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Welcome to my site and thank you for reading. After many times thinking, if only I had a blog, well-- here we are. This blog will feature writings on a variety of topics from roadside food, to leadership in the fire service; politics; culture- gay, straight, and indifferent, my experiences in Ohio, New York and beyond; and much much more. It's my hope that you will find it interesting and that it stirs at least some thought and discussion. I am certain you wont always agree, but that is what its all about right? Oh and one more thing:

The views expressed on this site are entirely my own. They do not reflect in anyway the views or positions of my employer (s) and should not taken as official policy of ANY organization with which I am associated. Reading or sharing any post from this site shall be taken as an indication that you have read this disclaimer and understand it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

This is why we are called "dispatchers" (or not..)

As many of you who work as dispatchers are more than aware, there is a constant battle amongst advocates of an "Old School" approach to dispatching, and those who see technology-- such as AVL, GPS, next-gen CAD, new radio systems, call-questioning software, and data walls as the main ingredient to ensure that every alarm is processed effectively.  One could be excused for seeing their efforts as diminishing the role of the human being in favor of the machine, often done with goals of efficency, cost-savings, and productivity as prime motivators.

To these well meaning souls (Who are frequently vendors; inexperienced managers or consultants who have never actually processed a 911 call) investing in technology is the primary solution that will allow every dispatcher to be incredibly effective and productive, with a minimum of errors. The additional motivation of this approach is that a "one-size fits all" call-taker/dispatcher doesn't require specialized training in a particular agency, or in the geography of a particular jurisdiction. Dispatchers may be grouped together in large consolidated centers, far removed from the communities or agencies that they actually serve. 

In some places, this may make sense, such as sparsely populated counties or states, or areas without significant call volumes.  However, as activity increases, so should specialization-- and a one-sized fits all approach begins to cost far more than it will ever save. Further, too often those who advocate this approach view answering a call for 911; or handling a fire or MCI or high-speed pursuit to be little different than a call-center processing shopping orders or a tech-support for a computer manufacturer. After all, its all the same right? Phones, computers, and calls-- by changing the software, we can go from QVC to 911-- right? 

Wrong! Experience reveals the fallacy of this approach everday in public safety communications centers throughout the country.  There is a price to paid for over-reliance on technology, consolidation, and generalization.  These two recent incidents, as linked on the site, serve as case-studies in what is becomming the new normal.


Dispatcher Had No Submerged Car Protocol

It took Norwalk (Ohio) firefighters just three minutes to arrive at the flooded creek where Lisa Roswell’s car had been swept off the road and was now submerged in swirling water. Roswell had been able to dial 911 for help, and spoke to police dispatcher Tracy Bond as the car slowly sank into the muddy water and the connection was lost. By the time firefighters reached the car, Roswell had drowned. Now a logging tape of the call reveals that Bond was using PowerPhone protocol cards to handle the 6:05 a.m. 911 call from Roswell, but didn’t have one for “submerged vehicle.”

CAD Geofile Blamed For Response Delay

An oddity in the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) geofile at the District of Columbia‘s comm center prevented a calltaker from entering the exact location of a fatal accident last month, delaying the arrival of emergency units by at least 10 minutes. Officials say the calltaker acted properly, and it’s not clear if the victim would have been saved by a quicker response.

What this trend also reveals, in a larger sense, is our inability as an industry, and as dispatchers, supervisors, and managers who know better,  to make our voices and needs understood by the decision makers in our agencies and communities. By no means and I am suggesting that technology does not have a place in the modern dispatcher's arsenal. However, these things, just like CAD, need to be tools in a tool box that can be utilized by a trained and skilled DISPATCHER to ensure the most effective response to emergencies in their jurisdiction. To reduce the dispatcher to nothing more than a call-taker or data entry clerk following a script is to diminish their ability to successfully process alarms and to save lives through creative and dynamic decision making-- and to ensure proper resource management and allocation. 


In a time where resources are being diminshed by budget-cuts and call-voumes are increasing-- that ability is becomming ever more critical than before.  It reqires personal knowledge of geography, operational procedures, department resources, and a variety of other skills that can not be replaced by any software marker-- and shouldn't be.

Until we as an industry begin to share effecitvely with local leaders, directors and chiefs the value of these skill-sets and that even the everyday demands of ensuring an effective emergency response in our communities require us to think "outside the box" we will continue to suffer from a view that technology, not human skill, knowledge and instinct should be focus of emergency communications and dispatching.


  1. OMG I could just kiss you. I found myself reading this and screaming out YES YES YES SO TRUE !!!

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