Boston taps high-tech to improve 911 system, public safety

Steven Campbell takes a call using Boston’s new 911 dispatch system. (PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF)
Steven Campbell takes a call using Boston’s new 911 dispatch system. (PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF)

Boston’s three public safety agencies are expecting to see significant improvements in response time and more efficient communications, thanks to the city’s new computer-aided 911 dispatch system deployed earlier this month.

The map-based Intergraph system replaces a 20-year-old mainframe system that did not offer a lot of the features the new one has, according to Boston Police Deputy Superintendent John Daley. With the previous system, dispatchers had to type in a command on a text-based interface and memorize a lot of codes to perform an action, he said. The Intergraph system provides a map that gives the dispatcher a far better understanding of where a police, fire, or EMS unit is located when a 911 call comes in.

“With new system a dispatcher can look [and with] geospacial technology, see which unit is closer and send [it] to an emergency,’’ Daley said. “It saves time on responses and allows us to be more efficient.”

Intergraph runs on Microsoft’s SQL server platform with its BizTalk Server used as an interface between the systems various agencies use to share data. Intergraph will also be used for reporting and data analytics, Daley said. The dispatch system is GPS-enabled to provide more detailed information about the location of response units and other information.

For example, the city has acoustic gun detection systems known as ShotSpotters, all around Boston so that when a firearm is discharged officials can locate the source. Previously, the ShotSpotters system was separate from the dispatch system. “Now, because both are location-aware, the ShotSpotter can pass that information to the [dispatch] system, and there’s a higher level of integration and less work for the operators,’’ Daley said. About 130 police cruisers have already been outfitted with GPS technology so their location is available to the dispatcher in real time, and Daly said the city’s entire fleet of about 400 cruisers is expected to have the technology by the end of July.

There are no stats yet on how the new dispatch system is performing so far. “I don’t think we’ll see a dramatic change right away,” Daley said. “It will take time as dispatchers utilize the new system.”

The city has spent $11 million of a budgeted $17 million for the new dispatch system. Also in the works is an enhanced police electronic records system. The new dispatch system will be integrated with the police records system, since it has a large amount of information about criminal activity, Daley said.

“When dispatchers are sending cars to a scene, the more information from whatever systems we have available to them, the better,” he said.