Nov. 15—After more than two-and-a-half years of planning, the Owensboro-Daviess County 911 dispatch center will switch to a modern computer-aided dispatch and records management system this week, when the system goes online Tuesday.
The new computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, system replaces technology that has been in use for more than 20 years. The upgraded system will provide new services to officers and first responders, while making it easier for officers to file reports.
But will the new system result in better outcomes for officers, responders and for people calling for assistance and help? Officials at agencies that rely on computer-aided dispatch say the system will make law enforcement officers safer, while providing information so responders can better assist people in an emergency.
“Any kind of improvement in dispatch is going to help the response,” city Fire Chief James Howard said last week.
Tyler Technologies was selected to install the new system in 2019, and $755,000 was allocated for the project in the dispatch center’s budget. Like many things, the project was delayed somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The dispatch center completed training last week, in anticipation of beginning the transition to the new system. The old CAD system was outdated and no longer being serviced by the vendor, said Paul Nave, dispatch center director.
“We have had some upgrades, but the last version is 10 years old,” Nave said.
The system will streamline the way information is conveyed to law enforcement officers.
“I think the biggest thing for us is accessibility of information,” said Lt. Tristan Russelburg, Support Services supervisor for the Owensboro Police Department.
Currently, if an officer wants to look up information about a suspect, the officer has to come back to OPD and use a computer there, Russelburg said.
“It’s an old system, and it’s not easy to navigate,” he said.
The new CAD system will allow officers and deputies to look up suspect information on the computers in their patrol vehicles, Russelburg said.
While OPD can look up its information on suspects, it can’t access the Daviess County Sheriff’s Department’s suspect data. That can be an issue, because a suspect well-known to sheriff’s deputies might not have had any prior contacts with OPD, Russelburg said.
The new system, however, will allow both agencies to see one another’s suspect information.
“This will put that information at the fingertips of every office and sheriff’s deputy in the county,” Russelburg said.
Major Barry Smith, chief deputy for the sheriff’s department, said the system will bring up information such as driver’s license photos on patrol vehicle computers. When an officer or deputy is going to a call for service, the new system will automatically provide data about any previous law enforcement calls to the home or encounters with the caller, Smith said.
Previously, either the deputy would have to stop and look up the data on the vehicle computer, or a dispatcher would have to find the information and relay it to the officer.
“Sometimes, we don’t have the time to stop and look” while responding to a 911 call for service, Smith said.
Nave said the new CAD system will contain all the previous report data from the old system, so none of the incident reports from any department will be lost. The transfer of the old data will begin when the new system goes online.
“Within a day or so, we’ll have all the historical CAD data” in the new system, Nave said.
Nave said the system will provide better location accuracy, so dispatchers can see the address of a call on a map right away, rather than having to check the map themselves. When a 911 call is received, the address where the call is made will show up automatically on the dispatcher’s and responder’s map.
The dispatch center had been giving addresses to sites such as lakes, ponds and sports fields, so responders can find a field or pond by its address.
The digital maps in patrol and fire vehicles will update automatically whenever new addresses are added by the dispatcher center, Nave said.
“When I update my maps, it updates their maps,” Nave said. Currently, maps on patrol vehicle computers have to be updated from the vehicles, which is done quarterly, Nave said.
Howard said the system will also track the location of fire vehicles. Currently, city fire units are dispatched by station, with each station covering a certain area. Howard said the new system will tell dispatch what fire units are closest to a call, so the closest unit can be sent to a scene.
“They will dispatch units that have the quickest route” to reach a call, Howard said.
Instead of dispatching by station, the system will “get the nearest (unit) that can help that person,” Howard said. “If someone needs CPR, you want the person who can get there the quickest, not the one whose station is in the area.”
Volunteer firefighters don’t have computers in their vehicles. Nave said the system will send information about calls to volunteer firefighters through text message, such as any medical information the occupants have provided dispatch through Smart911.
Smart911 is a voluntary system that lets people share information about their homes and family members, such as medical conditions, with the dispatch center.
“If … the subject is deaf or blind, or if there’s an autistic (child) at the address, we can put that alert on the phones” of responding volunteer firefighters, Nave said. The city and county fire departments will receive that information through their vehicle computers.
Pat Thompson, chief of the Airport-Sorgho Fire Department, said the volunteer department won’t have as many direct benefits from the new system as the career fire departments. But volunteer firefighters will receive text alerts about medical issues, or past law enforcement issues, at homes through the system, Thompson said.
The county fire department responds with the volunteer departments on the majority of calls, so location details that will be available on DCFD vehicle computers will benefit the volunteers, Thompson said.
Thompson, who is a member of the 911 advisory board, said the upgrade to the new CAD system was necessary.
“It’s very much needed,” Thompson said. “It’s a benefit for everybody, but it’s more beneficial to career law enforcement and firefighters.”
When a burglary or robbery alarm is received currently, dispatch has to communicate with the alarm company to determine if the alarm is false before sending law enforcement. The new system will instead trigger an immediate law enforcement response to the alarm while the dispatcher verifies if the alarm is false.
“We’re saving minutes (of response time) on a bank robbery or robbery alarm,” Nave said.
The new system will improve how responders react to calls for service, Nave said.
“I look at it as, ‘what would I want to do to protect my family?’ ” Nave said. “I look at the whole community as my family. Everything we do, we truly do for the community.”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, [email protected], Twitter: @JamesMayse