The Zetron Blog: Z-Wire

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We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming…

Estimated reading time: 23 minute(s)   Newsflash Z-Wire has taken a bit of a hiatus from our regular schedule. When we launched Z-wire last year, our goal was to bring innovative, thought provoking and insightful content to our mission critical communications markets, and it’s been off to a great start. Then came COVID-19. Z-Wire, much like the rest of the world, has been operating on a modified schedule these days. While we still have great content scheduled for the rest of 2020, many of the topics we planned to cover, while timely and important in the “normal” world of mission critical communications, quickly became a bit lower in priority given our “new normal.” As such, we’ve re-aligned our recent focus to provide our worldwide employees, partners, customers, and markets with more presently pertinent updates and information in the midst of COVID-19. Some of that communication has come from Zetron’s President and CEO, Brent Dippie by way of the Coronavirus Public Notice page we created for these specific updates. As noted in the latest update on April 24th, we’re finally beginning to see glimmers of hope for a gradual return to normalcy along with any short and long term adjustments to what normal will look like in the wake of this pandemic. So, while our ‘regularly scheduled programming’ and more importantly, life as we once knew it before the Coronavirus, will soon hopefully begin to return to “normal,” today we’ll leverage Z-Wire to summarize and share some of the useful information we’ve been providing to customers, partners and employees regarding the elephant that’s still very much in the room. Keep On Keeping On First and foremost, Zetron and many of our partners provide valuable tools and resources to agencies and organizations in the public safety, transportation, healthcare and other critical sectors that are both on the front lines, as well as some of the hardest hit so far. So we’ve made it our chief responsibility to maintain continuity and reliability within our business to prevent disruptions or outages to the vital services provided by our customers battling the pandemic. Since Zetron supplies public safety and other critical infrastructure agencies around the world, we’re classified as an “essential business” to support our mission critical customers. So making numerous temporary changes to how we operate in order to sustain the health and safety of our team and the integrity of our business operations so as to avoid any negative impacts to customer support has been the most important thing we can do since this began. And it still remains our top priority. Adjusting to New Workplace Guidelines As pandemic conditions have evolved, many of our customers have contacted us specifically about our emergency, temporary, and/or remote call handling and dispatch workstation capabilities for mission critical communications systems in order to better enforce workplace social distancing requirements and/or prop up contingency workstations in non-traditional locations to accommodate reduced, temporary, or contingent staffing and operational needs. We’ve since created a way, specifically for communication centers (Zetron customers or not) to get in touch with us regarding their emergency needs or anticipated longer term needs for more versatile, mobile and/or remote dispatch and workstation needs. Let’s Keep It Clean Needless to say, an even more tactical and immediate concern for all communications centers has been to keep their existing shared systems and working environments clean and safe. For that reason, we published a guide for Sanitizing Zetron Equipment, including best practices and tips for how to properly disinfect and keep workstations sanitary, as well as what cleaning products to use to ensure effectiveness, and which products should not be used. No He Said She Said Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, misinformation and clickbait headlines have prevailed throughout the Coronavirus crisis and there has been no shortage of questionable coverage at best. Despite this, there have also been many credible, reliable and relevant resources published with useful information, tips, best practices and findings related to the crisis that have a direct impact or domain relevance to Zetron customers. Here are a few we found to be trustworthy: ‣ The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) Coronavirus Resources page has a number of useful resources for those in Emergency Response, including 9-1-1 & COVID-19: A Report on PSAPs During the Pandemic and a variety of other COVID-related online resources categorized by topic area. ‣ The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International has created a webpage dedicated to aiding APCO members in learning more about COVID-19 and how agencies can prepare, with topical webinars and published recommendations from a variety of sources, including the CDC, WHO and FEMA. ‣ The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) in association with the National Association of State EMS Officials (NASEMSO) have published a COVID-19 Policy Guidance Checklist for EMS Agencies. ‣ The Collaborative Coalition for International Public Safety (CC:IPS) released a Global Recommendations for Emergency Services Organisations to Manage the Outbreak of COVID-19 guide. ‣ The National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA) have created a webpage including guidance for PSAPs with regards to handling inquiries and responding to patients with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, and for keeping first responders safe. ‣ The European Emergency Number Association (EENA) has created a webpage containing a selection of documents, lessons learnt, guidelines and more that can help support the work of emergency services. ‣ ITS America has published a COVID-19 response report reviewing governmental resources for transportation agencies. Help (& Recovery) Is On the Way We are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Governments worldwide are engaging to provide critical funding and assistance to public/private businesses and individuals for enduring, overcoming, and ultimately recovering from the pandemic. In the U.S. alone, a $2.2 trillion dollar stimulus package, followed more recently by a $480 million business relief package, have been passed by the federal government to help people and businesses weather the storm. There is also the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding (CESF) Program. A grant being offered by the US Department of Justice to state and local governments to specifically help in preventing, preparing for, and responding to the Coronavirus. Necessary upgrades, expansions, or additions to public safety technologies, including the mission critical communications solutions provided by Zetron and its authorized partners, are eligible for CESF grant awards. Going forward, we expect this to be just the beginning of what will be continued aggressive actions by federal governments worldwide to fuel recovery. Positive signs we’re on our way to getting to the other