I apologize that these “quick thoughts” are actually being posted after this conference has ended, but I will blame the fact that the TriTech organizers, namely Jenny Clavero, kept us busy the entire time in Boston. Attendance was similar to last year with around 230 people but it was made up of a slightly different cross-section of TriTech users with a few more EMS agencies and stronger representation from the eastern half of the US. Still, there were the stalwart VisiNet users from New Zealand and Australia half way around the globe.
True to its theme of “Fresh Ideas” and “New Perspectives”, there were talks about the future of CAD, PSAPs, and healthcare information exchanges interspersed with VisiNet product updates and current technical best practices. The opening keynote was presented by Jeff Robertson, Managing Partner at Robertson & Associates, on Wednesday morning to challenge thinking about public safety technology and the future. Jeff pointed out that the Computer-Aided-Dispatch (CAD) application is to the dispatch center (PSAP) what MS Outlook is in most businesses – the application interface that facilitates communication and organizes your work. His vision was a consolidation of functionality, similar to an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, combining the dispatch function with records management and mobile access all coordinated geographically through a map with interactive “drag and drop” capabilities. A favorite line was “passing data serially from 911 to the CAD is sooo 1980’s.” However, consolidation should not be occurring just at the software level but should continue at the very least to the pooling of resources to permit better information sharing as well as cost savings at the administration level. He noted that other nations, his example was Germany, have a small handful of coordinated Public Safety Answering Points to service the entire country. The United States is an outlier in having distinct PSAPs for each county and sometimes even separate systems by agency within that county.
There were hands-on labs, user groups, product updates, and vendor exhibitions filling out the afternoon. The session by Frank Gresh, CIO of EMSA, on the ecosystems for Healthcare Information Exchanges (HIE) was particularly enlightening and will hopefully lead a future blog posting here. His demonstration of SMRTNET in Oklahoma provides an example of how a national program could function to provide Field EMS with life-saving background medical data on patients in addition to helping hospital staff.
On Thursday, the day began with a keynote from Colin Lawrence of The Order of St John in Christchurch, New Zealand describing the infamous earthquakes from September 2010 to February 2011. Using GIS maps and YouTube videos, he told the story of the geology of his country and how it led to the devastating damage upwards of $7.1B (which when compared as a percentage of national GDP far outweighs the effects of either Katrina on the US or Fukushima on Japan.) While the number of calls for service increased dramatically, the communication center was able to maintain service and triage calls effectively because of ProQA from Priority Dispatch and a decision to return calls for more minor incidents after a brief period. Another lesson they learned was that by not securely mounting computer displays to desks, many were smashed as a result of a serve quake and while these computers were otherwise operational they could not be used without their screens. But after all the horrifying details, the presentation ended with a video demonstration of the traditional resilience of the New Zealand people called a “haka” and a plea for the World Rugby Cup. Normalcy is always a priority after any disaster.
Special sessions were devoted to developing topics such as social media, consolidation, and also best practices for GIS. Corporal Melinda Gutierrez of the Dallas Police Department and Chris Kummer, EMS Communications Manager for Hennepin County, shared their experiences learning their way through developing social media sites for their services and the policies regarding the use of these networks. Jim Lake discussed the differences and problems of consolidating multiple agencies into a single dispatch, Likewise TriTech GIS Analyst Karen Pankey and Adam DeMars of Columbia/Richland County shared practical tips for editing in ArcGIS and integrating it with GEO. Then VisiFest!