July 11, 2013 in Washington Voices

County fire dispatch installs software upgrade

By The Spokesman-Review
 

New software will allow Spokane County Fire Dispatch to track the location of every fire truck in the county in real time.

The 20-year-old software currently being used needed to be replaced to accommodate a digital radio system coming online this fall.

“It wasn’t going to be able to be modified to accept the data from the new digital system,” said Fire Communications Division Chief Jay Atwood of the old software.

The new system allows “dynamic” mapping that is similar to Google maps, Atwood said. The Spokane and Spokane Valley fire departments have automatic vehicle locators in their trucks, but no one else in the county does. Once the new digital radios go live, anyone with a radio can be tracked. It’s not likely that every radio would be continuously tracked due to the sheer number of them, Atwood said, but fire engines would definitely be monitored. “If it’s not actively tracked, we will be able to ping a location,” he said.

The new system could cut response times. For example, truck A could be diverted to a nearby call that would normally be covered by truck B if it is closer than truck B. “It’s all based on closest unit dispatch,” Atwood said.

The new software went live in early June. Old information, such as street names and business names, was moved over in a nearly seamless transfer.

“We were able to run both systems simultaneously on the same desktop,” Atwood said.

There were a few hiccups, mostly in cases where the information in the new software did not match the old system. Added to the mix was locution software that uses a recorded voice to dispatch units. If street names in the old and new software didn’t match exactly, the computer would sometimes get confused, Atwood said. In those cases the computer will tell responding units to check their pagers or the system can be overridden by dispatchers, he said.

“She (the recorded voice) didn’t know what to say when it came to I-90,” Atwood said of the locution software. “It wasn’t the end of the world, so to speak.”

The dispatch center has spent the last month fixing bugs. The automatic Twitter feeds used by the Spokane and Spokane Valley fire departments to tweet the locations of major calls stopped working when the new software was installed.

“I think the plan is to bring it back, but no one has had the time to do it,” he said.

There will also be more opportunities to create specialized apps that can connect to the new software. For example, a volunteer firefighter could use a smartphone app to indicate he or she is responding to a call, Atwood said.

“The user agencies are excited about that,” he said.

Law enforcement agencies are scheduled to switch to the new digital radio system sometime this fall, Atwood said, and fire dispatch will follow suit in January.

“There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” he said. “It’s a phased-in cut over. We don’t want to lose anybody in the shuffle.”

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