side of this. Many Zetron customers in public safety, transportation, utilities, healthcare and correctional institutions are now successfully advancing from merely navigating the pandemic, to looking forward and making plans to more permanently implement the many short term contingency modifications made in light of it (e.g., workstation distancing, remote capabilities, back-up capacity, etc.) for the long term. These measures will help us be better prepared for future emergencies, public health or otherwise. So if your organization is currently considering communications mobility, temporary workstations, overflow/queue management, remote operations or other new necessities to make your center more versatile and prepared, whether Zetron solutions can be part of the plan or not, we are here to help. Finally, especially to those who have courageously and tirelessly stood strong on the front lines of this from the beginning, we thank you. The everyday heroes and first responders in emergency communications centers around the world that Zetron is fortunate to serve day in and day out, are always there to unwavering and marvelously answer the call for all of us, even through the darkest days. We need to continue to recognize and honor their heroics. If we can help, please let us know. Visit our Contact page for general inquiries or simply email us at customercare@zetron.com and we’ll connect you with the resources and/or assistance needed. Technical support for our customers remains available 24x7x365 as always, simply visit https://www.zetron.com/sales-support/#support. Try to stay safe, strong, patient, kind, and optimistic. We will get to the other side of this soon. By: Jim Shulkin Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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A Message from Zetron to those on the Front Lines of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s) Over the last few weeks, we have all witnessed life as we know it turned inside out by the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. It seems the world has changed overnight. Social distancing, homeschooling, working from home, and staying inside are now the new buzzwords on our newsfeeds. Besides health concerns, financial worries and anxieties over the availability of essential resources and supplies weigh heavily on us all. And in truth, even the most confident and introverted people among us are getting restless. But while there is little doubt our world will come through these events stronger than ever, there is also no hiding the facts. These are uncertain times. And although much of the world is on pause right now, it’s important to recognize and say thank you to those among us who cannot stay in or stand still. Besides the brave and relentless healthcare workers on the front lines, we must also acknowledge and extend our gratitude to our nation’s first responders. Our EMTs and paramedics, firefighters, law enforcement officers, public safety dispatchers, 9-1-1 operators, and everyone else working day and night to keep our communities healthy, safe, and operational. These people are our partners, our customers, our family, and our friends. In truth, they deserve so much more than our well wishes. They deserve our support, our patience, our kindness, and our sincere appreciation. If you are a first responder, including those working tirelessly and selflessly in telecommunicator and dispatch roles within emergency communicatons centers, please know the world appreciates all you do, and we recognize everything you sacrifice to protect the people we love. Thank you for your kindness, courage, and leadership. We are humbled by your courage and astounded by your generosity and dedication. You are the backbone of our society. Please take care of yourself and keep one another grounded, healthy, and safe. With this in mind, it’s paramount for all our first responders to acknowledge and address the unique challenges created by fighting this pandemic 24/7. Aside from the standard guidelines for PPE precautions, safe distancing, frequent hand washing, and staying mindful of physical symptoms or isolation protocols, adequate nutrition, and rest is also essential. So is mental wellbeing. During these trying times, first responders are powering through staggering levels of stress, physical strain, and mental exhaustion. If you are among this community, please understand, although it may feel the fate of your community is resting on you, and in some cases, it may be—we also recognize you are human. You are only capable of so much. Yes, we need you to keep showing up and stay healthy, but at the same time, we need you to give yourself and your crew a break. It’s essential to rest when you can. Likewise, be sure to take time to check on your family, to enjoy the solace of a five-minute walk, and to revel in the too-rare instances of a hot meal or humorous conversation. We promise the world will understand. On that note, if you are stuck inside, go for a quick walk around the building, step outside and just breathe or watch a silly online video. No matter how chaotic, remember to take time to clear your mind and relieve some of the tension. Likewise, although the pressure to perform is high, please remember you are not alone. Chances are your co-workers are experiencing the same fatigue, frustrations, and hardships. Like you, they are also dealing with the best and worst of human nature, while at the same time worrying over how to stay in touch with family and friends. Please remember to be patient and kind to one another, to lean on each other for support, and make each other smile when you can. Also, if you need professional support, again, you are not alone. If you need to talk, don’t hesitate to reach out to your agency’s mental health team. Remember, you are the reason they are there. No matter how awkward it may feel, understand these people are committed to your wellbeing. In turn, they will do everything they can to help you through this. No one will think anything less of you, and in truth, no one has to know. As far as technical and equipment support for your command center, understand nothing has changed on Zetron’s end. Although we’ve modified how we work, we are still here for your agency—24/7/365. Please do not hesitate to contact our team if there is anything we can do to better support your agency’s mission critical needs or help your command center operate more efficiently. We are all in this together, and we will stand beside you in this fight. Visit our Coronavirus Public Notice page for updates regarding Zetron and what we’re doing to remain available and accessible to those that need us. Lastly, for those of you planning on attending IWCE this August, Zetron will be there to greet you. Although we are disappointed to have missed the opportunity to see you earlier, we recognize the gravity of the situation. As such, we are committed to keeping our customers, partners, and employees safe. Rest assured, we will all be back together this summer, stronger and better than ever. Together we will get through these challenging times. Thank you from all of us at Zetron. Going forward, please stay safe and take care of one another.

