Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) is a key component of the majority of public safety operations, whether volunteer, career, emergency medicine, fire, police, commercial, etc., and can be critical to managing and tracking response resources – as well providing situation awareness for senior management. Wherever you are call 9-1-1 (or its non-US equivalent) and chances are your call will be answered by an operator at a CAD terminal. It’s ubiquitous. And, typically, expensive to purchase.
While there’s no shortage of commercial CAD applications around, to our knowledge we offer the only free, Open Source one available. It’s Tickets CAD, under the umbrella of Bob Austin’s OpenISES project.
Why and how did you get started?
The idea had its origins in Florida’s 2004 hurricane season when a buddy and I discussed the system his county’s Emergency Operations Center used to track their responses to reported incidents; e.g., fires, flooding, highway closure, downed trees blocking roads, etc. Their ‘system’ consisted of the familiar 3M stickies pasted onto monitors. We brain-stormed the design of a proper tool to help manage such an operation, started cranking out code in 2005, and the product’s initial beta release was in 2007. Since then, we’ve had some major capability upgrades by our UK-based developer, Andy Harvey.
Who is the software’s intended audience?
Largely local and regional agencies and teams in public safety, emergency operations, and various types of law enforcement. Notably, it’s been taken up by the US ham radio community (ARES/RACES) for official activations and deployments as well as in supporting special events. While Tickets isn’t for EVERY team – what CAD is? – it warrants a look where the team’s budget is non-existent.
We assume that prospective users possess only modest technical skills, and we’ve designed the installation process to be as fool-proof as possible. (The sailor in me says that we hope it’s sailor-proof.)
What are a couple of notable examples of how people are using your software?
One such is in a police operation at a North Carolina regional airport, other users have it running commercial ambulance operations, and several UK volunteer emergency transport teams employ Tickets.
What are the system requirements for your software, and what do people need to know about getting it set up and running?
Tickets CAD is a classical web application, and is completely agnostic re the web server and the server’s and browser’s OS’s. Any modern browser may be used. No programming is involved in its installation and tailoring, so no special technical knowledge is required for its successful use.
On a user-owned server, a suitable server ‘stack’ such as WAMP, LAMP, XAMPP installs the needed PHP, Apache server, and MySQL engines in one swell foop ;). These will already exist on an ISP-hosted server. Microsoft’s IIS in place of Apache will also work here.
What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?
Certainly the SourceForge download volumes was the initial indicator, followed by requests we were getting like “We’ve just used it and it would be really cool if it could also do X.”
What has been your biggest surprise?
The amount of interest we see overseas. Of course, a moment’s reflection suggests something like “and we think WE have a budget problem.” It’s received fairly wide adoption among UK volunteer emergency response teams.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Given a zero marketing budget, way up there has been the issue getting the word out to the user communities that might benefit from a free, capable CAD. And there’s the technical challenge of designing a sufficiently generic CAD that can meet a rather diverse set of requirements in the several disciplines and communities supported.
Why do you think your project has been so well received?
The ubiquity of Computer-Aided Dispatch demonstrates a wide need. Tickets meets that operational need where the budget for a capable CAD simply doesn’t exist – or else that the available funds are better spent on salaries, equipment, and transport. An additional factor is that as an open source project, it allows competent sites to bend it to meet special operational requirements when these aren’t met by commercial products and customizing is prohibitively expensive.
What advice would you give to a project that’s just starting out?
Stay humble and start light: Your users probably know better than you do the problems they encounter. (A solution looking for a problem is in a distant second place to a problem searching for a solution.)
Where do you see your project going?
- 1. Regionalizing is a near-term new capability (live as this is read?), which we expect to attract operations that are somewhat hierarchical in nature. (E.g., state/county operations and their non-US equivalents.)
- 2. Even wider support for vehicle location tracking systems. (We currently support APRS, Instamapper, Gtrack, LocateA, Latitude, Open GTS, and GPS Gate.)
- 3. Better support for small-screen – i.e., tablet-size – devices.
- 5. We’re considering going for a DHS grant to fund developing the next generation of Tickets.
What are you most proud of?
In view of the spirit of volunteerism shown by so many in the public safety community, our ‘giving back’ is our way of thanking them. We take pride in participating in that.
If you could change something about the project, what would it be?
I expect that a version control system of some kind might have helped avoid some stumbles. We should really have considered investing some effort in this early on.
How do you coordinate the project?
Email is our primary tool.
How many hours a month do you and/or your team devote to the project?
This varies widely, certainly so among team members.
What is your development environment like?
We use no special tool set or IDE. ASCII editors are our main working tools: e.g., Notepad++, Textpad. We tend to develop using available server stacks such as WAMP, LAMP, XAMPP, etc., in order to replicate as much as possible of what the user may encounter.
What is your release schedule like?
We make it a point to avoid these, which too often result in pressure to meet date targets at the risk of quality.
How can others contribute?
More projects of the month
Project name: Tickets CAD
Date founded: 2004
Project page: http://www.ticketsCAD.org
Occupation: In my day job, I’m retired. Prior to that, stints at White House, Dept of Army (Wash-to-Moscow Hotline, Pentagon TCC consolidation), industry
Location: Annapolis, MD
Education: BS Math (Rochester U., MS work at GWU)
Occupation: Datacoms Supplier Manager
Location: UK â€“ Cheltenham
Education: BTEC Telecoms, Project Management (PRINCE 2)
Alan Jump, N5ILN
Occupation: ARES Assistant Emergency Coordinator and
Emergency Communications Field Instructor, Monterey County, CA.
Location: Salinas, CA
Education: Associate of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, Cayuga
Why did you place the project on SourceForge.net?
We needed a download site and version repository. SourceForge met that need in spades.
How has SourceForge.net helped your project succeed?
We can’t imagine any possibility of success without the download site and version repository, and SourceForge has provided these along with some outstanding tools.
What is the number one benefit of using SourceForge.net?
For us, it establishes the project’s credibility. There’s plenty more, but you said ‘one’.