County Rolls Out Computer-Aided Dispatch

Public Safety Director Ken McCorrison displays an element of the county’s new computer-aided dispatch system at the 911 Center at the Rouse Annex in Youngsville. Photo by Josh Cotton

WARREN, Pa. — Warren County, Pa., isn’t often on the cutting edge of technology.

But with the installation of a new computer-aided dispatch system — and with a new emergency radio system in the planning stages — the county will quickly move up the ranks across the state.

And the end result is this: Dispatchers will, in less time, get their hands on more and better data, producing more efficient responses when you call 911 for help.

The project is a couple years in the making.

Warren County’s “go-live” date was Jan. 29.

Public Safety Director Ken McCorrison said the first week went “real well” which he attributed to the work done by county staff who “really stepped up to make this a success.” He said the previous system was so old that the company who made it had been sold three or four times and is “not a system that that company is going to maintain.”

So the question then became how the county could get its hands on that new technology without breaking the bank.

The answer? Regionalization.

“(We) went together with nine other counties to share the CAD system,” McCorrison said, noting that the project has been a few years in the works.

“Having nine counties sharing but living in different buildings is not something that has been done much,” McCorrison said. “The information sharing is huge with this new system.”

McCorrison said the new system is “able to do behind the scenes something that would take minutes for dispatchers.”

Previously, a dispatcher in Warren County would take a caller’s name and address and enter it into one system, manually open another system that presented the questions to ask and then transfer those answers manually back into the first program.

“We didn’t have protocols in place for police dispatch and fire dispatch,” McCorrison said. “Essentially, we relied on the instincts of the dispatcher and their training to ask the right questions and elicit the right response. In this new system, it’s all handled the same.”

Call locations are plotted directly on a map for the dispatcher to confirm the address and the system also “interfaces with messaging that goes out not only to the responder but some specialty agencies like the Red Cross, search and rescue. Behind the scenes, it just automatically takes care of that.”

With the former system, “everything was a manual process” that the dispatcher had to remember.

Perhaps the best example of the difference is structure fires. “There was one response they could build for a structure fire,” McCorrison said.

In the new system, there are 30 types of structure fire incidents the dispatchers can choose from.

“There’s a big difference between hour to respond … (to a fire) in a 10-story building versus the back yard shed. Our old system didn’t differentiate between the two.”

“Everything is broken down to give us more control of the resources that we’re sending…which allows us to make better decisions to send resources.”

And while the system will enhance operations in the county, it will also enhance operations in the region.

But he explained they’re not just sharing information — they’re sharing dispatch for medical, fire and police dispatch as well as compliance with the national standard protocols. Essentially, if you make a 911 call in any of the nine counties, you’re going to be asked the exact same questions.

“The Commonwealth is coming out with new standards for call processing (and are) going to require us to have it in place. We’re doing it on our terms rather than being reactive.

“We all answer calls and process calls the exact same way.”

And one of the major benefits to comes in the event of a major situation.

“If I had 30 811 calls come in at one time, surrounding counties could answer my 911 calls … and return the call to me to dispatch. Essentially, it’s a force multiplier if that bad scenario happened.”

The county had to input all the data they want the system to present when dispatching resources — fire hydrants, road and intersection, every fire truck and police officer, common places (aka businesses) as well as those places that people know by a name that wouldn’t show up on a map.

“There’s been a lot of back end work,” he said. “We get an empty shell. … We’ve spent a lot of time. It just gives us as much data as we’ve taken the time to put in.”

The projected started in 2017 when the regional consortium put out a request for proposals. The following December the contract was awarded and equipment ordering commenced.

The end user training started in December of last year, when the first three counties also went live.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this project is the cost to the county.

“Right now the consortium is in for zero dollars,” McCorrison said, noting the project is “paid for entirely by funds from PEMA (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency).”

Those funds were generated by the tax put on cellphone users.

“This entirely was covered,” he said. “(This) is actually costing Warren County less and we’re getting a new system.”

If the county had to undertake the project on its own, he estimated the cost at around $1 million.

“The one thing that I keep referring back to, these new training standards that are coming down from the state (are) specific in what we have to do. (The) big thing (is) this allows us to meet those standards ahead of time. We’ve really gotten ahead of the game.”

McCorrison said the dispatchers have “really stepped up” to work on training with the new system, putting in countless hours in advance of the rollout, which was last just over one week ago.

Additional layers will be implemented in the coming months that will create “little efficiencies,” he added. “(We are) trying to do a phased implementation.”

With the new CAD up and running, focus will now shift to the P25 emergency radio project the Commissioners embarked on last year.

McCorrison said a timeline for that project would be rolled out when available and Commissioner Ben Kafferlin said that implementation of that project is more likely months rather than weeks away.

Kafferlin said that there have been no issues in open areas with testing but that some challenges have been experienced with reception in buildings.

So, he said, the first vehicle repeater was installed on Wednesday.

“We’re still in the testing phase,” he added, but making “excellent headway.”