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A 3-Stage Approach to Annual Communication Assessments

Estimated reading time: 17 minute(s)   We should all know the value of annual health check-ups, vehicle tune-ups, and performance reviews, right? Yes, they’re a pain, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, but they’re essential, nonetheless. Why? Because they help us stay healthy, safe, and productive. Taking some relatively simple preventative measures can pay big dividends in the long run, as opposed to waiting for something to go wrong before you get a check-up. Whoever coined the adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” probably lived in a time when the average life expectancy was 40, and they certainly didn’t work in mission-critical communications. So think about this. When was the last time your emergency communication center had its annual checkup? If it’s been less than a year, you’re likely golden. But if not, it’s probably time to get on it. Why? Because people rely on the equipment and services in your dispatch center to keep them healthy, safe, and productive. See where we’re going with this? Now we know what you’re thinking. Who has the time or budget for that? And we get that. But don’t worry, the process doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, you can break a general communications assessment down into three separate stages or about four to five inexpensive services. Stage 1: The Preventative Maintenance Check If you dispatch for multiple departments, start with control station radios. Think about the last time the equipment underwent stress testing and make sure you check every component. Since these systems operate on dependencies, even the slightest issue could point to a severe problem down the road. Next is sound and clarity. Consider the signal strength. Are the radios meeting the antenna output specs? If they aren’t, find out why. Likewise, is the reception as sensitive as it should be? Missed transmissions are a problem no one wants during a critical incident and are especially crucial during the winter months when there’s more severe weather. One last question. Are all of the subscribers transmitting on frequency? While it’s easy for someone to switch channels accidentally, some radios can experience signal drift all on their own. If this happens in the field, it may be harder to trace the source of the problem. With that in mind, checking each subscriber annually can help catch the issue before it becomes a hazard. Moving onto batteries and power supplies, how long has it been since you’ve checked the status of your UPS? It’s essential to load-test the system ensure everything is functioning as it should. Also, remember to have your technician confirm the connection cables are not loose or damaged. Along the same lines, your backup batteries should never be more than two to three years old. Consider replacing them if they are because no one wants to discover the batteries won’t charge at 1 am on a holiday weekend or when call volumes are higher than usual. Stage 2: The Technology Review Look around at the communications equipment in your dispatch center and think about the age of your system. Where is the console in its lifecycle? Will the manufacturer cover the costs if something breaks? Even more important, if the system breaks are replacement parts even still available? If you have doubts, it’s always best to check your sales and service agreements. Remember, it’s better to research a replacement or upgraded system while yours is still fully operable. Doing so allows you to keep your options open, consider funding sources, solicit feedback from your staff, and, most importantly, avoid downtime. While we’re on the subject of upgrades, does your current setup fit your needs? Are there enough workstations, monitors, and speakers? Besides the typical hardware or accessories, consider add-on applications, such as integrated CAD or RMS. Would these additions make your communications center more efficient or effective? Now might be the perfect time to examine the cost and feasibility of adding equipment, especially with all the changes stemming from Next Generation 9-1-1 and FirstNet. Not to mention the inevitable list of APCO and FCC updates we’re bound to see as smart technology and digital communications become more mainstream. In that respect, it’s never too early to think about the future. Adopting these services ahead of the rush will help your responders and operations staff adjust to the changes without the added pressure of deadlines. Stage 3: The Functionality Audit While room configurations might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a communications assessment, having the right setup is integral to functionality. After all, how many hours does your staff spend at their workstations staring at multiple monitors and juggling keyboards? Probably a lot. Whether they’re dispatching, answering 9-1-1, or running data—your staff needs a functional workspace to perform their duties. Meaning cords, cables, and wires should be unobtrusive and not easily dislodged whenever someone reaches for the radio or phone. Likewise, sit to stand consoles, or wireless headsets can make all the difference in a 16-hour shift. Even new chairs can bring relief to aching necks or backs. All of these options can be added over time and don’t have to cost a ton to be effective. One last thing. Remember to talk to your solutions provider(s) before changing workstation or equipment layouts. While some of these updates may be easy to implement, if you need to relocate monitors, chargers, racks, or towers, it’s essential to consult with your communications technician before adjusting or rearranging anything. There may be an underlying reason for the equipment’s current location. Okay, that’s it — you’re good to go for another year. See, the whole process doesn’t sound that bad. Does it? We guarantee it’s a lot less expensive and a lot less stressful than the alternatives of unanticipated failures, breakdowns, or safety hazards. And who knows? You may find that your communication center is running at 100 percent. If not, at least you’re ahead of the problem, and you may have the evidence you need to get approval for that new system or application you’ve been looking at. Either way, it’s a win for your team. Especially considering the stakes involved in emergency communications. By: Paul Guest Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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How to Bolster Your Backup Communications Center with Portable Full Service Dispatch Capabilities

