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Breaking Into Technology

Author: Diana Sprain

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

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UMC Public Safety and CAD

By Diana Sprain

University Medical Center Hospital of Southern Nevada (UMC)’s Public Safety is a diverse department with three divisions: Public Safety (security), Safety, and Patient Transportation. Public Safety and Transportation each have their own separate radio channels and dispatchers, located in different areas of the hospital. This article is about the Public Safety division.

A Department Overview

The hospital has been serving the resident of Las Vegas and Clark County since 1931. It is a Level 1 Trauma center for Southern Nevada and parts of Utah, Arizona, and California. Patrol officers are responsible for maintaining peace inside the hospital and within the grounds of the main facility. Outside patrol units monitor the parking lots and garages. Outside units can be pulled inside for extra back-up if needed. Public safety also staffs some of the UMC off-site clinics. Inside the main hospital, patrol covers both fixed posts and roving units. Dispatch position breaks, days off, vacations, and the nightshift are covered by patrol.

The dispatch function at UMC Public Safety is similar to that of any Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). Dispatchers are required to answer incoming phone calls on both emergency and non-emergency lines. The only difference here is that instead of 9-1-1, the emergency number is 2777. The emergency number is painted on the side of the vehicles, listed on the hospital website, the in-house directory, and given out during employee orientation.

Prior to CAD, dispatchers took limited information during the call-taking process due to old-time habits and call log sheet set-up. Time was divided between answering phones, filling out the dispatch sheets, monitoring various alarm systems, filling out property logs, and watching surveillance monitors. Crimestar RMS had a CAD feature, but no one had any experience with a paper-to-CAD conversion and only a few staff had worked with a CAD system at previous jobs before.

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Starting from scratch

In January of 2007, Deputy Chief Tod Miller made the decision to start phase one of the CAD conversion process. The Crimestar RMS had proved its worth, but to use the program to its fullest potential, the field units needed to write reports directly in the RMS system instead of on paper. Up to that point, paper reports were completed and turned in, where the Badging Office staff entered the information in RMS. To get CAD on-line, DC Miller needed a qualified trainer who knew the system. That’s where I came in.

In April 0f 2005 I transferred from another area of UMC to Public Safety. I already had sixteen years experience as a public safety dispatcher, fourteen of which were with the City of Berkeley (CA) Police Department as both a line dispatcher and a supervisor. I was there for Berkeley PD’s paper-to CAD conversation.

DC Miller held off until late 2006 to get the project started. There was no formal training for the dispatch staff. Armed with a CAD manual, I was advised to use any spare time between calls to learn the program on my own, as was my coworker on swing shift. Deputy Chief Miller also asked for any feedback on the CAD program as it stood.

Converting a Communications Center from a paper system to a computerized dispatch system can be a difficult or as easy as the support provided by management. In our case, because the RMS program had been in use a few years before the CAD, there was no chance of getting Crimestar’s people to put on a class for the primary dispatch staff. We were on our own.

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What is a field event?

When I first starting going through the program, issues and questions piled up. The list of call types & disposition codes were limited. DC Miller and I went through the daily duties of the officers to decide which activities deserved individual call types and which did not. Spirited discussions went back and forth on how detailed the codes should be.

At first we focused on the hospital’s specialized duties and developed a list of codes to fit our needs: examples included property pick-ups and returns, helicopter standbys, restraints, and trauma activations. Once we went live, the call types expanded out but DC Miller felt that the list was too long and took out some of the codes whereas I disagreed arguing we needed a more detailed list. Later we compromised and added local law enforcement codes.

The geofile data had to be manually entered because we did not have a file to download from the phone company like a PSAP would. I tasked patrol units to seek out and bring back local street names, the beginning and ending block numbers, odd & even numbering, etc. I started going through the hospital directory and updating information on departments. Part of the process for each department included setting up the beat, sector, district, and responsible agency. It’s a very time consuming process when it’s done between answering radio traffic and phone calls.

Next, I went over the actual CAD commands to develop lesson plans. When the software is purchased, the tech support personnel usually will customize the program to the Department’s specifications. If no directions are given, then the agency gets the standard CAD software, along with the RMS software purchased.

