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Setting up a state-of-the-art agency

Written by Susan Geoghegan

There’s no question that today’s first responders face many different challenges in an increasingly demanding world. A multitude of technological advancements are making officers’ jobs easier, safer and more efficient. This new technology is making public safety agencies everywhere “state-of-the-art” in terms of RMS, CAD, Mobile Digital Video, Facility Design and more. Below is a look at just a few state-of-the-art agencies across the country, and the new technologies they are embracing.

ARLINGTON COUNTY, VA OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT EMERGENCY COMMUNICATIONS CENTER

Arlington is an urban county of about 26 square miles located directly across the Potomac River from Washington, DC. It is among the most densely populated jurisdictions in the country, with a population density of 8,140 persons per square mile. The Arlington County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) comprises Emergency Management functions and the Emergency Communications Center (ECC). OEM currently has 14 employees in Emergency Management and 59 employees in the ECC. ECC employees work in the new 9-1-1 Center.

According to 9-1-1 System and Resource Manager Jeffrey Horwitz, they cut over to the new ECC on May 20, 2008. It is a consolidated 9-1-1 Center. That means they process emergencies and non-emergencies 24/7/365 from one facility. “We answer Wireless (Cellular), Wireline (Landline) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) 9-1-1 calls,” Horwitz said. In 2008, they answered a total of 367,215 telephone calls, 111,112 of which were 9-1-1 calls. They also dispatch Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Units. There are currently 356 sworn police officers and 300 sworn firefighters in Arlington County.

Radio System

According to Radio System Manager Lisa Thompson, Arlington County has a new Project 25 compliant digital 800 MHz trunked radio system, which is the first of its kind in the National Capital Region. They have six remote radio sites and one console radio site connected via Microwave and fiber for efficiency and redundancy. This was an upgrade from its analog 800 MHz Motorola system, which utilized four remote radio sites. “Motorola’s systems are excellent. They provide better coverage, which translates to better communications between the dispatchers and field units,” Thompson said. The ECC is also maintaining some channels on the old radio system to patch other jurisdictions to its new system for interoperability.

9-1-1 Telephone System

Arlington County’s new 9-1-1 Telephone System is a VESTA Meridian product manufactured by PlantCML. According to Horwitz, they purchased it from Verizon, which is also the vendor who maintains it. It utilizes a Nortel PBX switch and employs Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) which enables telephone calls to be distributed by priority, skillsets and equity. It also considerably increases the speed of answering calls from the public. The system is remotely monitored 24/7/365 by PlantCML and Verizon.

“Our new 9-1-1 Telephone System is designed to better handle peak workloads and catastrophic events, and there is a much-improved level of critical system redundancy,” Horwitz explained. They tripled the amount of 9-1-1 telephone trunks to increase capacity and to include dedicated trunks for VoIP 9-1-1 calls. They also have 30, 9-1-1 Telephone System workstations in the new ECC (compared to 16 in the old ECC).

Plus, they are developing their backup 9-1-1 Center as an Alternate ECC (or AECC). “We are planning to network the ECC and the AECC together, so the two centers can act independently or concurrently in an overflow status,” Horwitz stated.

Arlington County’s 9-1-1 Telephone System has an integrated instant recall recorder that records the last 30 minutes of telephone calls at each workstation. This is helpful because it enables a call taker to listen to recent calls at that position without having to go to the separate recording system. The 9-1-1 Telephone System is also TTY-compatible to communicate with devices used by persons with disabilities.

Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD)

According to Arlington County CAD System Manager Roger Waller, their CAD system is provided by Tiburon Inc. It is CAD 2000, version 7.5.1 and is a UNIX-based CAD system with a graphical user interface. “Since opening the new center in May of 2008, we have a reported up time of 99.65%,” Waller said. Arlington County is in the process of preparing for the next level, Command CAD, which is a peer-to-peer technology on a Windows platform and should provide an even higher system up time because there is no single point of failure (not server based).

Arlington County has moved away from the old standard dispatch workstation (cramped, cluttered with wires, dust and individual PCs). They chose to incorporate the Matrox Extio product line of fiber optic connectivity as a part of their solution. “From the point of concept, we knew we wanted the ability to separate each CAD workstation from the operator consoles,” Waller explained. They wanted the CAD computers to be located in an environmentally controlled computer room and connected to the workstations by a single fiber-optic cable. In addition, they wanted to provide advanced multi-display support and image quality. “The Extio F1400 has proven to be the right choice; it has helped us to meet our goals for this 24/7 operation,” Waller stated.

