The 911 system has been the lifeline between those needing help and the first responders responsible for providing assistance. Before law enforcement, firefighters, or EMS personnel can respond, the vital role of the 911 operator provides information, comfort, and reassurance to the caller. Sometimes described as the calm voice in the middle of chaos, emergency dispatchers play an integral part in the lifesaving efforts of first responders.
Inevitably, one of the first questions asked by nearly all 911 dispatch operators is some version of, “where is the emergency?” Logic dictates help cannot arrive until they know where their assistance is needed. For that matter, the response cannot begin until first responders know where to go. Regardless of the type of emergency—active shooter, cardiac arrest, vehicle crash, or structure fire—an accurate location of the incident is crucial information needed at the onset of any 911 call.
How Dispatch Centers use the Automatic Vehicle Locator
One of the most advantageous safety features of 911 dispatch software is mobile technology in public safety is the automatic vehicle locator (AVL). By leveraging GPS technology, the AVL provides real-time, accurate location information for each on-duty public safety unit within a given jurisdiction. Dispatchers, supervisors, and other authorized personnel can access the integrated mapping feature within a 911 Police CAD system. By doing so, they can quickly see the location, speed, and direction of travel of each police cruiser, fire truck, ambulance, or any other vehicle equipped with the AVL feature.
Consider this scenario: the 911 center has received a call about a large structure fire on the south side of town. Due to its size, an additional ladder truck is responding from the north station. Unknown to the ladder truck driver, an unrelated crash has caused traffic delays on the main road leading to the south part of the county. Through the use of the AVL, dispatchers can see the number and placement of emergency vehicles at the crash as well as the ladder truck’s route. A new route is quickly relayed to the driver helping to avoid the congestion of the crash while minimizing the response time to the structure fire.
Similarly, law enforcement’s use of the AVL can aid 911 dispatchers in ensuring officers’ safety in the field. For instance, when an officer pulls over a car, one of the first transmissions he or she will give over the two-way radio is the traffic stop location. Both rookies and experienced officers may occasionally make an error in providing the exact street name on which they made the stop. Houses, buildings, and open fields can blend together, causing a mistake in providing their location. The houses on 4th Street and 5th Street look similar, the warehouses on Maple Avenue are the same as those on Elm, and the pasture on Johnson Road is nearly indistinguishable from the one on Jefferson Road. These slight errors can turn into huge problems if the officer encounters trouble and needs help. Fortunately, the dispatcher can quickly see the officer’s location through the AVL and confirm the actual street name, often before engaging the suspect vehicle occupants.
Additional Considerations for the AVL in Policing
The duties of the emergency dispatcher have expanded dramatically in the last two decades. While radio transmissions, telephone calls, and documentation have been routine in 911 dispatch centers, technology has allowed center personnel to expand their roles in major incidents and day to day operations. Professional police dispatchers have an almost uncanny ability to use the AVL and mapping feature to navigate personnel with the precision of an experienced air traffic controller. While scene management will fall under an incident commander’s authority, experienced leaders know the value of their dispatchers and welcome their input.
Patrol supervisors also rely on the AVL and dispatchers to coordinate response procedures to individual calls for service. For instance, a silent alarm may require a tactical approach and the avoidance of detection by any potential criminal suspects. Using the AVL, scene commanders can properly stage personnel and vehicles while reducing the chances of a marked patrol car being in the line of sight from the alarm location. The mapping feature also allows responding units to see exactly where other officers are located. Before the use of an AVL, this was often done with paper maps or from the memory of officers whose familiarity with the area could vary widely.
Additional Considerations for the AVL in the Fire Service
In much the same way dispatchers are part of the policing team, they also play a vital role in emergency scenes lead by the fire department. Again, the use of the AVL provides both on-scene commanders and 911 dispatch center personnel with accurate location information of all equipment at, near, or responding to an incident. The ranking fire officer, usually a battalion chief or captain, will remain in charge of the scene. Still, they will rely on other personnel, inducing those in the dispatch center, to provide updates regarding relevant information.
Incident commanders will often establish several areas of importance to scene management nearly simultaneously to improve efficiency. A command post, vehicle staging area, triage patient evacuation location are all impotent to establishing control of an incident. The use of the AVL in fire apparatus helps supervisors, dispatchers, and others on or responding to the scene to keep track of equipment and personnel. The AVL continues to prove beneficial when additional locations are established, such as medical helicopter landing zones, press staging areas, and family/victim reunification sites.
The second decade of the 21st century is already shaping the next generation of 911 dispatch technology to be used in public safety. While the AVL was once limited to a laptop in an emergency vehicle, mobile technology makes it possible to track first responders nearly anywhere. Police officers in a foot pursuit, firefighters in a wildfire, or a paramedic treating a patient in a large warehouse district, may all be located with pinpoint accuracy by their dispatchers, supervisors, and fellow first responders thanks to advances in AVL technology.