Configuring Your Call Taking and Dispatch Screens for Instant Awareness

Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)

By: Diane Harris, ENP & John Martyn

In emergency communications, there’s a fine line between situational awareness and information overload. On one hand, it’s imperative to know what information to capture and relay to your units in the field. On the other, too much information can lead to confusion and hinder decision-making abilities for everyone involved. While you may not be able to eliminate the chaos or drown out the noise entirely, having uncluttered, easy-to-read screens can help you stay grounded, focused, and productive.

For emergency dispatchers, keeping the most frequently used resources within arm’s reach is essential. However, this can be difficult for those who work in a communication center that handles 9-1-1 calls and radio traffic for multiple departments. For one, it’s impossible to know when and where the next emergency will happen. And two, depending on the situation, the resources you need can change within a fraction of a second. It’s vital to have the capability to shift gears quickly without losing track of units, assignments, or pending tasks.

Call Taking Workstations

As the point of entry into the 9-1-1 center, the call taking workflow is key to streamline and simplify tasks. An effective call queue set-up can distinguish emergency calls from non-emergency calls for faster response times on critical calls.

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Radio Dispatch Consoles

Having your dispatch console screens configured in a manner that supports a busy dispatcher makes it much easier to rearrange resources, prioritize functions, identify users, broadcast alerts, initiate playback, and snooze distractions—helping you stay organized and in control no matter the call.

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CAD and Database Screens

Managing a never-ending stream of caller updates, critical data, and responder requests can be overwhelming during busy shifts. Regardless of how experienced you are, it’s easy to overlook key details when you’re juggling an onslaught of calls and bouncing between multiple work screens. And though perfection is impossible, the truth is—in this business, errors can happen and reacting to them quickly is crucial. Your co-workers and your community are counting on you to get it right.

While the ability to perform under pressure is by far a dispatcher’s most valuable asset, the tools you use can, and do affect the outcome, making it worthwhile to simplify as much as possible. Creating work screen configurations that enable you to send and receive updates, access, collect, assess, record, and share both static and dynamic information, can help your agency boost response times, ensure safety and improve effectiveness.

GPS and AVL Displays

Keeping track of callers, incidents, and unit locations isn’t always simple, though. Callers may not know or be able to accurately articulate where they are, and these events aren’t always static. Even worse, some incidents may take place in isolated areas with limited GPS coverage. Add to that the challenge of assignments that span several jurisdictions or require a multitude of resources, and you’ll see why having accurate and maneuverable mapping displays are, without a doubt, mission-critical.

Since mapping accuracy is subject to the 9-1-1 data from the carrier, agency radio AVL/GPS technology and the various GIS map layers. As a result, many agencies have started investing in these tools to add to their arsenals and wishlists. Yet some of the newer platforms may not function properly with older communications technology. As a rule, mapping software should be set to automatically populate and update location status in real-time in correlation with 9-1-1, mobile unit, and CAD data systems. With that in mind, it’s important to ensure the GIS or AVL technology you choose integrates with your command and communication console and facilitates seamless information transfer across various networks, platforms, positions and screens.

Going forward, the primary thing to remember is: while the goal of protecting life and property may be similar across all disciplines and locations—no two agencies are exactly alike. The emergency communications equipment you use should always complement and support your agency’s capabilities, capacity, and mission.

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