PROBLEM/SITUATION: Chicago's 911 calls were
being handled by outdated
and obsolete communications equipment.
SOLUTION: A new Sophisticated 911 system
better handles calls and helps shave valuable seconds off response times.
VENDORS: Motorola, Digital Equipment Corp., Fluor Daniel Corp.
CONTACT: Gregory Bishop, 911 Project Implementation Office, 312/746-9116. Fax 312/746-9120.
Buck Rogers' futuristic technology is alive and well in present-day Chicago. It's embodied in the city's new Sophisticated 911 (S-911) system as a bold, high-tech emergency response system for the 21st century.
Begun in 1987, the S-911 public safety system was conceived as a long-range improvement to the city's communication and emergency response infrastructure. Built with an eye to the future, it was expressly designed for redundancy and in-place upgrading. The completed system and its new facilities now support both police and fire department services and rapidly dispatch the responding department
to the precise location of the emergency call. While a responding unit typically requires five to 10 minutes to arrive on the scene, the goal of the S-911 system is to shave off two minutes.
The problem faced by the city was the escalating number of emergency calls being handled by outdated and obsolete communications equipment. Although functional, this system could only support manual dispatching activities based upon cards, pencils and static maps.
"We had a police department communication system that was ineffective and almost 35 years old," said Greg Bishop, the first deputy project coordinator and a veteran of the Chicago Fire Department.
The fire department was using a turn of the century communication system with facilities more than 75 years old. "That was an even older system than the police were using," Bishop noted. The fire department system could process voice communications, but did not have sufficient capacity to process high volumes of data communications. Aging equipment poses another problem: scarcity of service parts. Both replacement parts and the technicians trained to service the old equipment eventually dwindle away.
During the 1960s, the 911 call volume averaged three million calls per year. Today, the annual call volume has increased to five million calls. The existing communications system was unable to handle this volume of calls within the desired response criteria. Bishop said, "Chicago had the first enhanced 911 system of any major city, but it was installed in 1976 and was nearly 20 years old."
The old system was analog instead of digital, and relied upon paper transactions to dispatch emergency calls.
FOR A SOLUTION
To find a solution, a needs analysis was performed by all departments to define requirements for a comprehensive public safety system. City representatives attended many vendor presentations during the early design years, 1987 to 1989.
One design point was the requirement to support police, fire, and medical communications through the year 2005. In 1990, an expert project team was assembled from members of the police, fire and other city departments. The team prepared the initial request for information document and advertised it worldwide.
Eleven bidders responded to the request, and two finalists were selected. Each was asked to produce a conceptual design that would match the city's needs. After conducting a detailed analysis of the requirements, each vendor submitted a proposal. The city's project team combined the optimum components of each submission and reissued it as the criteria for the preliminary design. After the preliminary designs were examined, the Illinois division of the Fluor Daniel Corp. was selected to be the vendor.
Construction of the Chicago Emergency Communications Center (CECC) began immediately after vendor selection in August 1992. The facility encompasses 161,000 square feet on five levels. "The facility is designed for a 50-year useful life and is configured to allow upgrading of systems without disrupting operations or services," noted Bishop.