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Computer-aided dispatch in the cloud

Computer-aided dispatch (CAD) is one of the more prevalent justice and public safety technologies. It is used in public safety answering points (PSAPs) all over the world to ensure that when a 911 call comes in, the correct response team (usually police, fire or rescue) is sent to handle the emergency. Today, CAD systems are on the precipice of a new era with the advent of cloud computing. While the information CAD systems provide will remain the same, the backend of the system has the potential to undergo a radical shift as information contained within is sent to the cloud (i.e., massive server farms run by multinational corporations) rather than being saved on servers in the backroom of a police station.

As with the implementation of most technologies, there are both benefits and drawbacks to putting CAD systems in the cloud, as explored in a recent study and accompanying webinar released by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO International) and the IJIS Institute. Naturally, given the highly sensitive nature and importance of the information contained within a CAD system, public safety officials may be more hesitant to move this information online than they would be with other systems. The APCO/IJIS webinar distinguished six primary concerns held by public safety officials over moving the system to the cloud, and then provided a way to mitigate each. For example, worries over cloud computing not matching the performance requirements for a CAD system can be mitigated through individual PSAPs negotiating carefully-constructed engineering and service-level agreements. This remedy will likely prove to be a theme for agencies looking to move their CAD system to the cloud since nearly anything can be contractualized; it’s just a matter of negotiation.

Many may question whether replacing an aging traditional CAD system with a cloud-based one offers enough benefits to outweigh the risks, particularly since current systems have worked well enough for years. Cloud-based solutions do have many benefits though, and will likely be highly attractive to cash-strapped localities whose current systems are on their last legs. Unlike the more static software-based systems, cloud-based systems are scalable and can be used by any number of individuals with the right credentials. The systems are also designed so that a PSAP only pays for what they use. This, coupled with the scalability of the system (the system will easily be able to accommodate a significant increase in traffic during an emergency) will require careful budgeting by the locality since it is unlikely that the usage every month will be the same. This will most likely result in significant cost savings in the long run. Through working with the service provider to understand the range of costs as well as the flexibility of the system and how well it may be able to handle a disaster, communications specialists will be able to determine the best option for their PSAP.

Analyst’s Take

The potential decrease in cost for localities using a cloud-based CAD system is something vendors should heavily tout. Often, cloud solutions are paid for through a monthly or yearly fee, and therefore can be a more manageable purchase for cash-strapped counties that may not have the financial means to purchase a more traditional system. After several years, counties may even realize that their savings on the CAD system can be put to use to purchase additional public safety software such as a records management system or automatic vehicle locators. Vendors should keep this in mind and be willing to approach localities about additional technologies after the initial CAD cost savings is realized. Cost, however, may not be the determining factor for agencies looking to move to a new system; the flexibility and scalability of cloud-based solutions should also be highlighted.

As previously mentioned, one of the most important factors public safety agencies must consider when contemplating moving their CAD system to the cloud is what their service-level agreement will look like. Vendors offering a cloud option should be prepared to address numerous concerns such as whether the solution can retrieve information should a company go out of business, and where the servers hosting information will be located. Vendors should also utilize a solicitation’s question and answer period to ask whether PSAPs are open to receiving cloud-based solutions, since most RFPs do not specify yes or no. Vendors might even consider submitting two proposals – one for a cloud-based solution and one for a more traditional system.

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The Public Safety Cloud is already here. InterAct's Online RMS is serving the needs of over 200 agencies who have their data hosted in a CJIS certified FIPS-140-2 complaint data center that is NOT located in their state -- and the number keeps growing monthly.

Our typical customer deploys in under 2 weeks and NEVER pays another annual maintenance bill. Every dollar we spend on improving the technology goes directly to making InterAct Online RMS better which gets delivered to ALL CUSTOMERS on a predictable basis. It is also easy to adopt because it can be purchased with operational dollars so agencies don't need to waste money going through a long RFP process costing hundreds of thousands of dollars -- the dollars saved can go directly keeping first responders on the street.

An additional 300 agencies and over 3000 users are sharing data across jurisdictions/state lines utilizing InterAct's InterDEx platform even if their RMS systems are different.

CAD is a bit more challenging given the real time, low latency response requirements of this kind of application. So we solved that problem by completely rewriting CAD to be a fully cloud ready application requiring only a server appliance to be on premise to manage disconnected operations.

Bottom-line -- agencies don't need to own and maintain a large computing infrastructure which is out of date the day it goes live.
# Posted By James Cape | 10/18/12 3:30 PM