PUBLIC SAFETY/San Francisco speeds emergency response
Time is of the essence in emergency response, and, when San Francisco recently implemented an automated vehicle location (AVL) system, it gave a life-saving edge to its dispatch operations and medical personnel. Based on global positioning technology, the system allows dispatchers to track vehicle locations and emergency call trends to enhance the efficiency of the city’s 911 program.
San Francisco is a city of hills, narrow streets and tall buildings, all of which makes it a challenge for emergency response teams. Last year, responding quickly to any 911 call in such a complex urban landscape meant putting more ambulances on the street, at a cost of $300,000 a year per ambulance. But San Francisco countered with AVL technology, allowing it to save money and increase the efficiency of its existing ambulances.
The components of the system, manufactured by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Trimble, consist of data terminals and digital maps installed in 29 vehicles and integrated into existing 911 infrastructure. Units send geographic positioning data to a dispatch station, where the information is displayed in real time on the dispatcher’s map.
Upon receiving an emergency call, the dispatcher checks the location of all available emergency vehicles and sends instructions to the one nearest the caller. The driver receives the instructions via a message and status terminal mounted in the vehicle.
By knowing the precise location of emergency vehicles, dispatchers no longer rely on fixed-post planning, which limits vehicles to an area or zone. “With a more accurate understanding of the placement of ambulances, response times to life-threatening incidents are minimized,” says John Applegarth, formerly with San Francisco’s Paramedic Division. Additionally, with the message boards, the possibility of garbled instructions is eliminated.
While San Francisco has used AVL technology to enhance communication between its dispatchers and emergency personnel, it also has been able to track call trends using the geographic positioning data. Based on information garnered through AVL, the city has stationed ambulances in those areas that statistically have the most calls at a given time. Furthermore, dispatchers report reduced stress because of improved communications capabilities.