Estimated reading time: 18 minute(s) Bolster Your Backup Communications Center If you work in emergency and/or mission-critical dispatch, you already know maintaining backup communications center is a necessary evil. Whether you’re dealing with routine calls, large-scale incidents, special events, power failures, etc., having a contingency plan for coordinating field operations and teams or communicating with first responders is critical to the mission. Even more important is the ability to get these services mobilized quickly and with minimal interruption to your agency and community. That said, backup communications centers are rarely equipped with the same tools you’re used to working with. Depending on your agency’s current setup, the thought of operating from the backup center for any period of time might be enough to make your team want to hide under their headsets and reconsider their career choices. Besides diminished sound quality and limited recording capabilities, painfully slow programs and dark cramped workstations can make the job even more stressful than usual. Even worse, the time it takes to shuttle personnel and settle in these temporary spaces wastes countless hours and usually results in at least some communications breakdowns. But it doesn’t have to be this difficult. Nor should it be. With a bit of planning and ingenuity, you can make your backup center more functional and less frustrating—even on a tight budget. How? I’ll get to that. But first, let’s go over some of the more common issues we see with backup operations. Outdated equipment and user interfaces Backup centers often don’t have to be state-of-the-art. But at the bare minimum, they should be functional enough to enable seamless information transfer. Unfortunately, many backup centers rely on outdated hardware or mobile solutions to perform communication center tasks. Not only can working with older equipment hinder comprehension, but it can also disrupt the transmission flow or overload channels. And while these issues might not be a huge problem at first, during an emergency, even a minor miscommunication or error could pose a significant safety hazard. Limited paging and monitoring functions Most backup solutions only allow dispatchers to monitor one channel at a time. Even when utilizing the scan function, you still might miss priority messages. Which is not exactly a comforting thought given the possible ramifications. Being able to locate and speak to all units in the field isn’t a nicety. It’s necessary. And very much mission-critical. Whether your team is in the backup or the main operations center, dispatchers must be able to monitor as many channels as it takes to confirm all units receive proper coverage. Another problem? If your agency is responsible for dispatching fire, EMS, or specialized teams, having limited paging functions can lead to delayed responses or accidental activation’s. What’s worse? Some volunteer agencies use complicated systems of on and off-duty tones to organize primary and secondary crews. While a few false activation’s might not cause permanent damage, prolonged loss of full paging capabilities can lead to inertia and dampen morale. Therefore, to ensure alarms are routed to the right people, at the right time, backup solutions should come equipped with the same dispatch and paging functionalities as the primary console. No prioritization, cross-muting, or unit identifier capabilities Nobody likes to fight for airtime. Especially when you have priority calls to hand out and that one unit, everyone knows and loves, won’t stop talking. While no one wants to be the person to ruin a good radio monologue, airwaves are precious space. It’s bad enough when other units can’t transmit their messages, but when dispatch can’t cut in or call for silence, things can get downright dangerous. Having the ability to control the channel is vital to keeping everyone safe and informed. With this in mind, all backup center systems should possess master console prioritization capabilities. And yes, while every operator on a channel should be allowed to speak, if everyone talks at once, no one will actually be heard. Equally important, without cross-muting functions, it can sound like your transmitting across the Grand Canyon. Inconsistent volume, squelch, or echoes often transform critical messages into games of guess, decipher, or repeat. At the same time, not having playback functionalities can make these situations that much worse. Whether you are operating from the comfort of your brand new command center or from a dark basement in an old municipal building—being able to talk, hear, and understand clearly is imperative. Especially when tensions are high, and the clock is ticking. Further still, when a unit requires assistance but isn’t able to make a verbal request, hitting the emergency key can save their life. This means dispatchers not only need to know the second an emergency key is activated but also who activated the signal. In the interest of officer safety, unit emergency identifiers should be non-negotiable in all dispatch centers—including backup locations. While it may be true that these situations don’t happen often, they only have to happen once to turn into a tragedy. Having access to a display that includes unit identifiers is crucial to making sure everyone gets to go home at the end of their shift. Solutions that can help keep your backup communications center operating at full power. CommandIQ Whether you’re already running MAX Dispatch or looking to boost your backup capabilities with the next console purchase, CommandIQ might be a worthwhile solution to consider. CommandIQ is a fully functional pre-configurable portable dispatch solution… Designed for easy storage and even easier setup, the compact CommandIQ console itself can be kept out of the way in a drawer, mounted on a wall, or placed on any flat surface. Need to add speakers, foot pedals, headsets, or microphones? Not a problem. These accessories are available for CommandIQ workstations. For standalone systems with CommandIQ consoles, Zetron offers rugged protective transport cases and extra power supplies to create a complete mobile dispatch solution in a self-contained package. CommandIQ workstations come complete with an event recorder capable of capturing up to fifteen minutes of recall. It also supports four different workspace profile screens and up to 16 radio channels, making it perfect for backup centers, mobile command units, training stations, and even Emergency Operations Centers. And because CommandIQ runs the full version of MAX Dispatch, your team will have access to the same user-friendly interface, button configurations, and mission-critical functionalities they rely on every day. While not the only way to bolster your secondary communications center, adding the CommandIQ portable dispatch solution can help your team keep focused, confident, and productive no matter their mission or their location. By: John Martyn Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Public Safety Dispatch Centers 101 – Terminology & Systems