Recording System (Telephone and Radio)

Arlington County uses the NICE line of recording systems to record their telephone calls and radio transmissions. They are currently in the process of enhancing the system to include newer technology that has joined the line since they went live. “These enhancements will provide a much higher level of functionality and accountability while also allowing the entire system to be redundant via parallel recording and eliminating any single point of failure of the hardware or software, allowing as close to 100% capture as possible,” Waller said.

Video System

The video system is a significant part of Arlington County’s ECC design. In general, it also helps monitor the “big picture.” The video system consists of five zones. Each zone is part of a networked computer system. This expandable system is loaded with flexibility and will allow any source to be viewed at any and all displays. The zones include: Main Dispatch Area, Watch Desk Room, Roll Call Room, Foyer and Video System Manager’s Office.

The video system is comprised of 13 47-inch LCD panels (Barco) strategically placed throughout the ECC and one primary video wall, consisting of 14 50-inch Barco DLP (Digital Light Processing) displays in a two-high by seven-wide configuration (5-feet high x 23-feet wide). It is rear projection with redundant bulbs in each display. In addition, there are: three 27-inch LCD panels (Dell); three touch-panel controllers in the Watch Desk Room (wireless); Roll Call Room (large wired controller that also allows annotation and control of other features); and Dispatch Area (large wired controller to control the primary video wall); software to replicate Crestron controllers (VPN software used to access the video system remotely); and Crestron APAD audio devices that allow video system audio to be heard and controlled by call takers and dispatchers via a speaker bar on a monitor at each workstation (supervisors can globally control these to turn to or turn off a specific audio source, when necessary).

Eight simultaneous television tuners reside on the main system, and there are two dedicated tuners in the Roll Call Room. Recording capabilities on hard drives and DVDs are helpful for after-action reports. The Roll Call/Training Room includes a redundant stand-alone video system switch that is networked to the primary system. The video system components in that location also include video and audio conferencing, an automated projector and projection screen, and other features.

“We are constantly thinking and learning about new ways in which we can use the video system,” Horwitz said. Some of the current uses are in reference to traffic cameras, security cameras, television channels (such as weather, local/ national news); displaying pending Police and Fire/EMS CAD calls to be dispatched; displaying incoming emergency and non-emergency telephone calls to be answered; displaying availability statuses of call takers and dispatchers, Police and Fire/EMS mapping, Automatic Vehicle Location for Police and Fire/EMS units; audio visual conference calls, presentations, training, etc. They purchased the video system and related maintenance coverage from The Whitlock Group.

Facility

Staff reaction and attitude have been positive overall since the new facility opened. More features of the Center include a Roll Call Room and a Watch Desk Room, which are also sometimes used by Command Staff during major emergencies; both have a motorized, conference-style table from Bramic. There are laptops, telephones and other resources organized inside bays in those tables, and they are already connected to power and networks. They can be quickly deployed by electronically raising the center of the tables. “In our old ECC, it took about 45 minutes to spontaneously compile and organize resources of this nature. In our new ECC, it takes about 45 seconds to do so, which is the time it takes for the tables to completely lift in the center,” Horwitz stated.

The ECC also makes use of fiber optics to support its technologies and infrastructure. The ECC Watch Desk Room is designed to monitor a wide variety of activity. It contains many diverse resources and technologies, including several public notification systems (such as “Reverse 9-1-1” Emergency Notification Telephone System). The Watch Desk Room has been used as a coordination room for major storms and missing persons, for example. “It was also very effective for several Unified Commands, involving Federal, State and Local Emergency Services agencies during the September 11 Memorial Dedication, July 4th celebrations, Marine Corps Marathon, Inauguration Day, Election Day, etc.,” according to Arlington County OEM Program Manager John Stevens.

The Bramic workstation consoles (call-taking, dispatching and supervisory) are all state-of-the art, from their ergonomic designs, to their integrated cable management; under-desktop lighting; quiet, efficient motors and lifting mechanisms; and integrated, above-desktop lighting and cooling conveniences. The consoles permit operators to individually set surface heights (“sit to stand”) for computer screens, keyboards and work surfaces. “Our call takers and dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, so these conveniences are greatly appreciated,” Stevens said.

