On the map: Borough to update emergency dispatch system

Posted: Thursday, August 12, 2010

A fire alarm went off at a Sterling residence one morning two weeks ago. The alarm company notified Central Emergency Services it was a false alarm, but the agency has a policy of checking the site itself, and an emergency crew rolled.

Finding the residence, listed at 38905 Ian Circle, took more than ten minutes.

The responder had an old map in his fire engine that didn't include the subdivision. Adding further difficulty the dispatcher's directions included streets that didn't exist.

"It's on the plat, but it's not on the ground," Assistant Chief Gordon Orth said.

Orth said that incidents like that false alarm occur once every couple months. He hopes that the borough's planned Computer Aided Dispatch system will lessen the confusion.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management Director Eric Morhmann said that the proposed system will relay maps of incident locations from dispatchers to responders. The maps will appear on computers inside response vehicles. He said that two companies are finalists in the contract proposal process: Tritech and New World.

Both systems show the origin of landline calls and the longitude and latitude of cell phone calls. The dispatch software recommends what type of units should respond to a case, said Tritech regional sales manager Robert McGrath. McGrath said that the technology can alert firemen if a structure fire is near a source of flammable liquid, such as a construction site or fuel tank.

New World Regional Vice President of Sales Craig Nelson said that the technology prioritizes units when dispatching. For example, if fire fighters are doing hose laying exercises near a high priority structure fire, Nelson said, the system will notify dispatchers of their location.

Higher-ups can place alerts on the properties, too. This aspect of the systems notifies responders of the criminal history of an area or potential hazards, according to Nelson.

According to Morhmann, implementing the system has run into difficulties in the past. The initial appropriation, $500,000 according to the 2009 borough budget, underestimated the cost of the project and solicited few business proposals. In February the borough estimated that cost will be between $600,000 and $850,000.

The borough has checked the references of both companies and seen demonstrations of their work, according to those involved.

Borough GIS technician Chris Clough said that the new system will use the government's existing GIS maps.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com.



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