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Versadex PoliceCAD

Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems allow all public safety services to be delivered much more efficiently, accurately, and safely because they assist in automating the information delivery. This occurs right from the moment a 9-1-1 call is received to the information displayed on the mobile device in the field unit. It can include the control of emergency vehicle dispatching, vehicle status, incident reporting and management of field resources. CAD system functionality should be optimized for quick response and system stability. Critical times and events must be accurately recorded and time stamped for easy auditing and recovery.

Ultimately, CAD should interface with a records management system (RMS), preferably of the same vendor and allow for full data browse and query. More and more, a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) CAD system that is part of a vendor’s “software suite,” which includes an integrated RMS, mobile report entry (MRE) software and a mobile data terminal (MDT) are being selected by law enforcement. Automated custom extracts of agency-specific data is also a desirable feature. AVL/GPS mapping applications should also be an integral part of how the system controls the coordination and dispatching of field units.

The trigger for emergency service response is typically the initial 9-1-1 call. Having an extended E9-1-1 ANI/ALI support including cellular information display is a must have to ensure information and address accuracy. A call for service is received, and the 9-1-1 call-taker begins to input the information and create the CAD event or incident. In large agencies, the call-taker simply determines nature of event and address verification before sending up to dispatch. In all emergency services—and more specifically police—the information taken in the first instance is often the information given to the officers in the field and forms the basis for their incident evaluation and subsequent response.

The call-taker must process the caller’s information, obtain it accurately and quickly and often prioritize it by the “call type” selected before electronically delivering it to the dispatcher who then reviews the information and delivers it by voice and often simultaneously by CAD. Accurate information is important to the frontline officers, so the CAD system should be intuitive to know when an address doesn’t exist. When entered by the call-taker, the address must be “geo verified” against the system’s files in the mapping system.

This verification should automatically generate a unique incident or file number and assign a predetermined priority to the call. Hazard or danger information associated with an address should also be recognized by the system and displayed in a manner that ensures that the officers in the field are aware of what they are walking into. Agency customization with standard operating procedures and command line-based functionality often provides a system that works well in law enforcement.

In 1998, the Province of British Columbia Police Chiefs got together with the government and opted for a province-wide RMS system with CAD and mobile field reporting. This was done with the focus of sharing information beyond political and jurisdictional boundaries all in an effort to improve the delivery of police services. The Versaterm RMS system called Versadex was selected, and on March 21, 2001, Phase 1 went live with three agencies using the Versadex RMS, MRE and MDT applications.

In Vancouver BC, the Vancouver Police Department is part of a quasi-government emergency services structure known as Emergency Communications for Southwest British Columbia (Ecomm). At the time, it was decided that a single tri-service CAD system called “Altaris” would interface with the Versaterm applications. The cost of trying to interface the software and the loss of functionality due to incompatible fields resulted in the Vancouver Police transitioning off Altaris and onto the Versaterm PoliceCAD application. This move allowed for the improved functionality that comes with the complete integration of the Versadex suite of software applications, RMS, CAD, MDT and MRE.

The dispatch CAD working environment must be simple and have a functional layout with clear, easy-to-read displays. Versadex PoliceCAD’s “command line” style is designed for experienced dispatchers and supports more than 200 site-configurable commands. These commands can be strung together to expedite the dispatch and monitoring process. This environment typically consists of four windows that can be modified for user preferences.

First is the working screen used to perform all the basic functions and operations in CAD such as call-taking and dispatching. The working environment is critical and should provide basics like a call screen, a call summary view, an add call screen, CAD lists and a query.

Second is the status screen showing units / apparatuses dispatched queued / pending calls and units / apparatuses available. The status screen should be intuitive as well and should assist the dispatcher by providing distinct visual queues for things such as vehicle status changes, priority calls that are agency specific or predetermined by call type. The Full Call Path Charting assists in call-takers properly classifying the call with a relevant urgency or priority and ensures that departmental policies are followed. Timers should be given priority but not to detract from the operators’ ability to work in the environment. Pop-ups don’t assist; they frustrate if not set up correctly.

Third is the monitor that allows monitoring activity on a call, unit / apparatus or desk. Activity on a call should be dynamic, and updates should be as soon as possible, which allows the dispatch to voice the updates or supplements over the radio. This is important as officers driving to an “emergency” call cannot always read updates on their mobile device.

Fourth is the map display, which pinpoints a call location on the map. The map should also be integrated with a CAD-based AVL/GPS system that uses the X, Y coordinates from a geo verified “call pending” and compares them to the GPS location of field units. The CAD will then pick the closest unit to send to a call unless the dispatcher or field supervisor overrides the suggestion. This feature allows for greater efficiency of police resources and can add significant costs savings.

The Versadex PoliceCAD application is tightly integrated with the Versadex MDT mobile application that resides on the laptop computers. It is efficient enough to ensure that the moment the information is entered by the call-taker, it never has to be keyed in again unless it needs correcting. This allows for increased efficiency and true one-time data entry. The officer who is completing a report from the field on a laptop simply uses the “pre fill” functionality and never duplicates a single word. When the call-taker inputs the complainant’s information, he selects from an agency-specific table of case types that have predetermined call priorities that have been selected by the agency.

