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Ref: Emergency call center in California integrates technology and operations


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Calif. fire center communications system in one hub




By Marjorie Hernandez
Ventura County Star (California)
Copyright 2007 Ventura County Star
All Rights Reserved

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. — For Ventura County Fire Department dispatcher Cheryl Timpani, putting the caller at ease during a 911 call is as crucial as directing firefighters and other emergency vehicles to a scene.

With technology such as a Global Positioning System at the new Ventura County Fire Department Fire Communications Center in Camarillo, dispatchers can track the nearest fire crew and direct it to the scene.


"When I'm speaking with the reporting party, previously I would only be able to give them a rough estimate when we would be there," Timpani said. "Now I can see (the engines) on the screen and tell the reporting party that we are turning on their block. I think that really helps the reporting party to know that we can track exactly where our units are. That comforts them as well, which makes our jobs a lot easier."

Armed with a state-of-the-art computer system and a new two-story, 16,000-square-foot building, County Fire officials marked the opening of the Fire Communications Center on Monday with an open house for invited guests.

Although it has been operating officially since November, Monday's event provided Camarillo and county officials and media with the opportunity to view the Fire Communications Center on Durley Avenue.

"Our dispatchers work 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said County Fire Capt. Barry Parker. "It's a very long shift and there are a lot of demands here in the center. What we have been able to do is design it so there are some comforts for these folks. The nice thing about this building is that it was built specifically as a dispatch center."

Pinpoint callers' locations
The $6 million building includes training and expanded dispatch rooms; climate-controlled computer, radio and telephone equipment rooms; and offices. The building also includes 10 individual sleeping quarters, common areas with plush recliners and a television screen, a kitchen and an exercise room.

The building is also equipped with a $9 million system that utilizes computerized maps that allow dispatchers to pinpoint the callers' locations. Using the automatic vehicle locator system, dispatchers can track fire units and other emergency vehicles by using GPS satellites.

In the old system, fire and ambulance units would be dispatched to the scene if the call came from their sectors.

On Monday, dispatchers fielded emergency calls as they monitored maps on their computers showing where calls and fire units were located.

In the main dispatch room, an eight-foot screen displayed information about available hospital beds in the county, while another provided a weather map. A third screen showed images from the building's security camera, while the fourth screen was tuned to CNN.

County Fire officials not only praise the new technology in the building but also like the idea of providing a centralized hub for all communications functions. Previously the communications operations existed in three separate buildings.

Handles 250,000 phone calls
With a growing regional coverage area, it was necessary to build a facility to handle more than 250,000 phone calls a year, officials said.

The Fire Communications Center serves more than 600,000 residents in the unincorporated areas of the county and cities, except Oxnard, which has its own fire department.

In addition, the Fire Communications Center dispatches units for private ambulance companies, including American Medical Response and LifeLine Medical Transport. Later this year it will begin providing dispatching services to Gold Coast Ambulance as well.

County Fire Chief Bob Roper said the new communication facility provides dispatchers with a more comfortable environment and callers with peace of mind in emergency situations.

"This gives us sufficient room for the future to deal with the other partner agencies we are dispatching for," Roper said. "Now we can dispatch calls in a more timely fashion for the public. The dispatchers have really stepped up to the plate using the new technology and really has made this quite simple for us."



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