An audit of Victorian emergency response ICT systems by the Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) has led to a $13 million upgrade of a computer aided dispatch (CAD) system and associated networks.
The upgrade was completed on 1 October, 2014 and is designed to improved network and CAD resilience. In addition, $15 million has been earmarked this year to upgrade the Emergency Services Telecommunications Authority (ETSA) telephony system for call-taking and dispatch.
An ESTA spokeswoman said that the CAD upgrades now mean that there is greater functionality for call-takers and dispatch staff, more robust technical infrastructure, improved disaster recovery and increased network redundancy across the network to make it more reliable.
The <i>Emergency Response ICT Systems</i> audit, which was tabled in the Victorian parliament today, looked at the processes and systems used from the time when an emergency call is received by the ESTA until the dispatch of ambulance, fire or police vehicles.
During the 2013-14 financial year, ESTA answered more than 2.4 million calls – an average of one call every 13 seconds – and dispatched emergency services to approximately 2 million incidents, said VAGO.
According to the audit, ESTA is meeting call-taking standards when there isn't peak demand, but has failed to meet its emergency ambulance dispatch standards over the past three years.
“Triple Zero call-taking, dispatch and emergency resource management are effective during normal operations, but is unacceptable for emergency ambulance and Victoria State Emergency Service dispatch,” read the audit.
For example, the call-taking process is leading to delays in sending out ambulances when there are not many ambulances available.
“The time taken from a caller requesting assistance until the arrival of the first responder unit at the scene is an important aspect of emergency response. These elapsed times include, in part, the time taken by the ETSA to answer each call and dispatch the appropriate emergency service responder,” read the audit.
The achievement of these performance objectives is one of ESTA's key performance indicators (KPI). Other KPIs include: The responsiveness of communications between ESTA dispatchers and emergency services organisations (ESO) units, and the level of detail about the incident collected when dispatchers talk to people who have dialled Triple Zero.
“If ESTA doesn't achieve its response standards, there is likely to be an impact on the timely arrival of an emergency responder to an incident and this could pose a risk to the safety and well-being of the public,” read the audit.
In addition, VAGO found that - prior to the $13 million upgrade- the ESTA’s computer aided dispatch (CAD) system had not been upgraded for several years and “failed on at least five occasions” in the past 18 months.
“Computer aided decision tools – such as incident mapping and crew location tracking – are severely degraded during such an outage. This makes it difficult for a dispatcher to assign the correct vehicle or resources to an incident through an informed assessment," read the audit.
According to VAGO, the StateNet mobile radio rural communications network used by police and ambulance is an outdated analogue network that needs replacing.
It also found police channels on the Metropolitan Mobile Radio (MMR) network can become congested at peak times and when protective service officers are on duty at railway stations.
“A new digital radio network for the Country Fire Authority is operating satisfactorily, but should be extended to all other emergency service organisations to overcome the limitations of the analogue rural network."
VAGO made the following recommendations:
- ESTA, assisted by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management, improves the process for changing call-taking and dispatch procedures and agreeing to a plan for their implementation with all emergency agencies.
- ESTA reviews the CAD 9.1 upgrade and the Triple Zero telephony platform telecommunications upgrade against business case objectives, including system/network reliability and system redundancy, once the projects are completed.
- Emergency Management Victoria expands the rural digital radio network to all emergency services organisations.
In response to the audit, the ESTA spokeswoman said that there were no surprises in the report and that is largely a fair summary of emergency response ICT in Victoria.
"The recommendations relating to ESTA in the audit relate to work already completed, underway or in planning. We meet and exceed the majority of our performance standards and this is outlined in the VAGO report," she said.
For example, the spokeswoman said that the report demonstrates how ESTA is meeting performance standards for call-taking including for the critical Triple Zero service.
"ESTA also meets its dispatch performance standards in the main. The audit has not identified any challenges that weren’t already well known, in the public domain, and being worked on. ESTA, IGEM and the agencies work together to improve dispatch where it isn’t up to standard," she said.
Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick