Monday, 24 January 2011

Mapping software could speed up response time

Public-safety chiefs:

The Santa Fe New Mexican fire and police chiefs want to raid a reserve fund to buy mapping software they say would help get emergency vehicles to the scene faster.
If their proposal manages to win approval in this time of tight budgets, they say the days of police officers and ambulance crews flipping though map books while responding to calls could be history.

When Santa Fe regional dispatchers get a call for help, they use computerized maps to identify which responders are closest to the scene. Then, individual drivers of police cars, fire trucks or ambulances learn the exact address by radio.

If the responders aren't familiar with the location, they resort to paper maps.

Officials say using software that sends addresses directly to computers inside the public-safety vehicles would be more effective.

The chiefs propose to cover half the cost of the proposed software by getting the City Council to take $200,000 out of a pot of money reserved for capital expenditures in their departments. An approval would almost empty that fund, which is replenished through impact fees charged when property owners build homes or businesses.

Meanwhile, operators of the joint city/county Regional Emergency Communications Center are approaching Santa Fe County officials about making a similar contribution to cover the other half of the software's $400,000 cost. An operating agreement calls for city and county to share such expenses.

"We won't be able to do this until both the county and the city come to the table," said Ken Martinez, director of the center.

However, county officials aren't sure how they would find the cash. County Sheriff Robert Garcia said he thinks the software would help operations, but that it's not a top priority. "It's something I am willing to put in a budget request for (in) the next cycle as something we can look at." But, he added, "With the way budgets are now, I honestly don't see it." County Fire Chief Stan Holden said the system is "a justified need," but he also expressed doubt about the timing.

"I think all of us are struggling to maintain the services we are providing today," he said. "It will be very difficult for the governing bodies to come up with that money." Holden also said he has questions about whether the city's plan to use impact fees is legal under state law.

Even if local officials allocate money for the software, it would require some additional investments before the computer-mapping service would be immediately available in every public-safety vehicle.

City fire trucks, ambulances, command vehicles and many police units already have on-board computer systems that could be used with the mapping software. They would require a special GPS attachment.

The initial purchase of the Public Sector NaviLine system would come with 40 GPS units -- 10 allocated to each of the city and county public-safety departments.

During a Thursday meeting of the city's Public Safety Committee, City Fire Chief Barbara Salas held up a tattered Horton Family Maps book of the Santa Fe region. "Right now, we're flipping through the book to find the address we are looking for," she said.

She said the software could help quicken response times. "It would get us there faster, and that is what we want to do," she told the committee, which endorsed the spending proposal.

City Police Chief Aric Wheeler said the system would allow commanders to track each mobile unit during their shifts. He's excited about the prospect.

"This will show you where the street is and show you that you're the closest unit," he said, noting that sometimes officers hear an address over the dispatch radio and don't realize how close they are to the scene.

City officials, who have been working on ways to trim spending now and in the coming fiscal year, have eyed capital-reserve funds as one way to make up a gap of millions between expected revenues and spending. The city Finance Committee has called a special meeting next month to discuss police and fire budgets.

During the last two years, fees charged for police and fire services added about $60,000 annually to the Fire/EMS Impact Fee Fund.

County officials last week wrapped up their mid-year budget review for the current fiscal year and expect to start working in March on a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, said spokeswoman Kristine Mihelcic.

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