Several energy efficient capabilities were built into the ECC design, including use of a flexible DuctSox ventilation system, which evenly disperses and diffuses air from the ceiling. Also, light dimming controls are available in the Dispatch, Watch Desk and Roll Call Rooms, as are electronic shades. Sound insulation (sound reducing) materials are placed as the first barrier in the fabric panels installed in the ECC.

The old ECC (now the Alternate/Backup ECC) was approximately 6,400 square feet, while the new facility is almost 9,000 square feet, to include infrastructure rooms and power and HVAC spaces. Through the use of these technologies, Arlington County has drastically reduced the amount of paper used in documentation and dissemination of information. This has saved time and money (in the form of supplies and staff hours).

Results

According to Stevens, the major vendors, such as Motorola, Verizon, PlantCML and Tiburon, were chosen for their technology offerings and major presence in the area. Other vendors, such as Bramic and The Whitlock Group, were chosen as the result of competitive bidding processes. Additional vendors, such as for providing fiber optics and for computer and networking equipment, were selected based on existing county contracts for those commodities.

Ultimately, all this new technology has improved productivity at Arlington County ECC. Training and Career Development Coordinators James Keaton and Vanessa Gaymon, and Quality Assurance Manager Sherri McCuin, said some of the benefits include: decreased processing time; more efficient use of and access to information; the ability to more closely monitor performance and productivity; efficient and more timely distribution of information; more evenly distributed workload through capture of real-time statistics; more equitable distribution of workload through Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) on 9-1-1 Telephone System; consistent delivery of high quality service through the use of Emergency Medical Dispatching (EMD); a more realistic and effective training environment; more immediate response to emergencies and effective service delivery to customers; immediate access to Police and Fire records through Record Management Systems (RMS); expanded access to news outlets, traffic conditions, and display of relevant systems information through the use of the video system; and immediate access to NICE telephone and radio recordings at supervisors’ consoles and in offices.

Keaton, Gaymon and McCuin all agreed on one thing: “The employees are Arlington’s greatest asset. Without them and their dedication, the technology is meaningless.” The employees had a lot of input into the design of the facility and resources. “The new state-of-the-art ECC is truly a showcase for other communities to visit and consider should they need to upgrade or relocate their ECCs,” Arlington County OEM Director Jack Brown commented.

CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT

Faced with the challenges of large urban policing, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) utilizes the latest technological tools to provide optimal service and safety to its citizens. As the second largest municipal police department in the United States, the CPD leads the way in law enforcement innovation and crime prevention strategies. State-of-the-art technology combined with community-oriented strategies place the department in the forefront of contemporary policing.

The CLEAR System

In 2007, the CPD’s CLEAR system won the Innovations in American Government Award from the Kennedy School at Harvard University. Developed in partnership with Oracle and in-house staff resources, the CLEAR database contains information relating to incidents, victims, offenders, gangs, calls for service and suspicious activity. The information is shared with over 30,000 officers from 450 police agencies across the state and country, and provides arrest processing for all Cook County police departments. Because members at every organizational level have the ability to retrieve this large amount of data, over 1 million inquiries are processed each month.

The information provided by CLEAR supports a framework for integration across all agencies, which allows police administrators to develop unified strategies to reduce crime. The system provides automated capabilities for arrests, case reporting and search warrants. It also has a personnel performance system that tracks performance recognition, complaint reviews, tactical response reports and officer battery reports. Other functions include eTrack inventory processing for guns, narcotics and evidence; a gang intelligence database containing member and boundary information; a Major Incident Notification System; a community resource directory; and a public access Web site.

CLEAR’s Data Warehouse is the repository from which quick inquiries and user-initiated reporting are pulled. Information includes calls for service, cease-and-desist orders, parking tickets, street closures and tracking of police missions. The system’s mapping capability tracks homicides, arrests, public violence, community concerns, sex offenders and basic crime densities.

The Upgrade Process

Because technology upgrades are an ongoing process within the CPD, pilot programs are often utilized to evaluate new equipment and software. During the testing period, police administrators base their final decision on officer feedback and feasibility of integration. For example, a 60-day pilot program was recently approved to test 30 BlackBerry devices with Police Computer Aided Dispatch (PCAD) capabilities. The devices allow officers to run name and vehicle checks, receive dispatch assignments, access mapping functions and view real-time video from surveillance cameras.

