Mobile data system cuts the static for Frederick County fire and rescue
- By Amanda Ziadeh
- Aug 11, 2015
Fire and rescue vehicles in Maryland’s Frederick County are upgrading to mobile data terminals.
Since May, the county has been integrating ruggedized Panasonic CF-53 laptops into 172 fire and rescue vehicles to reduce voice radio traffic and enhance public safety. By this week, county officials, said, the final stations in northern Frederick will complete the upgrade.
“As our fire rescue system gets bigger, voice radio traffic becomes almost a detriment because you begin to have messages about fire rescue incidents get mingled together and become confusing – and in some cases can slow us down,” said Tom Owens, director and chief of the county’s Division of Fire and Rescue Services.
The laptops are being attached to the vehicles for first responders and dispatchers to provide a better alternative to traditional voice communications. A docking station has been installed in each primary tactical unit in the fire stations, and the computers connect with dispatch centers through wireless cellular networks.
According to Stephani Stockman, software integrator with the Frederick County Government’s Interagency Information Technologies Division, the laptops will be connected to the county’s data infrastructure “to provide the best security measures.” Data shared through the county’s private network is encrypted.
The laptops use Intergraph Mobile for Public Safety 9.1 incident management software to communicate with the computer-aided dispatch software that the county has used since February 2005. The new solution is expected to provide a more seamless flow of real-time data and workflow management.
When units are dispatched to a call, responders will receive a message through the mobile data terminal that gives them the address and any pertinent response information. The dispatch center can also track, without radio communications, the units responding and how many personnel are involved.
While en route, responders can get access to information on the changing emergency scene conditions without generating additional voice radio traffic. The system also uses maps generated by the county’s GIS department that allow responders to find addresses more efficiently, locate fire hydrants and see approaching intersection blind spots. Global positioning data also lets responders see the locations of all the county’s other emergency response vehicles as they are responding to an incident or en route to a scene.
“Through close work with the [Interagency and] Information and Technology Department as well as Emergency Communications, this program allows us not only to have access to the computer-aided dispatch information from our 911 center but also mapping throughout the county through our GIS department,” Deputy Chief Thomas Coe said.
While the installation of the mobile data terminals is expected to save the county money and provide immediate automated information to responding units, it will also ease the workload for 911 dispatchers.
“Less voice interaction, more work with the computers – which they are doing as part of the regular process anyway – really makes the communication process with our responding units much more efficient,” Owens said.
Initially, cellular network availability was a challenge, and testing with earlier deployments allowed for adjustments. “We tested for several months in advance in a training environment and as well as [with] selected users in the live environment,” Stockman said.
To handle the new equipment, first responders, volunteers and career personnel were offered months of hands-on classroom training with sample call scenarios, training environments, station “refreshers” and helpful documents.
The county-funded projected cost $975,000, and the software purchased has been made available to other local government agencies in the area that also rely on mobile data terminals.
Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.