Police, fire departments go digital

A new computer interface for law enforcement in Kitsap County will allow officers to send and receive dispatches through their laptops as they minimize the inherently less-efficient voice traffic.

“With this new system, officers will receive their actual dispatch events on their terminal,” said CenCom electronic services manager Dean Heistand.

“This will minimize the amount of radio traffic that saturates our dispatch system and cut down on the number of required transmissions. And they will be able to get much more information than they would be able to get over the radio.”

About 157 Windows touchscreen-equipped laptops are part of the CenCom system, including the Kitsap County Sheriff and municipal police departments in Port Orchard, Bremerton, Bainbridge Island and Poulsbo (the State Patrol has its own system.)

Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue has installed terminals on Engine 51 and a command vehicle and plans to also equip Medic 51 as a testing ground before fully equipping its fleet. The units are expensive with $8,000 for the fire truck and $10,000 for the command vehicle. But they also could be priceless in their capabilities.

“If firefighters had had this during the (Mary) Pang Warehouse fire in Seattle on Jan. 5, 1995, it might have saved the lives of the four firefighters who were lost,” said Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Jay Lovato. “They didn’t know the warehouse had a basement.”

Other fire departments plan to acquire similar machines as soon as the interface is tested and installed.

Like many modern technological situations, the upgrade is fraught with acronyms. The Mobile Computer Terminals (MCT) will connect to the Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system with powerful wireless modems that have better range than what is commercially available. As a result. there are only a few corners of the county that are out of dispatch range according to Heistand.

If a dispatcher sends a message to an officer and it is not received an error message is generated, and the dispatcher attempts to raise the officer in the radio.

When a message is sent to the officer there is an alerting noise, although some officers may attempt to reprogram the alert as a voice announcing “You’ve Got Crime.”

These MCTs have been in service for several years, and allow officers to run plate numbers and check out individuals. The new interface will offer some extra features, such as the ability top translate information about past law enforcement events at a specific address to officers arriving on the scene.

For fire departments, the computer will relay information about a structure including basements, fences and hydrant locations as well as listing hazardous materials.

“We’re waiting for more of the software for this system, which will allow us to tie into CenCom,” Lovato said. “Once that’s in place, we’ll buy computers for six more vehicles in the district.”

Heistand said that the program will soon begin its initial “alpha testing” and expected the system will be fully functional by May.

— Kelly Everett contributed to this report.

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