As Commander of the CPD’s Information Services Division, Jonathan Lewin is involved in all aspects of technology upgrades. According to Lewin, the evaluation of new technology is a continuous process and most upgrades are implemented one district at a time. Purchasing decisions are based on several factors, such as feedback from other agencies that use that particular technology and platform compatibility. Other hardware and software systems are selected through a competitive bid process.

Mobile Technologies

To help officers in the field perform their duties more effectively, the CPD provides them with the latest in mobile technologies. The city’s 3,100 police vehicles are outfitted with a variety of technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Portable Data Terminals (PDTs), mobile citation writers, in-car camera systems and automated license plate readers (ALPRs).

Installed in 2,400 CPD vehicles, GPS software can pinpoint precise locations of calls for service, which leads to quicker response times by police and emergency personnel. Over 2,000 vehicles are equipped with PDTs, in the form of Panasonic Toughbooks, which perform such functions as dispatch, incident processing and field inquiries. Officers have real-time access to the CLEAR system, information on recent shootings and homicides, and retrieval of the entire Data Warehouse.

With automated citation writing, officers can use a hand-held electronic device to generate a digital ticket right from their patrol cars. After swiping the violator’s driver’s license through the device, officers can use their PDT to access Illinois and Municipal statute violation codes. Currently installed in 200 vehicles, the system is provided by Advanced Public Safety.

Three-hundred and nine vehicles are equipped with in-car camera systems developed by Coban Technologies, providers of mobile data computers and video recording equipment. These cameras capture both the officer enforcing the law and the actions of the suspect, which appears to reduce the number of complaints from the public. They have also proven to be an effective tool in court cases.

Advanced License Plate Recognition equipment is currently installed in 42 patrol cars and assists officers in recovering stolen and wanted felony vehicles. Designed, manufactured and supported by PIPS Technology, the ALPR system continually searches the camera’s field of view for the presence of a license plate. Several databases are searched, and if there is a hit, the officers can access the information on their PDTs. This includes owner identification, stolen vehicle status, Amber Alerts, outstanding warrants and investigative alerts. Since implementing the ALPR systems, 16 million plates have been scanned which resulted in more than 1,000 recovered stolen vehicles.

Facility

The process of upgrading the 25 police districts within the city of Chicago is a gradual one. Since 1999, eight districts and the police headquarters center have been renovated and technologically enhanced. In 2008, the old Ninth district was replaced with a state-of-the-art, 44,000-square-foot facility, twice the size of the original structure. According to Lewin, the newest districts are “designed to meet ‘Gold’ level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.” High-tech roll-call rooms are equipped with Polycom videoconferencing, fiber optic communications and fitness rooms to promote officer health. Other technologies include Crestron A/V controls, Smart Boards, MidCo security systems and Cisco networking systems. District lock-ups are equipped with LiveScan fingerprinting devices provided by Motorola. Generally, platform compatibility and competitive bids to meet functional requirements are the basis for selection of district technology.

Plans for next year include replacement of the 23rd district station (the oldest operating police station in the country) with a new facility. Designed to accommodate 450 employees covering three shifts, it will be furnished with the same amenities as the Ninth district facility, with some additional features. These include holding cells, interview rooms, a 100-seat community room and a 150-foot communications tower.

HOUSTON POLICE DEPARTMENT

The Houston Police Department (HPD) serves the country’s fourth largest city, covering 650 square miles. The entire region is made up of more than 4 million residents. The HPD is the fifth largest police department in the United States and has approximately 5,000 officers of which approximately 3,000 are in uniformed services.

The HPD headquarters is located in downtown Houston, where it has resided for almost 12 years. The 26-story building was built in the ’60s. It houses all Investigations, Administrative units, etc. HPD Chief Technology Officer David Morgan said there was a proposal to build a new “campus,” but the recent economic crisis put that on hold. Morgan also noted that a lot of other cities smaller than Houston in terms of square miles have more officers. That means HPD is doing more with less and needs the latest technology to stay current.

Morgan said that the HPD is attempting to become a state-of-the-art agency with several million dollars’ worth of technology projects. Some of the new technologies include a Records Management System (RMS), Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD), a Mobile Digital Radio System and more.

Records Management System (RMS)

The HPD’s original RMS was written in the late ’70s/early ’80s and has had minimal updates since that time. Although HPD Project Manager Richard Williams said it worked great then, it soon became clear that they had difficulty interfacing with more modern systems in other agencies. In addition, the old RMS used Cobalt programming, and the police department faced personnel issues with that system.

