Santa Barbara fire station
The Santa Barbara City Fire Department has a new automated alerting system that sends critical information more efficiently. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara City Fire Department has a new automated alerting system that is designed to send critical information more efficiently and faster.

The technology will assist dispatch services by using voice alerting to reach out to firefighters automatically and essentially speeding up the dispatch incident process.

The system has been live for less than two weeks. It replaces the city’s decades-old radio-based, toned alerting system.

“This is definitely a large shift,” Battalion Chief Chris Mailes said. “Multiple stations can be alerted simultaneously.” 

The new automated system is from Colorado-based Locution Systems. It allows a dispatcher to focus on the telephone and the reporting party with fewer radio and dispatching interruptions.

The voice of a real person is used to record each word going into the audio database, which is critical for street and business pronunciations, Mailes said.

If multiple calls are occurring at the same time, all fire units will be notified simultaneously through the Locution Systems computer system.

Dispatchers now will receive the 911 call, enter the call information into the computer-aided dispatch system and, with a touch, all fire stations are simultaneously alerted in less than a half-second with the automated broadcast, Mailes explained.

“The old radio system required sequential notification with audible tones sent over the radio followed by the dispatcher voicing the entire incident information,” Mailes said.  “Previously, the dispatcher would often have to pause the telephone conversation to voice the radio dispatch.

“Now, Locution voices the entire initial dispatch, allowing for more seamless telephone interaction with less interruptions. The dispatchers have confidence the call has been sent to the stations, and their focus is now on getting the most information possible from callers.”

The main alerting pathway is now via the Internet with the radio dispatch occurring around the same time, Mailes said. Santa Barbara has a robust microwave system linking all fire stations, so this allows for an expedited alerting pathway.

Locution Systems’ technology is nothing new, Mailes explained, adding that the company has offered the product since the 1990s and serves more than 40 million people across the United States and Canada.

Santa Barbara is the first city in Santa Barbara County to use the new system, and its decision to implement it is likely to pave the way of future fire dispatch efficiency.

The Santa Maria City Fire Department also is implementing Locution Systems into its dispatch center, and the Montecito Fire Protection District also is considering the system, Mailes said.

Santa Barbara County fire chiefs are working toward regional dispatch and communications solutions, Mailes said, and all need to implement a system that will work across the entire region.

Officials are expecting the Locution Systems to last indefinitely, Mailes said. The Santa Barbara City Fire Department signed a five-year maintenance agreement with the company, but it expects the relationship to continue past the agreement.

“We have been completely impressed with their level of commitment to our city,” he said. “The company is passionate about fire station alerting systems, and we expect our system to grow technologically along with Locution Systems.”

Money for the new system comes from voter-approved Measure C dollars, and this is one of the first projects approved by the city’s steering committee. The project has been in the planning stages for more than two years, and the system costs about $481,000.

More than 30 city employees worked collaboratively and spent hours researching the different companies that provide similar systems, Mailes said, adding, “The Locution Systems offered exactly what was needed for our community.”

In addition, upgrades to fire station communications rooms and infrastructure were completed. Fire stations have been supplied with additional alerting equipment, including digital reader boards, turnout timers, equipment incident lighting and telephone application.  

Firefighters are alerted by multiple visual indicators, allowing for faster movement through the fire station and subsequent decreases in turnout and response time.

“One of our department’s values is innovation, and this is the first of many strategic improvements that will reduce the community’s risk and rapidly deliver emergency services,” Santa Barbara Fire Chief Eric Nickel said of the new automated alerting system. “We appreciate the community’s investment in Measure C.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.