Every year, Americans dial 911 about 240 million times. That’s one call for every 1.4 people. The sheer volume of calls isn’t the biggest challenge (although having enough personnel at 911 call centers is one of the issues faced by public safety professionals). Caliber Public Safety is proud to produce Computer-Aided Dispatch software (among many other pieces of software) that helps first responders and emergency personnel do their jobs. A CAD software system does not simply facilitate dispatch of personnel. A CAD software system helps arm public safety personnel at every spoke on the network with critical context and information. But CAD started from humble beginnings to become the technologically advanced, mission-critical first-response tool it is today. At its core, CAD is about one thing: creating a database of where to send whom while arming those sent with what.

As outlined by EMS1, a number of milestones stand between the earliest ancestors of Computer-Aided Dispatch systems and today’s cutting-edge results. As EMS1 also points out, among those 240 million 911 calls we mentioned are a staggering 80% made from wireless devices. This means that traditional means of identifying an emergency location (fire, police, medical assistance, etc.) by the landline is no longer an option. This is part of what has driven the need to catalog addresses, detailed contextual information, and buildings themselves in dispatch databases.

Starting in the late 1800s, municipalities began implementing emergency call boxes (which were not accessible to the public at large). In the 1900s as telephones became more common, operators had to route all calls. As calls were put through in the order they were placed, there was no way to prioritize an emergency. Deficiencies in emergency alerting and dispatching led to needless deaths, some of them high-priority.

In the late 1930s, the first dedicated emergency lines were created in the United Kingdom, linked to the number “999.” It took those of us in America another three decades to create a similar program; the 911 system was implemented in the late 1960s. Already, the ground work for the modern-day network of first-response and alerting systems was being created… but there is still considerable gulf between then and now.

There is also, of course, the invention of the microcomputer and the cellular telephone. These two innovations would change the face of emergency dispatch forever, starting in the 1970s and continuing at an exponentially increasing pace over the next half century. We’ll talk about some of these developments in Part 2 of this series. For now, though, understand that Computer-Aided Dispatch is the culmination of a long process of learning not just to prioritize and organize in order to address emergencies, but also to leverage new technologies as they emerged in order to make these processes work better and faster.