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How Computer-Aided Dispatching Software Can Make the Difference Between Life and Death

I awoke, bewildered and confused.  I heard screaming at my downstairs door, a woman was screaming in a pitch that I had never heard in my life.  “Help me,” the voice screeched, “my baby.”

Coming to my senses, I made it to my front door to find my young neighbor who had just moved in days ago, pleading for my assistance.  Presented in front of me was a 23-year-old mother, holding the lifeless body of her 6-month-old baby girl who I had held just 3 days before.

Being an 82-year-old guy just holding on to the last few breaths of life, I found that this kind of situation fell right into my “wheelhouse.”  Although I had never been presented with this exact situation, I had survived 2 tours in Vietnam on a PT boat, raised 4 kids, beat lung cancer and weathered the loss of my wife 1 year prior; I was able to focus enough to call 911.

Once connected to the 911 dispatcher, she asked me many straight forward questions.  She confirmed my address, she confirmed my situation and then…it was time to act.  The dispatcher began asking me questions and giving me direction on what to do for the baby.  It was obvious that the child’s mother was in no position to assist her daughter, so I reluctantly stepped in.  I took the child in my arms, placed her on the floor of my home and began to assess her as the dispatcher instructed me.  I can’t recall everything that happened from that point on until the police and fire department arrived, but I can say that the little girl Emily survived and is doing well.

What is Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) and Why May Your Life Depend on It?

If you are an Architect or Engineer, you would automatically refer to CAD as Computer-Aided Drafting. That is correct, but it also describes Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) which is what we are going to be talking about in this article.

What is Computer-Aided Dispatching?  In a short answer, Computer-Aided Dispatching(CAD) is a software system that assists 911 dispatchers to help save lives.  It is not natural for anyone to be able to give second by second advice on life-saving measures to someone in distress. You can ask any dispatcher, law enforcement officer, or EMS provider which calls are the most difficult to dispatch and respond to, and I can guarantee the majority will say incidents involving children.  In this situation, using the fully integrated police dispatching software, the dispatcher was able to ask important questions and direct the caller to effectively handle the emergency until resources arrived, while quickly dispatching the proper agencies. This resource greatly improves the speed and efficiency of call handling and dispatching. 

The Precursor to the CAD System and Police Dispatch Software

As the 911 system developed over the years, efforts were made to assist dispatchers with certain procedures to manage emergencies until “hands-on” assistance arrived at the scene.  In the mid-1970s, the development of the “Enhanced 911 System” aided emergency personnel in locating scenes as the caller’s address was identified.  As technology has advanced, dispatch software now includes the ability to locate dropped cell phone calls, and even shows the GPS coordinates of a call.

In years past, emergency dispatchers relied on the “index card” or “cookbook” type response protocols.  If a caller had a certain type of complaint, injury or illness, the dispatcher would be directed by certain protocols or written directions to proceed. The Police CAD system allows dispatchers to reduce response times by utilizing a streamlined and more efficient system. The CAD system allows dispatchers to send messages to officers and EMS personnel’s mobile data terminals (MDT’s) when they do not want to broadcast over the radio. Dispatchers can easily view the status of all units that are dispatched to an incident. Computer-Aided Dispatching comes with dispatching software that provides tools and displays so dispatchers can handle calls quickly and professionally.

Dispatching for Law Enforcement and Fire/EMS are two different animals and it takes a very savvy dispatcher to be able to do both.  Fortunately, with the advent of Computer-Aided Dispatching, the lives of dispatchers have become less stressful and the service that they provide has become much more effective. Saving lives is what it’s all about.   

Using Computer Aided Dispatch Software

The use of computer-aided dispatch systems (CAD) software is nearly second nature to modern public safety professionals. It serves as a means of communication, organization, and record keeping for every event or incident which falls under the jurisdiction of a particular agency. While CAD routinely improves productivity and enhances the quality of service provided to the public, its primary goal is shared with the same public safety professionals who use it; the goal of saving lives. 

