RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County emergency dispatchers handle 851,000 calls a year. In almost every case, they make split-second decisions on whom to send where.
Monday, the county was showing off a high-tech tool that will modernize the way emergency units are dispatched and perhaps save lives.
It’s obvious that the closest help is the best help to send to an emergency. To do that, however, you have to know who’s closest. That's what Wake County's new Automatic Vehicle Location system does.
Ambulances, sheriff's cruisers, even crime-scene investigators’ cars are now fitted with Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite transceivers.
With just a click of the computer mouse, 911 operators can pinpoint the location of emergency vehicles. The nearest unit—not the nearest fire or ambulance station—gets the call.
“The computer-aided dispatch system, which we have been using, doesn't know precisely which vehicle is the closest. When we're all installed and we flip the switch, we will know exactly where every vehicle is at all times,” said Skip A. Kirkwood, the county’s emergency medical services chief.
The system helps out on the 911 center’s end of things, and it also helps out in the field. A sheriff’s deputy, for example, can activate a screen and see exactly where he or she is.
“In the past, we've had cars assigned in different areas, and that's who you would call—the car working that area. Now, the dispatcher can look up on the screen and see who's closest to such and such an address and be able to dispatch that car much quicker,” Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.
A $1 million federal grant helped pay for the system. Wake County says it has invested $20 million to upgrade emergency communications.
All 56 Wake County ambulances will be fully outfitted in two weeks. The 228 Sheriff's Department cruisers are in the system now.