REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 22, 1999 — On a normal night, Las Vegas is one of the busiest towns on the planet. A city that has raised nightlife to a high art — and made after-hours fun its No. 1 industry — Las Vegas is a booming metropolis of 1.5 million residents that plays host to tens of thousands of visitors who throng the casinos and flood the streets every evening, looking for entertainment of all sorts. But even Las Vegas has never seen anything like the crowds that are expected to turn out for this New Year’s Eve. With the calendar set to turn over from 1999 to 2000, the city is preparing for the craziest night it has ever seen, as some 750,000 out-of-towners take to the streets to ring in the new year.
Numbers like that make public safety a serious concern and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) is prepared for anything. The entire police force will be on call, supplemented by fire and emergency personnel, helicopters outfitted with video equipment, and an array of special details. Last year on New Year’s Eve, the city’s emergency communications center received hundreds of 911 calls each hour during the late evening and early morning. A record number of calls are expected this year: planners believe there will be at lease twice as many 911 calls as last year. If serious Y2K issues emerge, the call center could face thousands of calls per hour.
The lifeline between emergency personnel and events unfolding on the street, 911 represents the ultimate mission-critical application. As part of its two-year planning effort for Dec. 31, 1999, the LVMPD has built an Alternate Dispatch Center (ADC) to ensure that 911 service is fully operational in case the main communications center experiences a failure or has to be evacuated. The ADC, housed in a 32-foot trailer that can be towed to a designated secure location, uses a network of laptop PCs running Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server, along with Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 and Call-Details, an incident-tracking application created by Plant Equipment Inc. (PEI) of Temecula, Calif.
“We can’t anticipate what will happen on New Year’s Eve,” said Captain Marc Maston of LVMPD. “We cannot rely on the fact that there might not be a major problem, so we have prepared as if there will be — and we hope it doesn’t occur.”
If the city’s main 911 center does go down, calls will be automatically routed to the ADC, which is outfitted to support eight call-takers and 10 radio dispatchers. Call-takers will enter critical information from callers into laptops running Call-Details. That information is transmitted over the Windows-based network to the dispatcher responsible for a specific section of the city. Every change or update to the incident record is stamped with a user ID, date and time to create an audit trail. Each incident record is stored in the Call-Details SQL Server 7 database, and can be uploaded to LVMPD’s main computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system.
“This system is like having a miniature CAD system on a laptop,” said LVMPD operations director Sharon Counterman. “It gives us instant communication between call-taker and dispatcher and then creates a record that can eventually be put into our main system.”
The alternative, she added, would be a system of note cards couriered by runners from call-takers to dispatchers.
Reliability When Lives Are at Stake
Call-Details is the first public-safety application built to take advantage of the power of the Windows 2000 operating system. According to PEI executives, Windows 2000 — which was released to manufacturing on Dec. 15 and will be available to most customers in early February — is the ideal platform for powering 911 backup systems like the LVMPD’s Alternate Dispatch Center, as well as for smaller private security systems.
“Windows 2000 is a very robust system that will better serve our needs for power and dependability,” said John Fuller, vice president of marketing for PEI.
Founded in 1968 to build telephone dispatch systems for the utility industry, PEI began developing public safety answering points (PSAPs), the emergency call centers the public knows as 911, in the early 1970s. To date, the company has installed more than 3,000 PSAPs in North America, and PEI equipment is used in some of the busiest 911 centers in the country, including Los Angeles, Boston, Houston and Baltimore.
Because lives can be at stake every time someone makes a 911 call, reliability is a critical issue for PSAP technology. That focus on reliability led PEI to begin working with Windows 2000 Professional early in the product’s development cycle. Long before the new operating system was in its final release, PEI was using Windows 2000 on internal computers. More recently, it migrated all of the laptop computers used by its sales engineers to Windows 2000. Used to demonstrate PEI systems to prospective customers, the laptops are an important part of the company’s sales efforts.
“Even in its beta form, Windows 2000 Professional is proving to be more robust and faster than either Windows 98 or Windows NT Workstation,” said Fuller. “The demos work better on the Windows 2000 laptops, the systems are more reliable, and the sales engineers are able to present more impressive and credible demos.”
The Right Operating System for the New Year and Beyond
Convinced of the power and dependability of Windows 2000, PEI also began work on PSAP products built on top of the new operating system. The company was putting the finishing touches on its Call-Details application just as the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was entering the planning phase for the Alternate Dispatch Center.
“We were reviewing 911 equipment from several vendors and we got to talking to the representatives from Plant about the ADC,” said Counterman. “They sort of looked at each other and said ‘we are developing just such a solution.’ You could just see the light bulbs go on, everyone was very excited.”
“It was perfect timing for us and for them as well,” added Fuller. “We had this application in the final development phase, and all of the sudden there was this great opportunity to put it to work.”
Beyond New Year’s Eve, the ADC will serve a number of important functions for the LVMPD. It will provide a permanent back-up call center in case the city’s main facility ever needs to be evacuated — a worst-case scenario that almost became a reality a few years ago when toxic fumes from a chemical spill entered the facility’s ventilation system. The ADC will also be used as a portable training center for call-takers and dispatchers. In addition, Call-Details will be installed on workstations in a new communication center that is currently under construction in Las Vegas and slated to be operational during the spring of next year.
For PEI, the deployment of Call-Details in the LVMPD Alternative Dispatch Center is a valuable selling point. With the market for large, municipal PSAPs relatively mature, the fastest growing sector of the public safety industry is for private security systems. According to Fuller, PEI expects the demand for private safety products to provide most of the company’s corporate growth in the coming years. To meet those demands, the company has made Windows 2000 a core part of its overall strategy.
“The bundled, turnkey systems that PEI provides, with their high levels of functionality, redundancy and reliability, are ideally suited to private branch exchanges used by corporate and university campuses, governmental facilities, large hotels and casinos,” said Fuller. “We expect that Windows 2000 will play a crucial role in PEI’s private safety solutions.”