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How next-gen tech is transforming computer-aided dispatch

The advent of computer-aided dispatch (CAD) allowed EMS to improve response times and communication with the public. Technology continues to improve, making CAD more comprehensive and first responders more effective.



By Megan Wells, EMS1 Contributor

Poor communication between dispatchers, callers and first responders can lead to prolonged patient suffering and preventable deaths in a few tragic cases. While some of these instances are a direct result of unfit 911 dispatchers, others can be mitigated with better technology. Fortunately, new technology is transforming computer-aided dispatch (CAD).

According to Stratistics MRC, the global computer-aided dispatch market is expected to grow to $2.25 billion by 2023. This is up from $980 million in 2016. This growth is driven, in part, by the proliferation of connected devices and increased utilization of CAD.

As communication from dispatchers to callers and first responders is continually improving, features of the new system will also evolve, reaching far beyond their current capabilities.

How the next wave of computer-aided dispatch will improve communication

Typical computer-aided dispatch system functions include resource management, call taking, location verification, dispatching, unit status management and call disposition. New wave technology opens the doors to much more.

Audio analytics software

Audio is typically considered unstructured data, or information that cannot be easily arranged and analyzed. However, as technology continues to improve, analyzing audio for deep learning becomes possible.

For example, when a person speaks on a 911 call, deep learning and audio analytics can detail not only what that person says, but also the person’s emotions.

Advancements in AI technology have already started to pave the way. In Copenhagen, dispatchers are analyzing a caller’s words and background clues to understand if a patient is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

In the short term, audio analysis allows monitoring of dispatcher compliance to protocols, reduce liability and improve performance. It will also allow an agency or department to search spoken keywords and phrases - like “not breathing right” or “passed out” to quickly find opioid overdose calls based on their content. Additionally, we will be able to use call categorization to quickly determine if seemingly unrelated calls are linked.

Further in the future, this type of audio analysis can create customized training for 911 dispatchers or deeper behavioral science studies of callers, helping to determine whether they are victims, witnesses, patients or perpetrators.

Wearable technology

While single-purpose devices, such as LifeAlert, already exist, it’s reasonable to assume CAD technology will soon be integrated into consumer devices that we use all the time.

For example, Apple recently announced a new walkie-talkie feature for the Apple Watch, which is available with the newest software update. While still in its early stages of development, the idea of walkie-talkies on wearable technology may have use outside of a consumer market.

For public safety, this Apple Watch feature could work as a texting system via voice, or supplement technology like radios or ruggedized laptops. Not to mention, as wearable technology improves, it will be able to eventually integrate with more applications for broader use like access to a patient’s medical records, or images of the emergency before getting on scene.

If CAD technology could work with wearable technology, it could encourage more streamlined communication in the field.

Improve response strategy

Current CAD technologies use different data or coordinate systems which can cause inefficiencies. With better technology, we can improve service by getting units to a service call location faster.

To identify the most suitable ambulance for a call, current computerized mapping uses a mix of:

  • Automatic vehicle location
  • Automatic number identification
  • Caller-identification technology

New CAD technology can start to incorporate more powerful GIS technology to enhance CAD functionality through advanced analytics and data visualization.

Rather than using network analysis of the road system based on routable streets - which is not always correct - GIS allows departments to access more data to help reanalyze routes, resource allocation and placement.

In one example, Chief Marucci of San Rafael (Calif.) Fire Department wanted to understand if his ladder trucks were located in the correct stations. He also felt emergency response dispatch assignments should be reviewed for efficiency. Through GIS integrations with a CAD system, Marucci was able to use data to analyze his emergency response performance.

As a result of his analysis, Marucci was able to identify that in fact his ladder trucks were not correctly assigned to the appropriate stations. He was able to make changes accordingly, improving response times.

Silent dispatching

As early as 2015, departments began testing silent dispatching, or the automated voice-free communication between dispatchers and first responders.

When Cumberland County tested silent dispatching, they expected the process to cut radio traffic and the data-entry workload by 50 percent. Other 911 call centers tested silent dispatching as a way to decrease nuisance calls. The technology has not caught fire yet.

However as Uber starts rolling out its panic button, an iteration of the silent dispatch, emergency dispatchers may start to find new ways to leverage the technology.

Application integration

Smartphones in today’s tech-friendly world are creating possibilities that, only a few years ago, would have been considered science fiction. Currently, smartphones can be turned into useful tools in the field. For instance, it’s possible to turn a phone into a thermal-imaging tool by plugging a Forward Looking Infrared device into the phone’s USB port.

By combining integrations with CAD records, EMS can start to leverage better predictive and proactive response measures.

More specifically, through integration, ShotSpotter, provides real-time gunshot notifications to law enforcement through the use of pre-deployed sensors across a given area. Through CAD interoperability, law enforcement and EMS can share data, which helps improve response times and establish a proactive EMS strategy. Imagine responding to a scene before a witness or victim has time to call for help.

Drones paired with CAD

Computer-aided drone dispatch is technology of the present, or future, depending on your agency’s current capabilities. Through CAD technology, drones could be dispatched to:

  • Surveil the spread of a wildland fire
  • Deliver an AED to a residence or business
  • Monitor long distances of hazardous terrain
  • Provide real-time feedback about scene conditions out of direct line of sight

CAD technology also opens the doors for drone-based technology to be deployed with advanced telemedicine kits for faster response in terrain that is difficult for first responders to navigate.

And while The International Academies of Emergency Dispatch has strict guidelines for how dispatchers communicate with bystanders before an ambulance arrives, Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority (Nev.) is working with them to incorporate drone delivery of an AED to bystanders. Soon, this will be a usable technological advancement.

Voice assistants

Computer-aided dispatch may soon be a part of smart speakers like Google Home, Amazon Echo, or Apple HomePods.

For example, a smart speaker may be able to assist by providing dispatcher instructions like providing choking or CPR instructions on demand, or reminding a patient to take their medications as part of a community paramedicine program.

Smart speakers may also be used to trigger 911 calls, by monitoring carbon monoxide levels, and calling 911 if levels become hazardous or requesting a wellness check for an elderly resident who hasn’t activated a system in more than 12 hours.

We’re excited about the next-generation of technology that will provide responders with a higher level of intelligence. By introducing the best technology available, we can improve the safety and efficiency of our EMS providers.