Morrell: The main drawbacks are on the back end. We have the broadband service server and the updates to the computer and the records management software to keep up with. The officers have found few drawbacks to the use of the MDT once they have gotten accustomed to its possibilities.
LET: In what way have they made your department a better, more efficient one?
Morrell: By having the calls on the computer there is less miscommunication between dispatchers and officers. Supervisors like the ability to have the 'status update' for the cars and officers. It helps them to monitor activities in their zones and the safety of their officers. Officers like the ability to check tags and people for warrants without waiting for the communications center personnel, who may be busy. Notes about certain addresses where there have been weapons or problems in the past can be communicated to officers so that they are better prepared upon arrival.
LET: Turn the clock back and start all over. Would you do anything differently?
Morrell: It is easy to look back and say we 'should have' bought different types or more powerful computers, but the fact is with the budget available at the time and the information available to us when the decision was made, we probably did fine. The technology changes daily and our budgets never increase the way we would like, so it will always be difficult to keep up. It isn't easy to balance what we want or would like to see with what we can afford.
Choosing equipment and programs from among the avalanche of systems and capabilities out there can be daunting, and as Morrell says, with tighter budgets expected to cover more territory, it's more important than ever to make the right choices for the jobs your department faces. And, choosing isn't as easy as it may seem with so much on the market — from basic systems to fancy add-ons that seem straight out of Star Trek.
Rick Hundstad, data product manager of Tyco Electronics' M/A-COM, a Lynchburg, Virginia-based supplier of critical communications systems and equipment, says many departments choose wireless for its speed. "Little consideration is given to all the factors that make for the best end-user experience," Hundstad says.
Here's what Hundstad says to consider when choosing a system:
- Data speed. "The laws of physics tell us that the faster the data speed, the closer you have to be to the tower and the smaller the coverage footprint." He says that since data is typically not viewed as critical as voice, many agencies are willing to sacrifice coverage for data speed. "Some users have spent the extra money to implement middleware, so they can have the speed of public carriers where they have coverage, and use their existing voice and data's wide area coverage as fill-in coverage at slower speeds, giving the best of both systems."
- Data handling. "Data speeds over the air are not the entire picture of the end-user experience," says Hundstad. "Data protocols, handling of reservations or users on a channel, timing getting onto a channel and data block size can all enable a system with the same speed to support 10 times as many users."
- Fine-tuning system and application. Hundstad says the system's fine tuning and software can be more important than the system's speed.
- Application efficiency and effective use of over-the-air bandwidth. "Application developers have to understand the wireless environment they work in. No wireless system will be fast enough if the application requires way more information sent over the air than needed." Hundstad points to lengthy or complicated log-in messages as an example. "Every bit matters, especially when you have hundreds of users coming out of turnover meetings at the same time and all (are) trying to log onto the system at … peak load (time)."