A Close Call

Thanks to new software being implemented by the City’s emergency services, the people of Frisco can sleep a little more soundly at night. The new “Closest To” system has been in place since late 2017, and it has already helped significantly cut down response times to emergency calls. 

On a typical 911 call, a dispatcher would manually assign an officer to the situation based on his or her police beat (the assigned territory they patrol), regardless of whether that officer was physically closest to that particular emergency. With the new system in place, GPS technology and an algorithm now automatically go into play as soon as a call is ranked as “priority one” and pulls the officer nearest to the emergency, ignoring which beat is assigned. 

To learn more about the system, Officer Radd Rotello of the Frisco Police Department shared valuable information. Officer Rotello works in community services, so he oversees all volunteer services, neighborhood watch groups, media inquiries, etc. “We have been using ‘Closest To’ since January now, and it has already significantly reduced our response times for priority one calls,” Officer Rotello says. “We are talking minutes of time we are saving, and in our line of business, minutes equal lives.”

When an officer is dispatched to an emergency, they are automatically sent the details of the call, which they can read on the laptop outfitted in every squad car. These include a transcript of the call, important details, a history of calls or reports from the location in question, as well as a map that will show them in route. Not only is the system great for grabbing the nearest available resources, but it also helps let other officers easily locate the situation, something particularly useful when you are dealing with a large campus or commercial facility. “So, let’s say we had a call come from Frisco High School. That is a sprawling campus, so the emergency could actually be on the football field, but the dispatched officer would always normally automatically go to the front entrance,” Officer Rotello explains. “With ‘Closest To,’ the first officer on the scene can manually go onto the digital map and drag and drop his icon to his exact location, letting other officers on their way know to bypass the main doors and go straight to the field.” 

In addition to “Closest To,” emergency services also uses a system called “Situational Awareness for Emergency Response” (SAFER). All Frisco ISD schools are equipped with dozens of security cameras throughout the buildings. With SAFER, both the police and fire departments can live stream the security feeds so they are able to be aware of what is going on even before arriving on the scene. They are also able to see detailed schematics breaking down the layout of every classroom, hallway, auditorium, etc. “Thanks to these cameras, we are able to get direct access to see what is going on and, in turn, alert the on-site officers as to what kind of situation they will be walking into,” Officer Rotello describes. “And with the floor plan, we can also let first responders know the quickest route to the emergency.” 

“Closest To” technology has been in Frisco for about six months now, although it was not developed specifically in Frisco. The technology is part of a larger network called the “Integrated Community System” (ICS), so anyone with ICS has access to it (Plano and Dallas also use the system). SAFER, on the other hand, was developed by the City’s Information Technology Services Department. “We have had this capability a long time now and I just assumed it was something everyone had. Now that I have been on the job for several years, I have learned that it is actually something fairly unique to us,” Officer Rotello explains. 

The IT department spent a year doing research, incorporating multiple existing databases, while also creating a seamless data access program. First responders, as well as special operations, the Mobile Command Center and the Emergency Operations Center, can all access this technology.

Similarly to police beats, the fire department divides their stations up by districts, basically creating a geographic grid of the city with each district having a fire station in the center. Frisco has a total of eight fire stations and all but one also house an ambulance. 

However, what can sometimes be inefficient about the districts is that, throughout the day, trucks and ambulances may be out driving around helping with building planning or participating in community events. “So, if a district one truck is doing an event in the bottom left corner of their district and there is a fire in the upper right corner, the district two station is actually physically closer,” Battalion Chief Clay Carpenter explains. 

“Before the system was in play, when we were doing some of those ancillary duties, like public events or pre-planning of commercial occupancies, if we were going to the far side of one of our districts, we would have to call the nearby stations to kind of give them a heads up that we were busy. Now, we do not have to be worried about that because the system does it for us,” Deputy Chief Kyle Mills says. 

Unlike with the police station, which only uses the system for priority one calls, “Closest To” goes into effect with all calls to the fire department. There are more than 10 types of trucks and ambulances used by the fire department, so, at all times, they need to be aware of what type of truck will be needed and where it is located. 

Police reports reflected that from January to November 2017 the average response time to a priority one call was five minutes and 43 seconds. In December 2017, reports showed that time had improved to four minutes and 40 seconds — just one month after “Closest To” technology was put into action.  

“New systems and technologies are always being considered or developed at the City Hall level, but we are also constantly working on improving and looking for new ideas, whether they are from officers, administration or even just our civilian employees,” Officer Rotello says. “If anyone presents the City with a new idea that could potentially save lives, we are listening!”

Rachel Beaird is a recent University of Arkansas graduate, travel enthusiast and a public relations aficionado.