By integrating CAD with an agency’s records management system (RMS) and mobile technology, first responders are better equipped to perform their life-saving duties. The training and experience of professional 911 dispatchers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel are naturally complemented by tools designed specifically for them. Computer aided dispatching software is precisely such a tool. The examples below represent common calls for service in three public safety disciplines and how CAD assists in life-saving measures.

CAD Aids EMS in Saving Lives

One of the most emotionally difficult calls for service involves an elderly person, living alone, in need of help. The all too common “fall call,” occurs when someone, usually a senior citizen, falls in their own home and is unable to summon assistance. Often, reaching a telephone can take hours and sometimes days. Other times, a cell phone or panic button may have been in reach or a neighbor might have heard the calls for help.  

Once the call reaches the 911 center, CAD is working to help save a life. The location of the caller is pinpointed on an integrated map visible to both the 911 dispatcher and paramedics through mobile technology. A quick search of CAD’s historical records of the address or patient can reveal a host of notes which immediately aid in the present response. CAD notes may contain contact information for the next of kin or a neighbor who has a key to the patient’s home. 

Even before medics arrive, a family member or neighbor may be able to gain access and help 911 call takers evaluate the scene. If equipped, dispatchers can use emergency medical dispatching (EMD) to render aid until first responders arrive. CAD and mobile technology can also relay important information that can reduce response times such as driving directions, gate codes, and the location of any unlocked doors or windows to gain access to the patient.

The Fire Service Relies on CAD for Life Saving Information 

The alarm for a structure fire is unique to firefighting professionals. Perhaps not in the actual sound it makes throughout the station house, but to those responding, a structure fire alarm holds a distinctive place in their minds. When the possibility of a victim being in the structure is realized, the sense of urgency is exponential.

Fire command officers rely on CAD to help in their important decision-making process. With a quick review of CAD’s mobile features, supervisors can determine a host of important factors including the location of available units and their likely response times. In such a situation, the saying, “time is of the essence,” is not only referring to getting to the scene, but to how fast first responders have vital information to help coordinate that response. CAD’s mapping features allow firefighters to determine the best, not necessarily the fastest route to a scene. After all, the same narrow ally which might allow easy access for a police cruiser could cause unnecessary delays if one tried to bring a ladder truck the same way.

As important as getting there, knowing where to stage various types of apparatus is also crucial. The mobile technology associated with an agency’s CAD system allows fire command officers to know the location of hydrants, standpipes, and other equipment. Placement of pumpers, tankers, heavy rescue, and other vehicles can be more strategic when additional facts about the fire scene are known. Depending on the location, CAD may also allow these responders to access floorplans, schematics, and the identification of any hazardous materials which may be in or around the structure.  All of these factors can help firefighters improve their response procedures and enhance their life-saving efforts.  

How CAD Helps Law Enforcement Save Lives 

In much the same way an elderly person falling or a structure fire are common calls for EMS and firefighters, the subject threatening suicide is an all too frequent incident for law enforcement officers. The dangers in this type of call for service are multi-faceted as there is almost always more than one life hanging in the balance. Experienced police professionals know that if someone is threatening to take their own life, they may not hesitate to take another, including that of the officer, in the process.

Responding units can find benefit in their CAD system as they are en route to this type of incident. As previously mentioned, the mapping feature can help officers formulate the best response including considerations for vehicle placement and a covert approach. Patrol supervisors can also incorporate automated vehicle locator (AVL) technology with the CAD system to coordinate a tactical response as the circumstances dictate. 

Officers trained in crisis negotiation techniques can realize the advantage in CAD’s records relating to previous encounters with the suicidal subject. While each situation is unique, crisis negotiators rely on basic techniques to formulate their distinct response. Information found in the CAD system can be a valuable tool in that response. Having the information available through mobile technology reduces delays in opening a dialogue and aiding in life-saving procedures.

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