Northern Texas Emergency Communications Center (NTECC)

PSAP Consolidation: Creating unified access and query for better response time

Consolidation of public safety 911 and dispatch across multiple jurisdictions can result in better and more efficient service for citizens, as well as for the agencies they serve. That has certainly been the experience of the North Texas Emergency Communications Center (NTECC), which has consolidated 911 call taking and police, fire and emergency dispatch for four communities just north of Dallas in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Equipping each emergency communications specialist (ECS) with the tools to answer any call and then dispatch to any of the participating public safety departments has allowed NTECC to meet its standard of 60 second response to all priority calls.

A Better Solution to a Common Challenge in PSAP Consolidation Projects

When NTECC formed in 2014 it confronted a problem that many other consolidation projects face in getting vital information to a key partner in public safety - police officers on the street. Prior to consolidation, when an officer in one of the police departments radioed in, the department's on-duty dispatcher had to search two distinct systems to provide critical information, such as outstanding warrants and prior history on a vehicle or person -- the agency's police records management system (RMS) and that city’s municipal warrants database.

To provide these same services across departments in a consolidated environment, an individual NTECC ECS would need to be able to access each of the 4 local RMS and 4 municipal warrants databases. That would mean maintaining separate log-ins and knowing how to navigate multiple 8 separate systems - most from different vendors and with a different user interface.

One potential, if only partial, solution to this common problem is to replace all of the individual RMS systems with a single multi-agency system. But that is both costly and time-consuming for all the agencies involved. And, it may face strong resistance from police departments who are more than satisfied with their current RMS, which could undermine the consolidation effort itself.

The Solution: Unified Access and Query

NTECC found a more effective - and much less costly - solution to this problem in from CODY Systems, an independently owned, PA-based company that has been serving public safety for over 40 years. Already powering consortiums of hundreds of agencies across the country, COBRA is built to do just what NTECC needed – allow data sources that don’t reside in the same place, have the same vendor, and/or speak the same data ‘language,’ to share their data in real-time without changing (or even touching) the underlying systems.

With COBRA, each ECS has single-point access to data in all of the four RMS databases and the county warrant database. It's the "aggregator," says Tamara Perez, NTECC's Operations Manager. With COBRA they have "all the information they need in one place."

The dispatcher can now simultaneously and quickly search for any active warrants maintained and check for prior history involving the vehicle and subject contained in any of the participating RMS systems.  Not only does COBRA eliminate the multiple log-ons and different user interfaces, it provides more information for officers on the street. Now the officer can know about a subject's prior history, including any violent behavior, in neighboring jurisdictions, as well as his own. Since call data from the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system is automatically sent to each RMS (through a separate interface), that information is also available through COBRA.

And, as Tamara Perez points out, COBRA makes it "easy for the dispatcher to narrow down a search" to get just the time-sensitive specific information needed. To aid an officer at a traffic stop, for example, the dispatcher can quickly flag active warrants associated with the driver of a vehicle.

She emphasizes that even newly-hired dispatchers find COBRA "easy to understand and use, "which in turn simplifies training and reduces training hours. And, since direct user access to separate local systems is no longer needed, software licensing costs are lower.

Extending the Use and Value of COBRA

COBRA also allowed NTECC to "go paperless," Tamara Perez adds. The comms center previously maintained hard copy warrants for two of the participating jurisdictions. When it was necessary to validate that a warrant was actually signed by a judge and in force, a dispatcher would have to take valuable time to manually search stored warrants, which were sometimes misfiled. Now, with COBRA, more than 30,000 warrants are stored electronically, and an image is available immediately with a simple person search.

Recognizing COBRA's value, the police departments served by NTECC are providing COBRA access directly to their investigators through the C.tac application developed by CODY Systems. Using C.tac, the same web-based search application tool that NTECC users have, investigators can now share information on incidents and persons of interest that was previously locked inside the silos of their separate RMS databases. Because it conforms to Texas Department of Public Safety requirements and is CJIS-compliant, COBRA provides law enforcement a secure platform for data sharing.

Future-proofed, Scalable Data Foundation for the Consolidated Comms Center

For NTECC, COBRA has created a scalable, future-proofed data foundation that will grow organically as the consolidation project grows and expands to include additional cities, systems, or various data sources. If another jurisdiction, for instance, joins the consortium or even if one of the existing police departments changes its RMS, "it doesn't affect our operations," says Tamara Perez. will manage the additional agency or RMS change without the end user feeling a single hiccup. Once CODY has brought the RMS data into COBRA, "the new information is in the same place,’ and it becomes instantly available for query, analytics, etc. “That makes it easy for us."