Williamson County is serious about enhancing services and systems for a safer community. One way WilCo achieves this goal is through the implementation of technology, like the Unify system by Central Square.
Unify is a cross-jurisdictional system that connects public safety agencies to one another and allows them to communicate seamlessly via a bi-directional data-sharing network. This communication allows agencies to send the best, closest or most appropriate unit to any call, regardless of jurisdictional boundaries. Responders not only get there faster, but also have the latest, up-to-date information they need on the scene.
The system is set up so that Williamson County’s dispatch CAD system is the hub and all other dispatch systems in the region are spokes that feed into the system. In 2015, Williamson County applied for a federal grant in order to share data between computer aided dispatch (CAD) systems. The county received the grant for $386,000 and purchased the system from Central Square. In 2016, Williamson County began using the system, formerly known as Fatpot, to share data just between fire agencies within the county. Fast forward eight years, and the data sharing hub system now known as Unify is finally fully implemented for fire responses with the addition City of Austin and Travis County fire agencies to the system.
“The Unify system hosted by Williamson County is the only one in the country to not only fully integrate with multiple CAD systems, but also to utilize the bi-directional call transfer and closest-unit dispatching capabilities,” said Richard Semple, chief information officer for Williamson County. “While this was a technology project implemented by Technology Services, it really is a project to improve how we can dispatch public safety agencies using advanced technology.”
“This tool will allow us to more efficiently manage large disasters that are affecting multiple agencies, specifically with backfilling. It provides a bigger view for situational awareness. Because everyone is contributing their data, it allows us to have visibility using a computer instead of whiteboard and radio,” said Williamson County Emergency Services Senior Director Chris Connealy.
The benefits of this system are that fewer phone calls are made between dispatching agencies, time is saved by sending the fastest, most appropriate unit to the scene and there is better situational awareness on scene. The Unify tool also can be configured to communicate with non-public safety partners, such as hospitals, schools, towing agencies and others.
A recent example of the use of the Unify system in action was the Parmer Lane grass fire that turned into an apartment fire in Cedar Park. The shared data made it easier for dispatch to tell which crews were in the area and allowed the trucks in Austin to come and assist in Cedar Park.
Bringing on new agencies means working through agreements for data sharing and mutual aid. Each agency uses a different platform for their CAD. The county pays an annual maintenance fee for Unify, and each agency pays for their connection to the hub. If one agency changes their CAD platform, the entire system is not affected, just that agency’s spoke.
“The next public safety agencies to go live will be EMS to include Georgetown Fire, North Lake Travis Fire Department, Pflugerville Fire Department and Austin/Travis County EMS in addition to Williamson County EMS. Future plans include incorporating other neighboring counties and agencies who may wish to participate,” said Janessa Stephens, Williamson County’s public safety technology director.