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Monday, December 28, 2015

Dispatch Basics: Maps (the paper kind)

"We don't need to have room for paper maps, we are going paperless!" -- comments from a living dinosaur on new consoles being designed for a 9-1-1 center in 2005.

I am sure you will not be surprised to know those consoles sit today with maps taped all over them.  As they should be.  This may come as a horror for those in the management field at 9-1-1 centers, but paper maps are a good thing.  We need to stop thinking that banishing them from the Center is some amazing sign of forward progress.  Sort of like curing polio or creating world peace.  It is actually a symptom of disorientation and the loss of one of the most important tools we have. 

From my prospective, this issue is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of maps in the center.  First, they are about learning.  The area you protect, the nuances of the local geography, the places and landmarks that will be used by callers.  There are many studies that show we learn much better when we write things down.  What better way to learn your community than by "decorating" your map book of the jurisdiction where you work?  Labelling the firehouses; the ambulance stations; and the patrol sectors for the police department.  Putting the contact phone numbers for certain buildings next to them, or jotting down the cheat for that one location that wont go into CAD.

Second, they are about doing research and being able to see things interact with each other in a physical manner.  This is the difference between taking GPS directions, turn by turn, and actually plotting how to get from one place to another.  If that part of the process is not understood, the Dispatcher begins to become an automaton instead of a knowledgeable professional.  Storms, Hazmat Incidents, Large brush fires-- all just some examples of when the dispatcher must have a bigger understanding of the geography of their area. 

To often, the goal has been to make sure what the dispatcher does supports the technology that we buy.  Instead, the technology should support what the dispatcher does.  The map on screens are nice and colorful and a great supplemental tool, especially when they help to locate a caller who may not otherwise know where they are. 

But that map is not an educational tool for a dispatcher.  It does not allow them a point of reference when they are driving around exploring the community they serve.  In the day and age of consolidation en masse, this is an even greater tool that we must encourage.  Especially since dispatchers may be handling calls for areas they do not regularly visit. 

Yes, you should have the map in CAD or the phone system that can help with the caller's location.  But that doesn't mean you can forgo the ancient dispatcher process of paper maps or map books and learning where things are in relation to other things.  Come to think of it, maybe I am a little bit of dinosaur too.  Hey, do you know what kind of tape works best on our new consoles?

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