Estimated reading time: 16 minute(s) Are you new to the world of public safety communications? Perhaps you’re familiar with the two-way radios commonly used in public safety, but don’t know much about public safety dispatch centers. If that’s the case, this 100 level series of blogs is for you! The first installment addresses basic terminology and the systems found within a typical dispatch center. To start with, let’s cover common terms used to describe the dispatch center. PSAP Public Safety Answering Point. This is the 9-1-1 centric name for dispatch centers, and can be used to describe the centers that answer 9-1-1 calls ECC Emergency Communications Center. ECC has become a relatively new term for public safety dispatch centers. These centers answer 9-1-1 calls or dispatches them, or both. Types of ECCs Primary vs. Secondary PSAP. A “primary” PSAP is an ECC who first answers a 9-1-1 call. If that ECC isn’t able to help the caller, they may transfer the call to a “secondary” PSAP who is more likely to handle the needed service. For example, in Redmond where Zetron’s headquarters are located, when we call 9-1-1 (which does happen on occasion), it’s answered by the King County Sheriff’s Office (KSCO) (our Primary PSAP here in Washington. If it’s fire or EMS that’s needed, KCSO transfers the call to the Redmond Fire Department (our Secondary PSAP). Single Agency vs Multi-Agency ECC. Local government is made up of several agencies with adjacent and overlapping jurisdictions. In some cases, a single agency, like the Seattle Fire Department, for example might have its own ECC. In this case the ECC employees are typically employees of the agency. However, most ECCs are multi-agency, handling dispatching for multiple services (fire/EMS, police), and/or multiple jurisdictions, usually a combination of cities and counties. In such cases, the ECC is typically an independent agency whose board is comprised of the agencies they serve. Roles within an ECC   PST – Public Safety Telecommunicator (formerly known as a TC). This is the person who answers 9-1-1 calls (Call Taker), or dispatches the patrolman (Dispatcher). In smaller ECCs, a Public Safety Telecommunicator is likely to handle both call taking and dispatching from the same workstation. In larger ECCs, the call taking and dispatching staff may be assigned to different PSTs working at different workstations. Supervisor – They’re often the most senior PST on the shift who’s responsible for supervising and overseeing the training of other PSTs. It’s common for a supervisor to be an active PST themselves as well. Administrator – Typically, one or two administrators run the ECC, manages all the ECC staff, interacts with vendors, and reports to the agency or its “Board” that the ECC serves. Sometimes, when call takers or dispatchers are in in a pinch, an administrator, who has come up from the PST ranks, can also help with call taking/dispatching. Technicians & Specialists – In a modern ECC, there are also specialists and technicians to manage the various systems within the ECC, but they don’t take an active role in processing calls. In larger centers this may include dedicated IT staff. ECC Systems 9-1-1 Call Taking – This system is interfaced to the regional 9-1-1 network. Its purpose is to connect citizens with public safety personnel. It conveys voice (and in the case of Next Generation 9-1-1, text also), along with the caller’s phone number (ANI – Automatic Number Identification), and the caller’s approximate location (ALI – Automatic Location Information). Example system: Zetron’s MAX Call Taking. Radio Dispatch (aka “Console”) – This system is interfaced with the LMR (Land Mobile Radio) system of each agency (there may be several). Its purpose is to connect the ECC with first responders in the field (Fire, EMS, Law Enforcement). It conveys voice, and in modern LMR systems, it can convey the ID of the caller’s (ANI), as well as the caller’s  emergency status. In some advanced LMR systems, it can also convey the location of the field units. Example systems: Zetron’s MAX Dispatch and ACOM Command & Control. CAD – Computer Aided Dispatch – This system is used to create events that require dispatching, often referred to as “incidents”events that require dispatching), and to track the availability of field resources (first responders, and specialty apparatus). Its purpose is to make recommendations for which resources to dispatch based on the location and type of incident. This system is the PST’s primary focus, and also the most expensive system within the ECC. Example system: Zetron’s MAX CAD. GIS – Graphical Information System – This system is used to map the location of 9-1-1 callers, and can also be used to determine the location of the various field first responders/apparatus. This system helps assists the PSTs decision on which resource is best situated to respond to an incident. Example system: Zetron’s MAX GIS. Archive Recorder – This system is used to record the voice traffic from 9-1-1 calls, as well as the LMR system, and often records “meta data” such as the ID and location of the talker too. The purpose of the system is to provide legal traceability, and to aid in continual improvement of responses (both PSTs and first responders). When a media reporter submits a FOIA (freedom of information act) request to an agency, the source of the information is typically the archive recorder. A PST has to interact with most, if not all of these systems, using multiple PCs andvideo monitors at their Workstation (aka “position”). Today’s systems are all IP (Internet Protocol) based data networks with servers located in the ECC. These systems are designed with Five 9’s (99.999%) availability because lives depend on it. Ok newbie, I know you’ve got plenty more questions, and I plan to get to them in subsequent installments of this blog. The next one will be Public Safety Dispatch Centers 102 – 9-1-1 Call Flow If you have specific questions about Public Safety ECCs, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to ensure we get that covered before this series is complete. By: Randy Richmond Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Will Telecommunicators Be Replaced by Machines?

Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)   The pace of adoption of Next Generation 9-1-1 technology is speeding up. In fact, there are organizations dedicated to increasing the pace of adoption, such as the NG911 NOW Coalition. The NG911 NOW’s mission is to promote an accelerated implementation of NG911 throughout the United States, with a goal to have voice, video, text and data for 9-1-1 available nationwide by the end of 2020. 2020 is also the year robots will presumably replace over five million jobs. The media continuously reports on the impact of the digital world and the World Economic Forum predicts a “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” characterized by unprecedented “developments in genetics, artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing, and biotechnology.” So does that mean that Ms. or Mr. Roboto will soon be donning a headset and taking 9-1-1 calls? The answer is no. Leading computer scientists working in artificial intelligence, robotics and other digital fields all agree that machines excel at frequent, high volume tasks. They also agree that humans generally excel in dealing with novel situations much better than machines. Every 9-1-1 call is novel and unique. So while technology will certainly reshape jobs in the future, the very nature of handling emergency calls will require the human touch far into the foreseeable future. I’m hopeful the adoption of new technology will ease the burden on our unsung heroes, versus add to it. I’m also hopeful that OMB and Congress rethink their decision and reclassify Telecommunicator as a “Protective Service Occupation.” It’s the logical, and human thing to do. By: Paul Guest Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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5 Secrets to a Headache-Free Communications Center Systems Migration

Estimated reading time: 17 minute(s)   Like boarding a roller-coaster, upgrading your communication center can be equally thrilling and nerve-wracking. Just when you think you’ve finally overcome funding and approval hurdles—you realize the real ride is only beginning. Despite anticipating this moment for months, there is nothing like holding your breath as your project inches closer to completion. And while Tylenol and Tums are on the menu at every call-taking and dispatch center in the country—you shouldn’t have to order industrial size bottles, to make it through the migration and implementation phase. Like any project, meticulous planning and consistent communication are the keys to a seamless transition. In the spirit of helping you transform plans into action, here are five simple strategies to keep your team on task and your project pain-free. Define Clear Objectives Establishing realistic goals from the beginning will help you avoid added stress. By the time your project starts, you should be clear on how the system will adapt to your current and future needs. Will your new console and CAD system have the capacity to handle upcoming enhancements such as Next-Gen 9-1-1, real-time reporting, regional data-sharing, and FirstNet capabilities?  If not, consider how upgrading these systems at once may save time and money, as opposed to multiple implementations and staff displacements. Conversely, if the budget isn’t there to complete all of your upgrades, look for a communications vendor that supports modular or stepped integration. Likewise, now is also the time to think about accessibility and lighting modifications. Often you can subsidize this work with strategic sources of funding. For example, if you are making any structural improvements to the facility, check with your municipality on the availability of internal maintenance crews to complete tasks such as painting or flooring refreshments while the room is free of personnel. Ideally, your agency should discuss these elements before inking any proposals. However, if you realize you’ve forgotten something, altering plans in the early stages will help you avoid friction and stumbling blocks in the future. Communicate Early and Often Regular meetings with both agency committees and vendors are a must for confirming everyone is on the same page. As communication professionals, this step may seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked amid the dust and disorder. Multiple work crews drilling and stringing wires in all directions can wreak havoc on scheduled conversations. Nevertheless, making time to gather contractors, equipment vendors, and agency leaders at the same table, is critical to ensuring continual movement and overall project cohesion. As the project progresses, dependencies, deliveries, and scope modifications should all be revisited and discussed to prevent unwelcome surprises. Above all, remember to designate one internal manager to communicate with vendors, synchronize trades, oversee timelines, and report on targeted progress. Allow Flexible Scheduling Coordinating time to complete work in unison while minimizing disruption requires precision organizational skills. But what happens when inclement weather and shipment delays upend your strategy? Of course, in a perfect world, this would never happen. Unfortunately, plans change more often than not. If you want to escape with your sanity, you’ll have to be ready to navigate the dips. Developing a schedule with built-in flexibility ensures each trade has time to complete tasks and provides a buffer to compensate for delays or dependencies. If you’d like even more control, consider downloading a free program like Google Sheets or a trial version of your favorite project management software. Using tools like these will enable you to view an instant snapshot of your progress and help map out your strategy from onset to completion. Minimize Risks and Challenges Before setting up interim operations, make sure your backup center accounts for mission critical operations and addresses employee needs. While space may play a role, keep in mind both temperature and maneuverability can impact your team’s ability to work effectively. In the same respect, excessive heat or circuit usage may contribute to equipment losses and unexpected downtimes. In mapping out your schedule, consider how work interruptions or power failures will affect systems-specific migrations, such as ANI/ALI data, CAD records, paging plans, or unit identifiers. As a failsafe, make sure your staff is aware of your agency’s backup plans for these systems. Equally important, if you are relocating older equipment to the backup, understand there is a good chance these components may break due to their age. In hindsight, it may be wiser to install the newer equipment at the temporary location. Doing this accomplishes two tasks. First, you will have time to test each system completely before taking anything offline, and second, your staff can learn to work with the new programs outside of live operations. Not to mention, moving cloud and computer-based technology requires fewer hands. Plus, it’s easier to bring on and offline. Test, Implement and Improve When switchover day arrives, consider migrating one workstation at a time. Conduct stress tests on data and power redundancies, checking components one by one to ensure operational continuity. Essential functionalities such as radio correspondence, CAD data, 9-1-1 voice, and location verifications should also be vetted before giving technicians the green light to leave. Bear in mind, that user interfaces and screen configurations, might not be perfect at this point. Adjusting these elements will require some trial and error before you settle on a permanent setup. Your solution provider should be happy to make any accommodations to help ensure a seamless transition. Before conducting the final walkthrough, make sure your vendor is clear about continued expectations. After the execution phase, it’s time to take a breath and admire your work. Well, at least until the next emergency. Moving forward, remember to keep track of warranties and expiration dates. Establishing an ongoing relationship with a trusted solution provider will help ensure your dispatch center stays mission-ready and future-proof. By: Kevin Eckhardt Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Text-to-9-1-1: Quietly Saving Lives

