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May 20, 2019

The Dispatcher’s Role Reimagined

For UX researcher, a day in the life of a public safety dispatcher enables creation of new technology to improve a difficult job
It was a typical workday for user experience researcher Safina Lavji as she observed an emergency call-taker working at a dispatch center.
But the day took a turn when a “shots fired” call came in.

At the time, nine officers were in the field – all in different locations – and they were redirected by the dispatcher to the location of the shots fired incident.

What might sound like a rare glimpse into the day of a customer is actually Lavji’s job. She’s a user experience (UX) researcher in our chief technology office, where she and the team gather data and insight about our customers that shape the design and function of our products.

As officers made their way to the scene, the dispatcher was busy coordinating radio traffic, sending updates to officers, providing assistance to callers and watching the map to track the status of each officer – all while phones rang in the background, monitors flashed and colleagues answered other calls.

She was also jotting down information with pen and paper when necessary and determining officer arrival times to then share specific information with each one depending on their location. At the same time, she also monitored for new 911 calls.

When officers arrived at the scene, they found no bullet casings, which indicate a gun has been fired, and the suspects and witnesses didn’t want to cooperate. Officers left with no further action and the dispatcher moved on to the next call – but Lavji will never forget what she saw that day.

Lavji’s observations astounded her – the sheer volume of calls, the pen and paper note-taking, the poorly designed workspace with seven monitors, three keyboards and three mice, the microphone and headset configuration, as well as the swivel chair needed for the dispatcher to make her way through the workflow.

The swivel chair experience isn't unique to the customer Lavji observed that day. Dispatchers across the U.S. face the overwhelming task of gathering critical information from emergency callers and communicating it correctly to officers in the field in a matter of minutes, often in life-or-death situations.

“Accuracy is key for a dispatcher – they’re the eyes and ears for the officer once he or she exits the vehicle,” said Lavji. “At the same time, the conditions they work in and the antiquated systems they use make accuracy difficult.”

Our call-taking and dispatch solutions, including VESTA, CallWorks, Spillman Flex CAD and PremierOne CAD, have the power to streamline information that comes in and improve location accuracy from callers, ultimately easing some of the burden. Firsthand observations from our UX researchers like Lavji are the starting point for addressing the issues.

“The dispatch center is making progress, especially with our solutions, but there’s still work to be done to improve the daily experience of a dispatcher and some fundamental issues need to be addressed,” said Lavji. “It’s incredible that my notes from the field can help make some of these much-needed changes.”
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