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad; and the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail.
Tom Hanson, the ECC's executive director, said the 911 dispatch center is still using its first-ever computer-aided dispatch software, which was adopted in 2000.
Hanson described the current system as "nearing the end of life."
He said the other software programs that area agencies use are also dated, with some systems adopted in the mid-1990s still in use in some departments. Many of the programs, he said, are about 10 years old.
Col. Steve Sellers, Albemarle's police chief, said the county's records management system is "vintage, mid-1990s."
Gerald Smith, the ECC's regional project manager, said that "right off the bat," the dispatch system adopted in 2000 didn't work properly with records management systems already in place.
In 2011, the ECC began looking to put out a call for proposals for a new system, Hanson said.
Soon, after realizing that many other software systems being used in the area were also dated, the idea for the proposal expanded to include the integration of departments.
Sellers said that when he began his job as county police chief about two and a half years ago, he surveyed employees about their needs and complaints. He said an updated software system was "one of the top five things" employees asked for. "They felt it was antiquated," he said.
Hanson said including the integration of other software systems in the proposal for a new dispatch system would help the regional departments replace "all the systems that are old in one fell swoop."
In its request, the center is seeking updates on the computer-aided dispatch system; mobile data computing; law enforcement records management; automated field reporting; jail management; fire records management; and patient care reporting systems. Additionally, the request asks for a way for the new dispatch system to interface with 39 other software systems that are in use.
Hanson said that dispatch software eliminates the need for dispatch workers to write information down by hand. He said the computer-aided dispatch system makes it easier and faster for call-takers to input callers' information and send it to first responders.
In the past, he said, calls were basically taken with paper cards. He said a call-taker would ask questions of the caller and hand the card to a dispatcher, who would then read the information over the radio.
"I can remember, we wrote it on a notepad and kept a log," Hanson said. He said notepads and paper cards were the standard in Charlottesville until 2000.
Now, information inputted by a call-taker immediately appears for the dispatcher, who can read the information over the radio but can also send it to different software that first responders have access to in their vehicles.
"It saved a whole lot of time," Hanson said. "Today, we can get the basic information, dispatch the call and stay on the phone."
Although introducing a computerized system made the dispatch process more efficient, officials said an updated program would save even more time.