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What is a CAD System in Dispatch?

The use of computer aided dispatch systems (CAD) continues to grow. It is, after all, a form of technology that has proven beneficial to public safety providers for decades. CAD’s benefits are derived from its ability to integrate other systems used by first responders such as help provide for a unified ability to access and relay data necessary to their job functions. 

One of CAD’s initial functions was the incorporation of data associated with the 911 system, including next generation 911. While it is still a major component of CAD, 911 integration can provide emergency dispatchers with details about a caller’s location, telephone number, and name, often before the call is even answered. As the technology developed, CAD included instant access to records management systems (RMS), as well as the ability to pinpoint the location of first responders using automatic vehicle location (AVL) software.

As mobile technology evolved from two-way radios to vehicle-mounted laptops to the use of tablets and cell phones, CAD also served as a means to enhance the data exchange benefits of these devices. The flexibility of updated CAD systems means they will grow as new technology improves and new systems are introduced. The dispatcher’s use of a single computer monitor is a thing of decades past. Modern workstations in a dispatch center can resemble that of NASA’s mission control. However, thanks to state-of-the-art technology, CAD keeps vast amounts of data organized and readily available when it is needed most.

CAD Systems for Public Safety

The use of CAD is most closely associated with the work of traditional public safety agencies. The public safety answering points (PSAP) for law enforcement organizations, fire departments, security companies, and emergency medical services (EMS) are perhaps the most common users of a CAD system. PSAPs, sometimes called 911 centers, emergency communication centers, or by the traditional title given by its members, dispatch, is the essential operational hub for public safety professionals. As the following brief examples will attest, CAD serves a vital role in the communications and data exchange necessary for these operations:

During a late afternoon home break-in, with both of her parents at work, a 15-year-old is home by herself and hears a downstairs window shatter. Justifiably terrified, she calls 911 from her cell phone. The CAD system tells the dispatcher where the phone is through the integrated mapping system. In a nearly one-way conversation on the part of the dispatcher, the young caller is eventually able to confirm her address through a whisper. Another dispatcher, using the AVL interface with CAD, can identify a patrol unit about a block away and get them en route. At the instruction of the 911 call taker, the frightened girl locked herself in an upstairs bathroom. Details of her location and a brief description of the home’s floor plan are relayed to the responding officers who will use the information to make split-second decisions about their entry tactics. Minutes later the suspect is in custody, the young caller is safe with the officers, and her parents, who had been notified thanks to another dispatcher accessing their contact information through the RMS, are on their way home.

In an unrelated incident later that afternoon, a vehicle rolls through a stop sign at an intersection long overdue for a traffic light. The impact of the two cars colliding could be heard for blocks. Information about the crash comes into the dispatch center from dozens of 911 callers. The CAD system assists the call takers with organizing the information and getting accurate and timely details to the correct first responders. EMS is dispatched for the three patients injured in the crash. The fire department is also alerted due to a possible fuel leak and law enforcement is en route to begin traffic control and an investigation of the crash. In the 911 center, CAD is organizing all three agency responses as well as a host of others including a medical helicopter and two tow trucks.  What may appear as chaotic to the layperson is really a well-organized reaction of professional first responders assisted by a state-of-the-art CAD system.   

CAD Systems for Security 

Professional security service providers of all sizes are increasingly reaping the benefits of CAD in their operational plans. Whether security services are part of an organization’s internal structure or they are provided through a contracted company, the use of a CAD system is an essential tool. The size, type, and location of a security dispatch operations center can vary based on the company’s scope. However, security professionals agree on its necessity and on CAD’s role in managing an organization’s activities. 

As an example of CAD’s benefit in the security industry, consider an incident surrounding a personal protection detail. In an otherwise covert motorcade, the asset is in the second vehicle and all appears clear from the event venue to the airport a few miles away. As dignitary protection professionals will attest, the appearance of all being clear does not make it so. The dispatcher in the security operations center utilizes CAD and the officer’s mobile devices to report a crash on the scheduled route causing both delays and a detour. Protection details must plan for the risky contingency of the motorcade being stuck in traffic. However, when dispatchers use the multiple databases available through CAD and can provide a safe, alternate route, risky contingencies can be mitigated without compromising the safety of the asset or field units. 

CAD Systems: Beyond the Expected

Traditional public safety and security providers are most commonly associated with CAD.  However, any industry, private or government, with a workforce in the field can benefit from a CAD system. Public transportation entities, as well as private taxi services, will find the advantages in CAD’s integration with AVL and mobile technologies to improve fuel efficiency and customer service. The mobile fleet for utility service providers can also improve response times, restoration efforts, and routine maintenance tasks through the use of CAD’s unit posting assignment feature. Regardless of the mission, CAD can improve the effectiveness of nearly any operation which requires a field response.  


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