Open Source Dispatch Software

Running a dispatch-based operation of any size requires an effective computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system; nothing less will do. But CADs can be expensive, and not every department has the budget for purchase and annual licensing fees. Too often, mid-sized and smaller departments have to make do with less-effective alternatives.

This is where the Open ISES Project (Open Information Systems for Emergency Services) can help. On the Web at, the Open ISES project offers fire/EMS departments easy-to-use dispatch software--simply named 'Tickets'--that works with any modern web browser and any operating system. Using Tickets, dispatchers can record incident details, map routes to incidents, capture unit response information, write logs, provide directions to responders, view the incident's physical location online using Google Streetview (where available), generate reports and track responder location in real-time via GPS.

And it's free. Not surprisingly, "We have had possibly 10,000 downloads of the Tickets software since its initial release four years ago," says Robert Austin, a member of the Open ISES team and a retired career paramedic who got his start in volunteer EMS and never forgot how volunteer departments have to struggle to pay their bills. Working with lead software developer Arnie Shore and UK-based Andy Harvey, both volunteers, and other people who flocked to the Open ISES banner, the team has adapted an existing 'open source' software product for fire/EMS use. (Free Open Source refers to software that is made freely available to anyone who wants to use and/or modify it. Users can do anything they want with it--except sell it!)

The latest version of Tickets, v. 2.11, offers a host of new features. A new call is cross-referenced against prior calls, with the results going automatically into the dispatch form, as well as informing the call-taker about possible abusers. Address lookup is used to look up map position as an assist in identifying and dispatching the appropriate response unit. Also included in the latest version is support for pre-scheduled runs, ones between incident and support facilities, as well as other capabilities.

Although any department can deploy Tickets, it is really meant for smaller and volunteer units that do not have the resources suitable to acquire and deploy proprietary CAD software. "I think it's useful to note that there are a LOT of teams participating in emergency response that have zero budget, or what little budget might be available correctly goes to equipment and transport," says Arnie Shore. "While we hear about grant money from federal DHS and the states for worthy projects, many of the smaller teams lack the special skills or interest in cranking out grant application verbiage." Other departments are simply too busy to deal with the bureaucracy behind grant money, or believe that their departments don't stand a chance of winning because they lack official standing.

"Tickets illustrates everything important about open source software," says Robert Austin. "You can take a product like Tickets and modify it to meet any special needs that the commercial packages won't touch because of cost factors. The emphasis on using open, non-proprietary standards tends to ease the otherwise-difficult integration task."

"Where special requirements need to be met without available funds, the development team will be happy to listen," adds Shore. "There's no Marketing Department or Product Planning Committee passing their judgment on new or special capabilities."

Finally, a word about the name. Why would anyone call a CAD program Tickets? "We were going to call it 'Fred'," Shore replies, "but someone had already used that name, so we settled for 'Tickets'."

James Careless is a freelance writer with extensive experience covering computer technologies.