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How one county fire department ensures the fastest response times

Cradlepoint’s in-vehicle networking solution offers the always-on connectivity the department needs for its new automatic vehicle location dispatching systems


Sponsored by Cradlepoint

By Laura Neitzel, PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

Firefighting is a challenge no matter where you live – but in a county like Anne Arundel County, Maryland, getting a fire crew to a location is complicated by several hundred miles of navigable coastline, where apparatus from the closest station might not be the quickest to the scene.

The Arundel Patriot is a key asset to the Anne Arundel County Fire Department and is outfitted with AVL (photo/AACFD)
The Arundel Patriot is a key asset to the Anne Arundel County Fire Department and is outfitted with AVL (photo/AACFD)

Before upgrading its computer-aided dispatch system, the Anne Arundel County Fire Department would send an apparatus from the station with the closest proximity. Sometimes this was by roads that wind along the waterfront dotted by high-end residences and historic buildings situated for their view, not their accessibility. Sometimes it was to areas with no road and no access to city water.

In some cases, the closest unit might be a fire boat, or a fire boat might be needed to supply water from the bay or river to the fireground in areas not connected to hydrants. But without a way of knowing the exact position of every fire vehicle, dispatch had to make its best guess.

reliable connectivity

When it was time to upgrade the over 20-year-old computer aided dispatch system, fire and county officials concentrated on finding a system that would make the department more efficient and help it fulfill its mission of protecting the public.

“Getting the closest unit there in the shortest amount of time was a big issue for us,” said Battalion Chief Robert Howarth, whose information management division oversees all technology, radios and 911 center in the department. “When we upgraded the CAD system, we wanted to look at systems that featured automatic vehicle location dispatching.”

The nearest station doesn’t necessarily mean the nearest apparatus. AVL dispatching utilizes a vehicle’s GPS system to send a location signal so users can identify apparatus by location and send the one in closest proximity, whether an engine or boat.

Howarth and his IT team realized, however, that the AVL system is only possible with reliable 4G LTE connectivity between the GPS-based vehicle location data and the CAD system, which is not a given in rural parts of the county. So, the team searched for an all-in-one solution that would provide secure, always-on wide-area network access to all vehicles, including fireboats.

The department chose Cradlepoint’s in-vehicle routers to keep this critical line of communication open. The routers securely communicate the GPS coordinates to the CAD system every three seconds. To protect EMS patient health data and other sensitive information, Howarth also wanted to make sure that security was maintained without being connected to the Internet, so they set up a private network between the AVL and CAD.

“Cradlepoint was the one that gave us the best option for what we had,” said Howarth.

added speed, security

AACFD manages the routers through Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager platform, which enabled Howarth’s team to quickly and easily configure and deploy routers across its fleet of medical units, engines, ladder trucks, boats and other vehicles. The cloud-based platform gives authorized users real-time visibility into the status of routers and network strength and gives administrators the ability to push operating system and security updates and custom apps to the routers remotely.

Since deploying the Cradlepoint mobile routers and NetCloud Manager in early 2018, Howarth has seen multiple benefits to the department and to citizens of Anne Arundel County.

“The very first benefit is the closest unit goes to the call which, of course, cuts down on response time,” said Howarth. “This allows emergency providers to be on the scene of the emergency in the quickest amount of time that they can.”

Another benefit is the added security that comes from being able to locate a unit based on AVL, even if dispatchers or command staff cannot reach them by radio.

“We are in an area that is susceptible to hurricanes and, in those instances, having our units out when we may have extensive destruction and extensive damage, and then being able to plot them on a known map and know where they are is a huge safety feature,” said Howarth.

AACFD also handles dispatching for Annapolis Fire Department, which likewise has Cradlepoint routers and AVLs in each unit.

“That allows those department resources from Annapolis to come into our county or our units to go into Annapolis and still have that closest available unit responding on the call,” said Howarth

The department’s mission is to provide emergency services in the most efficient and economical manner to the taxpayers, says Howarth. Always-on connectivity coupled with AVL dispatch ensures that AACFD provides the fastest possible response with the most appropriate resources, giving an extra measure of security and peace of mind to the residents of Anne Arundel County and those who serve them.

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