Washington State had the first diagnosed case of COVID-19 in the country, and it hit us pretty hard right from the get-go, particularly in the Puget Sound area. Valley Communications 911 provides dispatching services for twenty-four police, fire and EMS agencies in the urban and rural Seattle area, and our mission is to save lives by assessing, translating and routing information efficiently and accurately. In order to meet that mission, a primary goal for telecommunicators is to provide information to our first responders so they can be safe and make the best possible decisions. As the COVID-19 situation started to evolve, we had to make adjustments to protect our police, fire and EMS personnel in the field. They needed more information in real time and trending data at their fingertips. Fortunately, we were able to provide that for them.

Step #1: Making necessary changes

Working in conjunction with Valley Communication 911’s partner agencies and King County EMS, procedural and workflow changes were made relative to COVID-19 and personal protective equipment (PPE) responses to better support the safety of field personnel. We implemented refined protocols and workflows to accommodate dealing with both our “normal” calls while also making those necessary changes to meet the COVID-19 and increased PPE needs. It was a constant refinement process of improvement, making sure our personnel were protected and making sure they had the necessary and critical information they needed when walking into a situation.

Step #2: Leveraging quantitative data

We successfully achieved our goals through the creation and use of CAD specialty units within the CentralSquare system. When a call was dispatched that was related to COVID-19 and/or required PPE, we would add these specialty units to the call, in addition to the field units responding. This added a visual cue for the field units to ensure they were carrying and using the appropriate PPE, as well as providing us an additional data set for these specific calls. The data was then pushed into the data warehouse and ESRI platform, providing dashboards and real-time information back out to the command staff, so they could see exactly how many COVID-19 or PPE calls they received, the locations of the calls and other critical details. This enabled the command staff to see where trends were emerging and what operational adjustments needed to be made.

Moving forward, we now have the flexibility to report on very specific situations, whatever they may be, in addition to the ability to study data trends. A future task is to further enhance the real-time dashboard and analytics functionality to provide more granular details and perform long-term trending.

The future of data-driven decisions

From a technology perspective, one of the big things that will help now and in the future, is making sure that specific data fields are identified and assigned. By doing this, an agency can pull out the relevant information and have concrete data they can trend over time. It makes your information quantitative and repeatable to gather, analyze and visualize.

When information is put into a narrative field, agencies may not be able to get that information back out easily in a quantitative way – from a technology standpoint, the quality of data you receive is highly dependent on the quality of data that goes in to a system. By putting detailed and specific information into distinct fields, such as COVID-19 and PPE calls, an agency can pull out information and report on it according to their specific needs. It really gives an agency the basis for their operational personnel to make data-driven decisions in the long-term. This allows staff to have data to substantiate their decisions. Though it takes more time up front for set up, it’s much easier for people to use and understand and makes the organization more agile for improvement.

Author Bio: Kristin Meitzler is the Technical Services Manager for Valley Communications Center in Kent, Washington.