Zetron’s newest product on show at Critical Communications World in Paris was the MAX Dispatch system. Alan Pinnegar, VP and General Manager, EMEA at Zetron, told Wireless: ‘We’ve thrown away all the accepted rules about consoles. MAX Dispatch is an end-to-end IP system designed for total resilience with two land ports so you can have two separate systems.’
Pinnegar describes it as a starting from scratch, ground-up development, rather than an evolution of existing approaches to dispatch consoles. The system has been available in the USA for two years, but CCW 2013 marks its first showing in EMEA.
MAX Dispatch still holds all the normal elements you’d expect to find on a dispatch console and it can display them in the conventional fashion if required. However, what is new about the MAX system is that it allows you to hide elements and only presents them to the dispatcher when they require a particular response.
‘It’s a very exciting possibility with a lot of patented elements in it,’ says Pinnegar. ‘Not the graphics themselves, but what is going on behind the scenes. Command and control centres are getting overwhelmed by too much information. MAX Dispatch helps resolve some of those information overload issues.’
Pinnegar says some markets will be more receptive than others, but expects a lot of interest from public safety, prisons and utilities. Some 4-500 positions have been sold to date.
MAX is a solution portfolio. MAX Call-Taking follows the same principles, but is aimed at 911/999 call centre deployments. Some countries combine call taking and dispatch for emergency services into one role, while other countries separate the two roles.
‘The two are in the same portfolio, so they are designed to work together,’ says Pinnegar. ‘You can put them on the same PC if you want to save space and cost.’
Ellen O’Hara, President and CEO of Zetron, says that the MAX systems were designed after a great deal of research into how dispatchers really work. Zetron engineers sat with dispatchers for days watching what they did. A panel of Zetron resellers also provided valuable feedback during the design stage.
How Max Dispatch works
The aim of MAX Dispatch is to present information so that it makes sense to the dispatcher. Normally he is faced with a wealth of radio channels, phone lines, paging options and alarms, which fill up his screen. But often the dispatcher only cares about one or two channels depending on their role.
Jill Hostetter, product manager for the MAX system, says: ‘We have de-cluttered the screen to allow the dispatcher to focus on a particular channel or incident. Everything else is still there, but it’s hidden.’
MAX provides an Activity View section, which is programmable by a manager, so what is ‘active’ can be tailored to each dispatcher’s role, while other elements remain hidden, but will appear in the Activity View section if something happens.
‘If you are working three channels covering certain districts or talk groups, but need to know there has been activity in another, an alert comes up in the Activity View area at the bottom of the screen,’ explains Hostetter. ‘The point here is that phone lines, alarms and so on only becomes visible when something has happened, but they generate automatically, so the dispatcher doesn’t have to go and look for it.
‘If he wants to engage with it, he just clicks on it and then drags and drops it onto the main screen area. If he ignores it, the icon fades to grey and eventually goes away.’
Within the active radio channels templates themselves, information in the form icons appears, but in a way designed not to distract the dispatcher. If he receives a radio call, the radio and users ID appears in the particular channel field, along with the time and other call log information…the user’s photo could be added if wanted.
The channel field also provides an indication when the dispatcher takes action. Icons indicating, for example, that encryption is on or off come up, or if a priority marker is added that is flagged up with a different icon and so on. In the event of an emergency being declared, a red marker comes up alongside the radio channel template.
Hostetter says: ‘We’ve designed it to keep the actions compact on the channel template, so the dispatcher doesn’t have to go searching for the volume button, for example. There is a separate master volume control, so you can boost the volume and clear very noisy channels from the speaker if required. But the point is to keep the screen real estate as free as possible.’
MAX network health monitor
The system also has a health monitor to indicate and diagnose problems. If there is an issue – the health monitoring system indicates whether the problem is with the console or if it is a network issue. It then generates a log of the problem for the engineers to check.
There are two ports on each console, so customers can run two separate networks in parallel. That way, if one radio gateway fails they have a back up network. The system will switch seamlessly to the other channel if one fails without dropping the connection.
