an emergency 9-1-1 call comes in, it is critical for all first responders to be
prepared. Typically, when one thinks of “emergency response,” police,
firefighters and EMTs immediately come to mind. While each is certainly a hero,
there is a very important and often unrecognized public servant who directs
these first responders where they need to be: the emergency dispatcher. The
emergency dispatcher interfaces with a variety of departments including towing,
hazmat, utility, law enforcement, fire and EMS.
the first point of contact to receive and respond to an emergency 9-1-1 call,
dispatchers must be able to act quickly and transmit instructions efficiently
while communicating with individuals who might be involved in any number of
stress-inducing or potentially life-threatening situations. When receiving
incoming calls for help, dispatchers must ascertain the nature, location and
extent of the emergency in order to effectively prioritize and direct response.
experienced, well-trained dispatcher is able to gather a lot of high quality,
vitally important information that will help form an early understanding of
what first responders will be facing upon arrival at the scene. It takes
extreme focus and high levels of coordination for dispatchers to relay messages
to emergency personnel to get resources sent to the emergency location.
average, dispatchers receive up to 250 calls per hour, which means they must
operate at a breakneck pace if they hope to correctly deliver the deluge of
critical information to first responders. For example, the emergency dispatch
facility in Chicago handles, on average, 300,000 radio calls per day. Clearly,
it is essential that they have the most advanced, innovative and streamlined
dispatcher console and equipment available.
populations continue to grow, the job of the emergency dispatcher becomes
increasingly important, and as technology marches forward, the job becomes more
and more complex. Dispatchers monitor all of the emergency communications
within a specific geographic area, and all communications that occur within the
jurisdiction of their departments.
primary tool of the dispatcher—the dispatch console—is a system that interfaces
to a private or public radio system, allowing the dispatcher to communicate
directly with all first responders to coordinate their emergency response
activities. Using direct input and research aimed at meeting the extreme demands
of modern emergency dispatchers, companies serving the public safety industry
are making significant investments in advancing and improving their technology
to meet the ever-evolving needs of dispatchers.
meet the demanding and fluid needs of emergency dispatchers and to create the
next-generation dispatch console, companies, researchers and engineers are
going right to the source – the call centers. For example, we commissioned a
research and design company called PixelMEDIA to reach out and work with key
stakeholders in order to explore and analyze the dispatcher experience. For
this study, PixelMEDIA identified more than 30 managers from different
jurisdictions and agencies across the United States who worked with police,
fire, EMS and military personal to set up a dispatcher shadow program.
program conducted workflow studies on-site by looking at the personal and
professional challenges facing emergency dispatchers in everyday, real-world
scenarios, and researchers tested and assessed how new technology could help
streamline the dispatcher’s typical responsibilities. In addition, the
dispatchers evaluated console prototypes and offered feedback and ideas on how
to improve the technology in a way that best met their unique needs.
of the most consistent, resounding complaints heard from emergency dispatchers
during the study was that they need to have a cleaner, more workflow-conscience
workspace. Dispatchers use between three and seven large screens on their desk
and up to eight speakers to monitor and manage multiple communication channels,
Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) maps, text chats, shift change data, e-mail,
internal documents, and situational awareness. The dispatchers shared that when
they did get a new piece of technology, it was simply added to their existing
console or work station.
these new technologies and functionalities serve a purpose, over time all the
bolt-ons simply added up to clutter. The numerous monitors, keyboards, speakers
and computer mice made work stations difficult for the dispatcher to navigate,
often leading to higher stress levels, slower response times, and ultimately
increased risk for the public.
bottom line is that dispatchers need the most cutting-edge and intuitive
technology in the most streamlined package possible. They need solutions that
further simplify their console by displacing monitors and supporting single
mouse and keyboard operations for both CAD, broadband and narrowband radio
well-developed console that supports remote radio call playback directly on the
CAD screen, and ensures priority emergencies are displayed directly in line of
sight increases efficiency even further. These functionalities allow the
console to support quick prioritization and even quicker reactions by
simplifying the entire process and putting the most important information where
it needs to be, when it needs to be there.
area of improvement uncovered during the study was that the dispatchers need to
have all necessary tools and features within immediate reach. Dispatchers need
to be able to customize their work stations, and change labels and talk groups
on screens to organize and make the functions with which they frequently
interact easily accessible. In the everyday world of the consumer, this would
be a favorites menu or the way one organizes applications on a phone based on
priority and regularity of use.
this study, researchers found that data brought through a console must be
organized to streamline workflow and response. Console technology should be
deployed that can help to eliminate the complexity of managing a cluttered
legacy dispatch console configuration. A single organized screen on the console
allows dispatchers to complete multiple tasks at once while eliminating the
need for multiple screens.
we developed prototypes. Once these prototypes were tested, improved and
retested, dispatchers were able to receive and document incoming calls,
transmit messages to appropriate personnel, and keep logs of the daily activities
of personnel using a single screen with much greater efficacy and
working directly with dispatch professionals in real-life scenarios, engineers
and researchers from PixelMEDIA learned what was needed in order to develop the
tools response coordinators need in order to perform their job at their peak.
dispatcher’s contribution to incident situational awareness is key during
emergency response. Situational awareness can be achieved by integrating a
combination of technologies to provide dispatchers with access to information
based on the first responder’s circumstances—allowing dispatchers to
understand, react and make better decisions. To improve response time and
provide public safety personnel with enhanced situational awareness, leading
manufacturers are developing and testing third-party applications that can
transmit dynamic data and imagery to help dispatchers make better, more
most advanced LTE applications are enabling the convergence of traditional
Push-to-Talk (PTT) communications along with real-time location and presence
information between team members and dispatchers—all from a first responder’s
smartphone or tablet. These capabilities, coupled with a sleek and modern
dispatch console, truly empower the team of the dispatchers and first
responders and give them exactly the tools they need to significantly improve
emergency response efforts.
considering a dispatch console, it makes sense to take a page from some of the
finest design minds of the modern era, and focus on one that is streamlined,
minimalist and ergonomic, with highly intuitive user interfaces and software.
When emergencies occur and a call is placed to 9-1-1, it is up to an ordinary
and dedicated person—the dispatcher—to react under extraordinary circumstances
and get the right resources to the right location at the right time. The
dispatcher truly is the conductor of emergency response teams, and the console
is a crucial component to ensure public safety through harmonious coordination
and streamlined response.
Mark Cranmore is the Product Manager at
Harris RF Communications.