County Moves Forward with New Computer-Aided Dispatch System
Hays County Courthouse, San Marcos, TX – The Hays County Commissioners Court on July 8 directed staff to move forward with discussions to replace the County’s aging and inadequate emergency dispatch system.
Following a presentation by Sheriff’s Office Director of Emergency Communications Erica Carpenter, who manages the dispatch center, “the issues facing the County’s ability to serve the public and emergency responders were made clear,” Hays County Judge Bert Cobb, M.D., said.
A cross-functional team of County and area response personnel has identified a system that will integrate all emergency dispatch functions and allow real-time tracking of response vehicles. Carpenter explained to the Court that the current system, which is more than 13 years old, is not able to integrate with other emergency response dispatch systems in the county, resulting in duplication of response efforts and delays.
“I was surprised and concerned to learn we don’t already have a lot of the functionality that is commonplace today,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, who recently inspected the Dispatch Center, said.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark Jones echoed her concern. “This is a public safety and a personnel issue that needs to be corrected soon,” he said.
“Our dispatch center has a separate system, which is also becoming obsolete, for tracking fire and EMS vehicles,” Carpenter said. “But our system cannot track and locate our law enforcement vehicles. Dispatchers have to radio a district commander, who then has to contact officers by radio to find out who is closest to and available to respond to a situation. This results in lag time that can be life-threatening.”
“In terms of interoperability, we’ll be moving from a horse-and-buggy to a (motorized) vehicle with this new system,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley said. “In our growing county, fully functional dispatch capabilities are a requirement.”
“The current system is so old the company that produced it has only two remaining clients, including Hays County, and intends to end support entirely by the end of 2015, if not sooner,” County Information Technology Director Jeff McGill said. McGill told the Court that the IT staff is frequently called upon to fix issues with the system, which periodically goes offline for 20 minutes to hours at a time. Carpenter added that when that happens, dispatchers must take calls and share information via paper and pen, slowing dispatch time even more.
After reviewing options from various system providers, one rose to the top of the staff’s list, McGill said. “We wanted to make sure that this system would plug-and-play into the proposed co-located dispatch center and be supported long-term. The City of San Marcos Police Department has used this system for nearly seven years, and Texas State University will be moving to it soon. It comes highly recommended and will meet our needs currently and into the future,” he said.
McGill noted that it is expected to take some 36 weeks from the signing of a contract to full implementation of a new system, adding to the need to move expeditiously given the expected end of life of the current system.
The Court heard from several area emergency response officials who said they support an integrated system to more efficiently and safely serve the public while helping to protect first responders themselves, noting that at times they’ve arrived on the scene of an incident not realizing that a SWAT situation was involved. Hays County Emergency Management Coordinator Kharley Smith said the new system would allow her to view and allocate resources during emergency situations and that blueprints of schools and other buildings could be sent directly to responders at the scene, rather than dispatchers having to talk to responders over radio about the layout of a building.
The system cost will ultimately depend on the number of vehicles outfitted with equipment and the results of contract negotiations. Some cost savings are expected by sharing servers already in use by the San Marcos Police Department. The Court requested staff to determine exact, minimum needs and start-up costs and return to Court within the month with a proposed contract for discussion and possible action.
To see the presentation Erica Carpenter gave to the Court, visit www.co.hays.tx.us and choose the Plans, Policies and Reports link.