‘The architecture is kept pretty simple,’ says Hostetter. ‘It comprises of the console, the radio gateway, which interfaces with the radio infrastructure and the MAX central control – the host platform housing the core software services. Two MAX central consoles are required for redundancy purposes and the system can be built out further from there depending on how many gateways and consoles are needed.
‘We’ve had really good feedback on the interface,' reports Hostetter. ‘When we’ve first introduced it to customers we’ve often mimicked the old style of layout on the screen. We then do a workplace exercise to show them our new model layout and system of working. People have sometimes wanted to keep to their old layout and then told us they’ve switched to our system – often without having to call us for help. It is a very intuitive interface.’
AVL and CAD systems
Zetron also had other products on show at Critical Communications World, including its automatic vehicle location (AVL) system, which is integrated into its Acom computer aided dispatch (CAD) system.
‘We’ve added a lot of capability into our core products over the last year. We have got much more involved with strategic partners, as our customers are looking for more than just one element,’ says Pinnegar.
‘For example, a lot of previous customers have told us they need to log what’s happening in their control rooms. They want evidence logs of calls to be integrated into operating systems with information detailing time and place of calls, the radio channels, call groups – in short, a complete picture of who involved and who should have heard what.’
To meet this need, Zetron has partnered with Eventide, which has a strong track record in airports and military recording where heavyweight evidence logs are required.
‘It is not just voice recordings either,’ says Pinnegar. ‘They can help us when text messaging grows or more video comes on stream. When they do, we can pull different elements onto an evidence pack and get a time sequence of what happened. We are now able to deeply integrate this capability into our systems.’
Zetron has also made moves to integrate CAD (computer aided dispatch) and AVL (automatic vehicle location) systems. Pinnegar points out that a lot of control rooms use these facilities, but they are separate from the dispatch console, which means dispatchers have to look at two screens at least.
‘We are integrating these things into our systems,’ says Pinnegar. ‘The AVL system allows you to see where all your vehicles are and, depending how it is set up, you can connect the vehicle to the network. The screen displays the vehicle locations on a map, so operator can see where they are, touch the vehicle marker on the map, and communicate with it by radio or send a 140 word SMS.
‘You can also set up geofences,’ continues Pinnegar, ‘so an alarm goes off on the dispatch console if a vehicle goes out of its designated area or takes a wrong route. The system is designed to deal with calls in a logical sense and get information out to field crews.’
The CAD system can be programmed with relevant information on resources, so that in the case of a simple triage, the dispatcher can talk the officers on the scene through a medical procedure before ambulance teams arrive.
Another instance might be a fire in a chemical plant. The system will tell the dispatcher which fire vehicles are geared to deal for that kind of fire, where those specialist vehicles are and whether they are free to be sent to the incident.
Building schematics can also be imported. Dispatchers can zoom in on a school for example – and guide officers on the scene through the building to a particular classroom. By drawing lines between points, they can get accurate distance readings and relay those to the officers on the scene.
The CAD system is designed to provide greater situation awareness. It can call up the prior history of a suspect, so officers heading to an address can see that someone there has a history of domestic violence, for example.
This information can be sent to mobile devices such as tablets, which can then be accessed by police, fire or ambulance staff on the way to an incident. They can also see which other units are responding and where they are. The system also has status logs, so field officers can indicate that they are available, responding to an incident or are at the scene.
Desktop radio remotes
Zetron was also showcasing its push-to-talk desk telephone. It was developed in response to a request from an oil and gas company in the Middle East, which had a lot of office-based staff who needed to talk to field-based staff using two-way radios.
Rather than have to issue the office staff with radios, they can now use the desk telephone to talk to the field staff on their radios. The phone comes with a traditional style telephone handle, but with the addition of a PTT button on it.
‘The beauty of it is that 14 or 15 of these phones can talk to the field radios, but there are no RF issues in the office building, as we just use standard CAT 5 cabling and no TETRA or other PMR infrastructure is needed. But the phone does everything the TETRA radios do,’ says Pinnegar. ‘That customer in the Middle East has rolled out more than 5,000 of these phones now.’