By Paul Bender, Global Public Sector Marketing
Enhancing interagency collaboration
Within both an agency or base, the ability to share lines from a dispatch console with support or supervisory personnel can literally mean the difference between life and death. The latest dispatch consoles using standards-based SIP technology can share lines with ordinary desk phones and easily bridge personnel on mobile devices.
With all this technology available to posts, camps and stations, the question is how to take dispatch and command and control forward – without exploding budgets or impacting operational continuity and effectiveness.
Addressing federal priorities
Delivering on DoD emergency response modernization initiatives is a multi-dimensional task and requires solutions and initiatives able to address the following priorities:
- Simplify the dispatch interface – enabling operators to work efficiently
- Empower operators with additional capabilities – increase the effectiveness of dispatch personnel
- Bridge multiple communications types – without a complete post infrastructure replacement
- Enable preconfigured alerts and notifications – to enable the fastest response to defined scenarios
- Enhance off-post partner collaboration – create an environment of seamless information sharing, joint planning and response
- Extend call monitoring and reporting – assuring reporting and compliance
- Assure security and resilience – information assurance, security to supporting both 24x7x356 service availability and regulatory compliance
Where to start
The first step in delivering this broad set of requirements is an audit of existing communications infrastructure to access both current capabilities and potential points of leverage. While fiscal responsibility certainly requires existing IT assets to be maximized, in any military environment solution functionality must be prioritized. One option to consider, that is a confirmed DoD priority area, is virtualization.
Already a mature strategy in the private sector, the ability to place infrastructure and applications in a datacenter dramatically reduces operational support costs and eliminates significant levels of capital spend. Virtualizing a command and control emergency dispatch environment offers both financial and operational opportunities for the DoD.
The key point is whether the virtualized communications environment is held on servers on-premise or in a hosted environment. And the direction of travel depends on multiple considerations – not least the technical capabilities of onsite IT support staff.
What is not up for discussion, however, is the significant cost savings and instant scalability advantages of deploying an IP-enabled, software-based dispatch solution – moving away from the traditional TDM-based hardware environment to create a flexible, lower cost and more easily deployed environment.
Next generation command and control
Having explored deployment options, the next step is to think about dispatch capability on post, camp or station. The realities of effectively responding to an incident adds a level of communications complexity rarely seen in the preceding decades. Likewise, a rapidly increasing number of communication channels puts pressure on, and offers greater opportunities for, command and control center dispatchers.
Let’s look at the kind of capability questions of most importance to an on-post dispatch environment:
- Can first responders on their way to the incident be conferenced in to an on-going call with their cellular phone or radio?
- If there’s no cellular coverage could an IP to radio communications link be established between different parties?
- Should remote decision-makers and experts need to be consulted, how do dispatchers avoid the roadblock of voicemail?
- During a major incident how quickly can multiline conferences be established, the right people brought in, and key information disseminated to local populations and affected customers?
Answering these questions is central to effective emergency dispatching – which doesn’t end with activating first responders. The dispatcher is (or should be) the vital conduit of communication and information between all parties involved in a major incident. And to make it happen, they need the right tools.
Even small scale events may require more than a handful of people to ‘be in the loop.’ Everyone needs to be informed at the appropriate level, at the appropriate time, and with the appropriate information. Prioritizing who needs to speak to whom; which calls (and people) have priority; and how best to avoid being locked into voicemail cycles is critical.
Voice to video
As previously discussed, extending functionality beyond voice to video and social channels offers additional information gathering and decision-making opportunities outside of conferencing. Real-time video from the field can be particularly valuable. Today’s social networks allow users to live-stream from their cell phones and tablets. There is no reason the same cannot be done in an EOC environment.
Dispatchers also need multiple lines open at any one time. They must be able to break into ongoing conversations if new information is passed from the field. And they need to be able to do it securely. This is not simply a regulatory compliance exercise – lives are at stake and information security is crucial.
And, voice quality matters. A cracking line from the field is of little use when information clarity is needed to make the big calls. This is often overlooked in the deployment of dispatching solutions.
Likewise, the dispatcher’s own experience can often be overlooked – which is dangerous when so much of the coordination and resolution rests on their shoulders. These skilled people need to be operating at peak performance. They can’t do it if their tools are complicated, time consuming or prone to dropped lines or missed calls.
So what does a ‘good’ solution look like? Already working with the largest armed forces around the world, our recommended approach encompasses connectivity, collaboration, call quality and, of course, an intuitive experience to get the best out of your dispatchers. My next blog is a bit a shameless plug for our vision of what next generation emergency response should look like.