The system also checks for duplicate calls, active calls within a specific range and hazard information tied to that address. Commonplace names that have been preloaded into the system are also available to assist in address verification. If the call-taker types “Vancouver General Hospital or VGH,” the system auto fills and geo verifies the address. PoliceCAD also shows the dispatcher a location history and allows for complete viewing of the previous calls to that address, which often provides valuable information on suspects or events.

Simultaneously, once the address is verified, it converts the X, Y coordinates into a map and centers the map on event being processed. The system can also intuitively review the call type and, based on predetermined tables, send specific high-priority calls to specific units. If the “bomb” call type is selected, most often a field supervisor is required, and the system knows to deliver that call to the supervisor’s screen without dispatcher intervention. This takes the responsibility away from the dispatcher who already has a multitude of activities to perform. The idea is to allow the system to automate as many functions as possible in order to allow the dispatcher the ability to monitor the radio and unit status, which maximizes officer safety.

Unit status at incidents should be protected by system timers predetermined by the specific agency as to what they require. For example, on traffic stops, an agency might require a one-minute timer to ensure initial contact has occurred and the officer is OK. These timers should prompt the dispatcher but not annoy him if he is inputting critical data. The system should advise the dispatcher of unit status changes that the officers make from their mobile device. Color changes from “On Scene” to “In Service” let the dispatcher know again without interfering with their tasks.

The system should also have the ability to allow the dispatcher to access property references or contact information that has been previously entered into the system by a property reference database extracted through local government business, licensing departments or the RMS connected to CAD. The Versadex PoliceCAD has this along with a very functional and comprehensive alarm registry to prefill alarm calls and track false alarms.

One of the key benefits to the Versaterm product is the openness of the vendor and the constant desire for customer suggestion and improvement. Versaterm holds an annual Users Conference where current customers learn about new products and upgrades along with what are called “change requests.” These changes are put forward to the customer base and often form part of the next version of the CAD software. This is another benefit associated with having a single source vendor who provides all software applications. If you’re using multiple software vendors, what do you do when one product gets upgraded to the next version and the old is no longer supported? Will your vendors communicate, and who will pay for the legacy software to interface the new software?

In dispatch centers that handle more than just police work, consideration should be given to a law enforcement CAD product that is designed for easy integration with a fire and EMS CAD such as the Versaterm product. A CAD product should also be backwards compatible with older versions and should run in parallel with upgraded CAD versions, allowing agencies to migrate to the new desktop environment one workstation at a time.

This permits communication centers to retrain and migrate their dispatchers and call-takers at a reasonable pace. This ensures that training budgets are not exceeded, and operational issues can be identified and dealt with in a timely manner.

Versadex PoliceCAD 7.0 is a significant change in the presentation layer for the CAD application. PoliceCAD 7.0 uses a Web services-based architecture, which interacts with the Microsoft NET desktop presentation layer. This provides PoliceCAD 7.0 with an attractive and modern user interface. Versaterm has changed the look and feel of PoliceCAD, which now more closely resembles a typical Windows application. The use of folder tabs, menus and resizable windows are just a sampling of the new interface. These changes have been made to improve the user experience with CAD. The new CAD is much more configurable to the individual user than before. Users can customize their workspace and save the changes in their user profiles. P

oliceCAD 7.0 also supports CAD-to-CAD data sharing that may be useful to a dispatch center that is home to more than one agency. This would allow dispatchers to exchange information with other agencies that may or may not be using a compatible CAD system. Major incident notifications are one example of this feature and would be beneficial to two adjoining agencies. This stops the dispatcher from having to use a landline and “voice” the information across.

Today, consideration should be given to a CAD that supports a PDA version of a mobile application that can run on something like a BlackBerry. PoliceCAD’s Telephone Reporting (TRC) application allows agencies to put a CAD terminal in areas like the front counter of a community station or main headquarters that may be away from the traditional dispatch center. Front counter staff members can create calls for service that are sent up to dispatch or create them only for reporting and close them without dispatch. This in turn lightens the demand on dispatch and 9-1-1 staff.

Overall, the final test is what the daily users of the software have to say and how the product enhances the dispatcher’s ability to do his job. Any effective CAD product should improve delivery and boost the speed and accuracy of the caller’s critical information to the emergency responder. When looking at a new CAD system, don’t just interview vendors and make follow up phone calls; get references and make site visits. Take the time to bring the critical people from your organization at all levels and make site visits to agencies using the product you want. Put those people with their counterparts, and make sure it will work without vendor bias influencing your decision.

Finally, think about how a new CAD will interface with your other software applications. Keep in mind that interfacing different vendors’ software can often cost more than a complete new software package that includes CAD, RMS and a mobile field reporting application. If a vendor tells you, “Our product will interface to them, we can do that,” be careful. Remember, interfacing leads to all sorts of other issues besides cost. When your system goes down, who supports it when the finger pointing starts? Interfacing and downtime are two of the most expensive technology components that are often overlooked and under-budgeted.

Brad Brewer is a sergeant with the Vancouver Police Department. He can be reached at Photos by Derek Cain.

Published in Law and Order, Jul 2008

Rating : 7.2

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