UMC Public Safety’s RMS had the standard CAD program. It didn’t take long to go through the files and learn CAD. As with any system, Crimestar has multiple methods of processing commands and the choice of which method to use is up to the individual user. I’d use the simplest ones to teach the officers.

As I went through the program and became familiar with the CAD commands, I discovered a problem that needed a fix before we could go live. CAD did not contain a means for a field unit to initiate an event! I went to Deputy Chief Miller and asked him if he could go through the programming and add a field event option. “What’s a field event?” he asked.

I had to explain the difference between calls initiated from officers in the field and calls originating in the dispatch center and why it was important to keep them separate from one another. He understood and was able to add the option.

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Training the Trainers

With CAD ready, I was tasked to prepare a training course for six officers. They in turn, would become trainers for their assigned shifts. It was a daunting assignment: none of the six had prior CAD experience, although three of the six did work in our dispatch center in the “paper” mode. As a County facility, UMC Hospital is constantly under a tight budget. I had hoped for a minimum of twenty-four hours of training and a maximum of forty. The Information Technologies (IT) Department determined that four hours was sufficient training for the CAD program. Four hours? You’re kidding! Tod and I went back & forth on the issue. The final training allotment ended up being eight hours.

Emails were sent out to the involved personnel by DC Tod Miller while I finalized the training materials and lesson plans. Meanwhile, Tod arranged to have a training room reserved for us with enough computer terminals for each officer to use during the class.

The day of the training arrived and I found myself short one student. I handed out the training materials while Tod networked the computers to the laptop loaded with the Crimestar software.

I had no idea how computer literate the five men were until that morning, so I went on the assumption that they knew nothing. I took them from the basic “turn on the computer” all the way through every command. 

Using the laptop hooked into a large screen display, I would explain a command or status change and demonstrate how to do it on. I would then have each of the officers, using their own ID in the system, mimic what I did on their computer. By watching the large screen, I could instantly see who performed the command correctly and which officer did not. I allowed for questions before moving on to the next topic.

Call taking was a little tougher. I displayed a blank event screen and went through each blank field, explaining what was to be entered in each. I then filled in a narrative as an example of information that could be initially placed in the free-typed field. This is where I ran into problems: the officers had problems understanding the difference between documenting comments and just typing and saving information.

The five officers couldn’t grasp the concept of proper documentation in CAD, despite the fact that they wrote paper reports on a regular basis. Yes, they quickly caught on to the narrative field style of documentation, but as I tried to explain to them, the narrative field can be changed. Events can be closed and re-opened at any time – and narrative field comments erased, edited and/or added to. In Crimestar, narrative field comments do not get a date & time stamp: to have an unalterable comment with a recorded stamp, the dispatcher must use either a radio log or the dispatcher log command.

Entering comments wasn’t the only concept that had the guys scratching their heads. They quickly figured out entering a call. They could explain what a beat, sector (we used this to identify various areas within the hospital), district and agency was.

When we discussed the difference between field events and calls taken by dispatch, I had a room full of deer staring at headlights of a Mack truck. Even after walking each one of them through an example of each, I knew they didn’t get it.

Well, they knew how to put a call in and dispatch units. That was a start, and not bad for eight hours work.

I really did know how they felt. The first time I learned a CAD system, it was on the job –and the entire Communications Center was in the same boat. For two weeks, officers were told not to initiate anything unless it was an emergency. Just asking for a case number sent some folks into screaming fits.

As my trainees started working with their co-workers, I received many frantic phone calls and emails. I came in early and stayed over, many times off the clock, to answer questions and demonstrate a command. It took a month before the personnel began to get comfortable. To help, I passed out my version of “Cheat Sheets” to all shifts. Now my CAD is a matter of fact to most of our staff and many groan if they have to work without it. It’s still nowhere near the stress level of my previous job, but watching a co-worker perform his job well knowing I had a hand in his training member gets old: even if that training is second or third generation.

About the Author
Diana Sprain has 20+ years in dispatch, including working in the Berkeley PD 9-1-1 PSAP prior to her current position at the UMC. Diana is a member of APCO, NENA, and NIDA and has POST certificates for Tactical Dispatch, CTO, and Dispatch Supervisor. She currently resides in Las Vegas, NV.

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