Let’s start the process by talking about CAD or Computer Aided Dispatch. There are a number of different programs out there that help 911 dispatchers and call takers work through a 911 call. A CAD program is designed to handle everything from entering call data to sending out the call to the appropriate units.
Some of the more popular CAD systems are
Which ever one you choose they all function similarly. A 911 calltaker answers the phone and asks the caller what their emergency is. They then proceed to take important information like name, address, callback number, what kind of emergency is it? Fire, Police, EMS? They have a new call screen that they begin to fill out and select a call type such as “Motor Vehicle Accident”. In a bigger call center, this will trigger both the Police dispatcher to start police units to that location and update them as additional notes get entered. At the same time the Fire and EMS dispatchers are notified and they send out a Fire truck and Ambulance as well. Most communities have run assignments that indicate for a specific call type to send specific units.
For example in our city when a Motor Vehicle Accident call type is selected and the dispatcher has the location, they hit a recommendations button. This button when hit will search the run assignment for what is recommended for a MVA. In this case its an Engine and an Ambulance. It will then search for the closest Engine and Medic unit to that location based on GPS data. It will select those units and send them the information for the call.
In a smaller, more rural area, a single person might take down all the information on paper and notify proper units by radio or even phone.
True CAD systems have a multitude of capabilities. They can process any number of calls for Police, Fire, EMS, Animal Control, or non-emergency agencies. It can store maps, fire hydrant locations, pre-plans, gate codes, and lots of other things.
Mapping is another nice feature for a CAD system. When maps are loaded into CAD, usually through a GIS department, they can add all kinds of additional data to make emergencies easier to deal with. Once a caller gives a call taker the location information and its verified as an address point on the map, a pin appears for the call location. Once responders have a valid location, it can be cross-referenced with any stored information in CAD such as a gate code, any hazardous materials that may be located there, or perhaps a violent offender from a previous call. Maps will allow units to get turn by turn directions directly to their computer, or ipad and get them to the location quicker. When a bridge or road is closed, a roadblock can be placed on a CAD map and if a call in that area is dispatched, routing will automatically go in a different direction and show responders that the bridge, or road is closed.
CAD systems are not cheap and can cost a city hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Most systems come with different packages to include CAD, Mapping, Fire documentation, police documentation and EMS documentation programs. Some have smaller inventory, and scheduling add-ons as well. Most municipalities go though vetting processes over a year or more to evaluate, and compare numerous CAD vendors before choosing the best one for them.
While costly, a fully capable CAD system is an invaluable tool for any Public Safety system and can reduce response times, getting Public Safety professionals to the emergencies quicker. If you have any questions on CAD vendors, or the 911 process in general please email me at
firstname.lastname@example.org. More to come!