Implementing AVL (Automatic Vehicle Location) Technology Within PSAPs

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In today’s high speed cellular network environment, utilizing a cellular modem connection is the most cost-effective way to achieve AVL connectivity and it also has the highest throughput speed.

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) technology has been around since the nineties, but its use for enhanced officer safety has never been more important.  AVL currently has multiple applications within the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP). To track resources, AVL uses the GPS (Global Positioning System) signal from a field unit’s vehicle or smart device to provide real-time location updates to Dispatchers who are tracking an incident.  In addition, AVL provides field officers using smart devices with information on the location of their fellow officers and responding units.  Likewise, Incident Commanders are able to view their assets from the scene and make better-informed decisions. 

Other current uses of AVL for public safety include “closest available” calculations for police, fire apparatus and EMS/ambulance responders, in turn providing faster service to citizens in need.  And, despite its name, AVL is no longer tied just to vehicles, but can be used in tracking officers on foot or bike patrol to more effectively dispatch and track, to ensure their well-being. 

However, as valuable as AVL is to dispatchers and first responders, it is generally under-utilized at many PSAPs today. While available network speeds have increased and while smartphones provide us with turn-by-turn directions, a large number of PSAPs have not implemented AVL capabilities. The current 4G and soon-to-be 5G networks provide excellent cell coverage, but too many PSAPs still utilize radio communication in order to verbally determine the location of their resources; using AVL in conjunction with Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) will result in the reduction of unnecessary radio chatter. 

AVL is most often integrated with mobile communications through CAD, and, indeed, most current CAD and Mobile systems support AVL technology.  However, many PSAPs don’t take full advantage of all of the AVL features and functions that may be available to them. The reasons for this AVL under-utilization include:

  • Outdated or lack of GPS connectivity in mobile units,
  • Outdated Maps in unit Mobile Computer Terminals (MCTs),
  • Policy issues which restrict visibility into personnel location,
  • Closest-unit calculation dispatch is not enabled, or not working effectively,
  • Lack of integration with all PSAP resources (police units, fire apparatus, ambulances, etc.),
  • Lack of regional coordination of available resources.

In today’s high speed cellular network environment, utilizing a cellular modem connection is the most cost-effective way to achieve AVL connectivity and it also has the highest throughput speed.  But in areas where private networks don’t have the required coverage, radio-based cellular modems can still be utilized. The public safety broadband network, utilizing FirstNet or other options, provides additional capacity for AVL connectivity; whatever connectivity method is used, the goal needs to include regional resource sharing and interoperability.

Resource Sharing

Even PSAPs that have implemented robust AVL solutions may lack access to a neighboring PSAP’s resources. With the increase of virtual and physical PSAP consolidation the need for a robust AVL solution is an integral part of a successful deployment. In order to realize regional resource allocation efficiencies and reduce response time, PSAPs need to incorporate AVL technology in allresources including police vehicles, ambulances, fire apparatus and other mobile resources such as bike patrol, foot patrol, horse patrol, etc. Regional interoperability without an AVL implementation doesn’t allow for automated resource sharing and reduction of response time. In order to achieve economies of scale and optimize resource allocation and utilization, PSAPs need to work together to integrate their CAD and Mobile systems to determine closest-resource calculations. Furthermore, a regional AVL implementation can take advantage of other resources such as private ambulances, snow plows, buses etc. that can be added to the system by integrating their AVL.

To accomplish this type of AVL regionalization, PSAPs can evaluate two primary interoperability strategies; physical consolidation or virtual (or shared services) consolidation. Since physical consolidation is typically politically charged with a lengthy implementation process, virtual (or shared services) consolidation is the most expedient option. The simplest and most cost-effective virtual consolidation is PSAP interoperability utilizing a CAD-to-CAD solution. These types of virtual consolidations utilize regional maps and AVL to provide closest-resource calculations to all participating PSAPs and the agencies they serve. Not only can this type of virtual consolidation reduce response time by as much as 2 to 3 minutes, it provides a global view of all incidents and resources to each participating PSAP in the region.

An additional consideration to achieve regional resource sharing and interoperability is the need for PSAPs to first develop MOUs (Memorandum of Understanding) or other cooperative agreements. These agreements need to focus not only on the AVL and interoperability technology, which is often the easy part of the effort, but the development of a regional resource allocation strategy. This strategy needs to include how resources will be shared amongst agencies and how AVL plays a role in the deployment of this strategy.

Winbourne Consulting has provided interoperability and AVL based resource sharing consulting services to several regional and statewide initiatives. For further information on how Winbourne Consulting can assist your agency in implementing AVL or developing an interoperability strategy with a focus on resource sharing and reduction of response time utilizing AVL technology, contact us at info@w-llc.comor (703) 584-5350 ext. 104.

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