Public safety responders do not advocate for less information. In the three years spent researching new computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, the priority for those of us at Sound Sound 911 has always been sharing more information concerning the 2,500-plus emergency calls the agency handles per average day.
I am confident we are achieving that goal.
It's easy to put a wealth of information at someone's fingertips, but nowadays with the volume of information available, our dispatchers and responders simply need another set of hands.
In lieu of that feat, they are equipped with more computer monitors, more keyboards, more methods to access information, and unfortunately, new ways to work.
Our responders always "make it work" when times get tough. But, the new CAD system at the center of a Feb. 5 article in The News Tribune is not hobbling. It is not troubled.
In fact, it is now compliant with public safety data security standards. It’s also ready for Next Generation 911 services such as text-to-911.
We cannot forget how the old CAD system limped along for years, sometimes failing system-wide for hours or days, sending dispatchers and officers back to pad and pen. That is not the way our community expects public safety to operate.
Is the new system perfect? No, and for some it never will be. It is complex by nature.
CAD software facilitates the dispatch of resources, from 911 call to the police, fire and/or medical response. It is currently a part of dispatch operations for 38 police and fire departments, or approximately 1,900 first responders and dispatchers.
There is no out-of-the-box “easy button” solution to handle this responsibility.
So, who better to provide input to South Sound 911’s support services than those who use it? Officers, firefighters, dispatchers and call takers worked together to determine how the system would best meet their needs. They spent months deciding how that information would be presented in a variety of situations. It is an ongoing team effort which must not be abandoned.
This effort has already paid off. The fact that 282 officers from 11 agencies could be dispatched to the scene of the Nov. 30 Tacoma police shooting in which Officer Reginal “Jake” Gutierrez lost his life was something the old system, the old way of doing business, simply could not accommodate.
In addition to those officers, many more in the field and dispatch were viewing the incident remotely, which was also not previously possible without interfering.
We may not be able to prevent accidental button presses or help responders memorize a password, but we are addressing the most serious and critical issues – and we do this with assistance and guidance from those we support in public safety.
Pierce County voters endorsed this approach when they approved South Sound 911 in November 2011. The purpose was to achieve public safety communications interoperability, so that all police and fire responders can work cooperatively to better serve the community.
To date, we’ve put nearly 4,600 new radios into the hands of responders; upgraded 700 MHz, 800 MHz and VHF networks countywide; and replaced outdated 911 phone systems, in addition to rolling out the regional CAD system.
Organizationally, we are unifying five once separate communication centers capably served by 144 dispatch employees. And we are streamlining procedures so our callers, those who need emergency aid, will get the help they need faster.
That is what South Sound 911 is about.
We’ve come this far in four short years, with oversight by elected officials on our policy board and police and fire chiefs on our operations board.
Without this work, five 911 dispatch centers would be separate, manually patching communications for police and fire responders still operating on outdated, non-compliant networks with radios ill-equipped for today’s emergencies.
There is a great deal of work, change and challenge ahead. Our mission is taking us on a road that hasn't been paved – and blazing a trail is never easy.
Andrew Neiditz is executive director of South Sound 911. He previously worked as Lakewood city manager, Sumner city administrator, deputy Pierce County executive and county director of public safety.