Estimated reading time: 10 minute(s)   Ever since the first text message was sent back in 1992, it’s transformed how we communicate. Today, over 180 billion text messages are sent each month 1 in the U.S., with 97% of Americans saying they text on a weekly basis, according to The Pew Research Center. Younger generations especially are more comfortable texting and prefer it over talking on the phone. Yet when it comes to emergencies, we’ve still been widely limited to just one option: calling 9-1-1. In this post I’ll cover how this drastic shift in how we communicate has helped pave the way for an alternative to calling 9-1-1 and the benefits it provides to those in emergency situations, as well as the impact it’s had on emergency call takers. Transition to the Next Generation Texting 9-1-1 isn’t new. Despite the first text-to-9-1-1 being sent in Iowa back in 2009, adoption by counties and states has been slow. This is due in large part to the antiquated technologies in place in many communication centers that simply aren’t able to support receiving texts, and the lack of appropriate funding to replace it, which I’ll cover more in-depth in a future post. However, being able to text 9-1-1 instead of calling has provided several benefits beyond just a more convenient way for those who prefer typing over talking to get help in an emergency and is a crucial step in the transition to Next Generation 9-1-1. Advantage of Time With every emergency situation already presenting any number of unique challenges for call takers, such as pinpointing the caller’s exact location, those on the other end of the line experience a whole different set of challenges that can be assisted and/or even remedied thanks to text-to-9-1-1. For instance, in loud environments like concerts, sporting events, or bars where it’s nearly impossible to hear the person on the other end of the line. In these situations, victims would resort to texting a friend or family member and asking them to call 9-1-1, wasting valuable time, relying on a second-hand communication chain, and resulting in no guarantee they’ll receive an immediate response. But with the ability to text 9-1-1, victims can get those critical minutes and seconds back by connecting with a dispatcher directly, and enabling help to arrive faster. With winter fast approaching, dangerous and damaging storms can wreak havoc on roads, cause widespread power outages and jeopardize communications. Not only can it be difficult for first responders to reach you in an emergency, but even calling for help can be problematic with jammed cell networks preventing calls from going through. But oftentimes, text messages can still get through, giving someone another way to reach emergency dispatchers when voice communications are down. Another situation where calling 9-1-1 can be difficult or impossible is for speech and/or hearing impaired individuals involved in an emergency. You might be thinking, isn’t that what the TTY/TDD interface does? While that’s true, when using TTY the caller is first connected to an operator or relay service who receives the message, then delivers that message to the dispatcher, adding seconds, if not minutes. And when it comes to emergencies, those few seconds can be the difference between life and death. What’s Next? As we approach nearly a decade since the first text-to-9-1-1 was sent, and despite the significant benefits it offers, why is it that just 10% of the 6,500 emergency communications centers in the US are able to receive text messages today? I’ll uncover some of the obstacles text-to-9-1-1 still faces along with what’s in store for the future as we continue the path to Next Generation 911 in a future post. What are your thoughts? Find out if text-to-9-1-1 is supported in your area. By: Alice Johnson Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Mission Critical Solutions? Let’s Talk Mission Extreme Solutions…

Estimated reading time: 12 minute(s)   Zetron recently announced the award of a new ACOM Command & Control system for the Australian government. I know, so what, Zetron’s been in Australia doing public sector business for years, so why is this interesting? Glad you asked. What’s interesting about this specific ACOM system is that it will provide integrated radio communications to and between the country’s research stations across Antarctica. That’s right, while we don’t commonly equate the two in terms of relative climate, on the map Antarctica is just a couple fingers away from the southern-most frozen continent and Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy maintains multiple permanent stations that are inhabited year-round by Australian scientists, expeditioners, and visitors. Not an expert on Antarctica? Few are, other than knowing it’s the big content on the bottom of the globe that’s typically and appropriately white in color. A few fun facts about that big white land mass (Source: LiveScience) Bring your skates – 99% of Antarctica is covered by ice Brrrrr – The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was -128.56 degrees on July 21, 1983 in Antarctica Hold onto your hat – It’s the windiest continent in the world, with gusts reaching up to 200 mph (320 km/h) in some places That’s a lot of ice axing to do some lake fishing – There are more than 200 liquid lakes on Antarctica, all buried beneath approximately 2.5 miles (3.7 kilometers) of ice Dads of the Year – The male Emperor penguin is the only warm-blooded animal that remains on Antarctica (other than humans) through the winter – staying to nest on the single egg laid by its mate while the female spends nine weeks at sea and returns for the egg to hatch A challenging communications landscape Probably needless to say, Antarctic conditions are extreme. Understatement alert. In fact, the climate and conditions actually limit access to the Australian stations maintained there to the southern hemisphere’s summer season, which is typically between October and March. So nearly all flights and sea voyages to transport people and resupply the stations are made only during those months. Also needless to say, communications between the government’s head offices in Australia and its stations in Antarctica are critical, yet can be precarious, a dangerous combination for sure. The ACOM system selected by the Australian government after a competitive bid process will replace legacy communications consoles at a head office in Hobart on the southern-most tip of Australia, a station on Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean between the two continents, and at the Casey, Davis, and Mawson stations, all located along the northern and western coast lines of Antarctica. ACOM Command & Control will serve as the new integrated