First reported 5/19/2010 2:14 p.m.

The sun is setting on emergency dispatching software used by local fire and police departments. SunGard, makers of the Computer Aided Dispatch software, say they’ll no longer support it as of January 2012. That means the emergency departments of Oak Park, River Forest and Elmwood Park, which share a common dispatch center, will need to find a way to replace and pay for new software, or use it without support.

The current software is more than eight years old and out of date, says Henry Gralak, director of West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center. “It’s text-based. Computer software has evolved to be Windows-oriented.”

Gralak says the current software relies on color-cued text that indicates the stages of an emergency call. Windows-based icon software allows faster human reaction time, making it easier for the operator to follow multiple calls.

Since the current software was installed, dispatchers face new challenges, such as growing numbers of cellphone callers who are not tied to geographic addresses. A man died in 2007 in Oak Park after an 11-minute delay when a dispatcher confused the 700 and the 1100 blocks of Harvey.

Gralak, who took over the dispatch center in 2008, says geography
pinpointing and real-time displays
are improvements in newer computer-aided dispatch systems. He also says communities can now lease the systems and upgrade at the end of their leases.

“The systems are expensive and unique. It’s like buying a car. The car manufacturers make money on it one time. So they continue to improve their product, but they stop supporting the old one,” Gralak said.

Potential replacement costs are estimated at $1 million to $3.3 million and would be borne proportionally by the users. A committee from the police and fire departments of each village is traveling the region to explore other CAD systems.

“Oak Park would pay the lion’s share,” says Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley. So far this year, Oak Park has been the source of 13,510 calls, or 60 percent of the total calls coming into the dispatch center.

“We have to plan ahead and the year is going to get here before we know it,” says Tanksley. But he wants to keep options open. “We can still use the software after they don’t support it. That’s an option. The current system works fine.”

River Forest Fire Chief James Eggert says he’s wary of creeping costs for any system upgrade that then would require hardware to be replaced. However, he would like to see more options for the mobile data terminals in fire engines and ambulances.

“We know the addresses in River Forest pretty well,” Eggert says, but geography in Oak Park and Elmwood Park can sometimes be confusing. Also, he would like to see CAD software that interfaces with surveillance cameras. “It could show us the building as we’re approaching, to see what the conditions are.”

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Jean Lotus

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...