New Orleans’ use of IoT makes a big impact in 9-1-1 response

When a call comes in to 9-1-1, seconds count. The ability to provide an efficient, coordinated response and arm police officers and emergency personnel with critical information can help avert disaster and save lives.

In the city of New Orleans, a technology solution from Microsoft and Motorola Solutions is drawing on the potential of the Internet of Things to vastly streamline the ways in which 9-1-1 dispatchers communicate with officers and first responders. The solution connects formerly disparate police, fire and medical services applications, a 9-1-1 call system, mobile terminals, tablets, and a data warehouse into one intelligent system. Using a powerful blend of server and database technology, modern applications and multimedia capabilities, the solution is harnessing data and creating insight that helps emergency personnel make quicker and smarter decisions.

By building on devices and datasets that already exist, the new system is helping the Orleans Parish Communication District (OPCD) transform emergency services, shorten response times, improve safety and eliminate error-prone manual processes.

A future-ready platform
OPCD provides the city’s emergency call center, serving more than 370,000 citizens and millions of tourists each year. The department handles more than 1 million 9-1-1 calls annually, routing requests to police, fire and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel in the field. OPCD equipment fields calls to 16 police, four fire and three EMS dispatch positions that provide coverage for the city.

Since it was established in 1982, OPCD has continually worked to innovate and speed response times. In 1990, it replaced handwritten records with a then state-of-the-art computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. Looking to phase out that system and position itself for the onset of next-generation 9-1-1, OPCD needed a solution that could streamline workflow for dispatchers and connect multiple devices, applications and data sources used by police, EMS and fire to make better use of these existing resources and data.

“We needed a future-ready platform,” says OPCD Executive Director Stephen Gordon. “It took 20 years to get from the first landline 9-1-1 calls to handling wireless 9-1-1 calls, but in the eight years since Hurricane Katrina, we have texting, videoconferencing and social media — and people expect to use all of those technologies to access 9-1-1.”

Those expectations meant that OPCD needed a way to easily handle multiple types of data too, including structured database files and unstructured information such as text messages, and to do so through one streamlined interface, helping dispatchers save critical seconds when they’re needed most. 

The Motorola Solutions PremierOne CAD solution, which went live in September 2013, integrates 9-1-1 telecommunications and applications from the EMS, police and fire departments in a central console. The system includes a data warehouse with the Motorola Solutions PremierOne CAD application running on Windows Server for Embedded Systems and Microsoft SQL Server for Embedded Systems software, with a service oriented architecture based on the Microsoft .NET Framework. The solution also uses SQL Server 2012 Reporting Services to share information within the public safety community.

A coordinated response

According to OPCD System Administrator Karl Fasold, having better access to more meaningful data through the new CAD system saves time and provides better information to responders. The system automatically routes calls to the appropriate dispatcher and alerts the closest emergency personnel, who see the incoming information in real time.

“We have a set of rules built into the system that identifies the type of call, the locations, and the personnel and resources required,” Fasold explains. “For example, if the call is routed to the fire department, the CAD determines the closest station with available equipment and manpower.”

Drawing on multiple systems, calls are also cross-referenced with historical data and a mapping system, which is used to notify dispatchers and responders of prior incidents at an address or involving a person. Dispatchers have access to an array of information, and multiple calls about the same incident are automatically synchronized and aggregated into a single report. In the same way, the solution’s data warehouse also pushes this rich, supplemental information through the city of New Orleans’ local area network (LAN) to the tablets used by paramedics, and to the mobile terminals used by police units sent to stabilize a scene.

“With one touch, officers can indicate if the scene is safe, or if they need immediate help,” Fasold says. “While you’re on the phone to a 9-1-1 telecommunicator describing the guy breaking into your car, the call has already gone out to nearby police units with your location and other details, including your own real-time observation and any history of prior incidents.”

In addition to improving safety and reducing response times, the solution has improved efficiency for dispatchers and other staff, who can see current information from EMS, fire and police on a single screen.

“Up-to-date information refreshes constantly across multiple systems,” Fasold says. “Now all responders have the same view of the information at all times.”

According to Fasold, that ability to share data among disparate systems offers even more lifesaving capabilities. If EMS personnel need police on the scene, for example, they can request help in a few keystrokes.

“They no longer have to call a dispatcher, who would then have to manually type in the information and initiate an incident for dispatch.  That process increased response time and carried the potential for errors,” he says. “And because the incident data is coming directly through the CAD, the correct location has already been mapped and identified for even better accuracy.”

OPCD is currently working with Motorola Solutions to integrate capabilities for texting to 9-1-1 within CAD, and is exploring options for working with video feeds as well as the statewide radio system. The flexibility, says Fasold, is a primary reason the Internet of OPCD’s Things will serve the city of New Orleans for years to come.

“This is a future-ready solution for many reasons,” Fasold says. “Based on a Microsoft data warehouse, the back end is so extensible that I can integrate new technologies and data types such as text messages without having to implement a brand new system or upgrade my current system.”

Read more about how Microsoft technologies are enabling the Internet of Things to reshape cities here.

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Microsoft News Center Staff