communications system linking the operations, people, and over 3300 assets Australia maintains across all locations. The dangerous climate and terrain make Antarctica operations extremely high risk to those working there and any downtime in communications can be disastrous, so replacing the antiquated radio consoles in place was identified as a priority. Chris Reade, from Melbourne-based Zetron partner AA Radio that won the Australian Antarctica contract, noted in a recent press release that in addition to the harsh climate and terrain, the Australian teams on Antarctica face a myriad of other challenges the new mission critical communications system has to overcome, including space limitations, the multiple heterogeneous radio technologies in use, the often present and severe audio decibel interference that accompanies the climate, coverage limitations, and the harsh treatment all equipment and systems must endure given the conditions. It’s a lot to ask of an integrated communications system. It’s not just penguins that thrive in extreme conditions There’s obviously a lot to providing integrated communications in this part of the world. But sophisticated, complex, and/or challenging environments have always been where ACOM Command and Control systems have thrived. For Zetron the award means we now have mission critical solutions at work on all seven continents of the world, not a bad feather for the cap. But really we’re just honored and excited to have been selected for this highly important task and to have the opportunity to work with our partner AA Radio and the Australian government to conquer one of the most extreme communications challenges on Earth. Just like the male Emperor penguin, we’re ready to weather the storm…and just maybe look forward to summer a little bit too. By: Jim Shulkin Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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Building the Case to Upgrade Emergency Communications Center

Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s)   Garbled transmissions, dropped calls, frozen computer screens, and an operations center that is dated and not keeping up with the times. If your PSAP is displaying any of these symptoms – it may be time for an upgrade. That said, rallying support for updates to a room few ever see, can leave your team struggling to find enough evidence to support your position that change is warranted. So now your challenge is duo fold, we not only need to decide what to change, we need to determine the factors and establish our proposition to the stakeholders and get buy in that change is necessity. While the outlook might seem grim, all is not lost. Before you abandon your thinking, it’s time to examine some talking points that can help you present a clear and compelling case to your department’s decision-makers. Enhanced Response Capabilities Of all the reasons to leverage in your case for a new communications center, expanding capabilities should be at the top of the list. Why? In the age of instant gratification—first responders need to know everything and they need to know it now! Information gathering, response coordination, and on-scene collaboration rely on streamlined communications, constant situational awareness, and the ability to navigate unforeseen challenges quickly. With that in mind, innovative advances in telephone, radio, CAD, and mobile technologies will become the tactical tools of tomorrow. And without them, your department will be at a distinct disadvantage. When assessing your PSAPs capabilities, it’s essential to evaluate whether your current systems support interoperable communications, real-time updates, Next Generation 9-1-1, regional information sharing, and mobile command connectivity. Although these things may not feel like an absolute requirement now, access to instant awareness, collective intelligence, and up-to-the-minute scene conditions better enable first responders in the field to stay safe and save lives during a disaster. Remember, the best time to evaluate your resources is before you need them. After all, when it comes to managing emergency communications and keeping your community safe, you can never be too prepared. Improved Productivity and Increased Uptime Moving on to the business issues, it’s time to address productivity and maintenance costs. Older and obsolete programs can cause more than headaches. When you stop to look at the numbers, duplicate data entry, system errors, and time spent waiting for information to load, it can all add up quickly, resulting in a massive number of hours in unrecoverable wages and lost productivity for both communications personnel and other first responders. Not to mention, equipment failures and inadequate support often lead to unacceptable outages and unnecessary downtime waiting for maintenance and repair. Compound the equipment costs and administrative handling fees with these failures and your headaches are now fraught with extra financial burden. While these issues might seem like minor inconveniences to those who work outside your office, it’s up to you to convey the most important cost of all. Human life. When every second counts, your department and municipality have a societal responsibility to provide responders with the right tools and equipment to protect themselves and care for their community. Healthy and Compliant Workplaces Last but not least, let’s tackle employee well-being. Emergency communications is a demanding and stressful field. Every year longer hours, hectic schedules, and emotionally demanding events contribute to the astronomical turnover rate in this business. Not only is this frustrating, but it also drains your resources and leaves the department overworked and understaffed. And while an upgraded communication center can’t fix all these problems alone, making your employees comfortable can boost their overall satisfaction and job performance. Think about it. Sitting for excessive periods of time can leave employees vulnerable to a plethora of circulatory issues and back pain. While in the same respect, poor monitor placement may lead to eye strain, migraine headaches, or even nerve damage. If your department is looking for ways to cut costs and improve morale, investing in new sit-to-stand consoles and ergonomically designed workstations can help eliminate these on-the-job injuries, providing a better work environment and encouraging healthier lifestyles. Equally important is the issue of inclusion. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide fair access to employees with limited mobility. Aside from staying on the right side of federal compliance standards, adhering to this practice will help your department stand out and be seen as a caring and responsible employer. Looking Ahead So, there you have it — three ironclad reasons for building a case to upgrade your communications center. Keep in mind, first-line employees can often supply you with additional details to support your case. Moving forward, make a note of all equipment malfunctions and communications issues. And above all, remember to research federal grants and finance programs to assist you with funding and equipment options. Although these steps might be tedious, when it comes to creating an open and shut case, you can bet the benefits will outweigh the costs. By: Tom Giles Want to know about new posts? Subscribe today and receive periodic alerts on what’s new on the Zetron Z-wire blog!

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