Today, 911 calls might just as easily come from a smartphone using VoIP technology as from an analog home phone. Similarly, what happens on the backend when someone calls 911 has also evolved over the years. Specifically, today’s 911 dispatch consoles are not those of 20 years ago; just as phones have evolved, so too have dispatch consoles.
“Thirty years ago the consoles were all hard wired with mechanical switches,” wrote Tom Treichler, who has seen more than 200 radio dispatch consoles installed over the years as director of sales and service for Chicago Communications.
“A dispatcher that needed to talk to a specific vehicle would press the specific button on his/her console for the radio channel that was needed,” he explains. “This mechanical button would cross connect a set of wires that would allow audio from the dispatcher’s microphone to connect to a radio transmitter (channel) and be broadcasted out.”
Dispatchers in their basic form had multiple choices to connect to multiple devices in the field, with the dispatcher providing flexibility and minimized the number of devices a dispatcher had to work with to communicate information.
Flexibility is still the case with dispatcher systems, but now instead of taking up whole rooms with wires and different equipment systems, dispatch centers use software-based solutions that greatly reduce the footprint while adding additional functionality.
Now, “each system runs its own specific software and calls for the placement of up to 8 monitors at one position depending on the system being utilized,” Treichler explains. “Backend equipment rooms allow for the guts of the systems to be kept off of the users position. Radio is no longer the single operation that a dispatcher has to be involved with. The typical dispatcher (telecommunicator) now handles multiple systems, multiple calls, processes large amounts of data and generally keeps processes in a managed orderly form.”
There are many factors to consider when setting up a modern 911 dispatch center, including space requirements, cabling, software upgrades, bug fixes, enhancements and recording screen size. However, according to Treichler, some of the most important factors to consider include:
- How many channels of audio are being controlled 4 channels, 8 channels, 12 channels, 24 channels? More?
- How many positions will be required?
- What telephone systems will be incorporated?
- Does the system need to be connected to other regional or statewide systems?
- Will the system need to connect via telephone lines or wireless control stations?
- Can the system select multiple channels on the radios?
- Are there specific manufacturer related systems that the system will need to interface with?
- Who can effectively maintain the consoles and with what response times?
One last thing to keep in mind is seriously considering your options.
“What you need today may not be what you need tomorrow. With consoles lasting typically five to seven years before hardware enhancements are required,” he writes, ensure “you are putting your money to good use.”
So be sure to keep all of these considerations in mind and you’ll be good to go!
Edited by Allison Boccamazzo