In late 2004, Unisys developed a Strategic Information Plan for HPD where they looked at current applications, helped determine where they (HPD) wanted to go, what they needed, etc. They determined that the Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) strategy was the best approach. In January of 2006, the HPD kicked off its search for a new RMS.

Public Safety Consultants Inc. assisted in the procurement process, and the HPD issued a Request for Proposals (RFPs) in August 2006. Seven vendors responded and the HPD put together a special evaluation team. In March 2007, vendors came in to demonstrate what they said they could do on paper, Williams stated. The HPD evaluation team spent five days with demos from each vendor. At the same time an event similar to a trade show was held at the George R. Brown Center. After more technical evaluations and performance tests, HPD selected Tiburon to do its RMS.

According to Williams, HPD liked Tiburon’s RMS solution because it had a single-point of entry, it was Windows-based, and linking data became more efficient. In addition, the surrounding counties were using Tiburon, and Houston PD wanted to interface with them. “Connectivity was a requirement, and Tiburon allowed us to do that more efficiently,” Williams said. Based on the surveys received from the evaluators, the Tiburon system was “easy to navigate through and very intuitive.”

Still in the implementation process, the HPD hopes to have the entire RMS up and running by 2012. Williams hopes officers will be able to access more information and do more tasks out in the field with a solution such as Tiburon’s. Today’s officer spends a lot of time filling out forms, especially when booking a person because that is typically done in the station. If that task can be done in the car before arriving at the jail, that saves a lot of time, according to Williams. With Tiburon’s RMS solution, an officer fills out one main form and then it automatically populates the data entered into other forms, if necessary.

According to HPD Technology Services Assistant Director Brian Sedberry, the agency set up a dedicated project team of 35 people to work on the new RMS implementation. Sergeant Reid Cashdollar is a member of the HPD’s Organization-al Change Management team which is focused on training, business, configuration, interfacing and ultimately how to manage expectations. “The HPD is dedicated to this implementation,” Cashdollar said, and “Tiburon has responded with an excellent support team—a very good combination and one of the keys to success.”

Mobile Technology

Along with the RMS implementation, a new mobile digital radio project is under way in Houston. It encompasses Fire, Police and EMS. The previous system was from the ’70s; this new project is the largest APCO 25 digital radio system in the country.

Morgan said that the RMS and Digital Radio system grow around and off of each other. From that, two environments are essentially created: desktop and mobile. More than 3,000 officers are in patrol, so it’s the biggest labor force in the HPD. The mobile environment’s needs are different because they deal with a lot of cases at once and sometimes need immediate access to information. And for investigators, they now have secure applications anytime, anywhere using their cell phones (similar to what they have on their desktops). According to Morgan, naturally HPD has fingerprint scanning capability in the office, but the department wants to integrate those more into the mobile environment. Morgan said HPD cleared two felonies on an initial testing of the mobile fingerprinting devices. The system talks by Bluetooth to the car, and uploads data to AFIS, which can also go to State and FBI databases. Morgan said they are still deciding between vendors, but he thinks the “answer might be one for every patrol car.”

Other initiatives include electronic ticket writers, automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) and BlackBerrys for undercover operations. HPD officers can take a picture, e-mail it to HQ, and ID without ever having to talk on a radio or phone. Morgan said this makes the whole process less suspicious.

In addition, as part of a Homeland Security initiative, cameras were placed throughout downtown Houston. With those cameras, a live video feed goes to a patrol car. Morgan said ideally an officer who answers a call for a robbery in progress should be able to have information as he’s pulling up to the address. Houston PD can do it today in the command center and relay data to the officer in the field. This way, the officers are more prepared as they come to a scene. Morgan also talked about creating “mobile chat rooms” for a unified communications strategy between patrol, county and state officials.

Ultimately, HPD wants to take its time before it “leaps off and buys 2,000 of one product for front-line patrol cars,” Morgan said. He wants to make sure the police department has the necessary bandwidth to support it so that the HPD can continue to better serve the citizens of Houston.

Read about another state-of-the-art agency, Fairfax County, VA Office of Emergency Communications, on our Web Site: www.psitmag.com.

Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, FL. She can be reached at sgeofl@embarqmail.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Nov/Dec 2009

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