Dispatch is a procedure for assigning employees (workers) or vehicles to customers. Industries that dispatch include taxicabs, couriers, emergency services, as well as home and commercial services such as maid services, plumbing, HVAC, pest control and electricians.
With vehicle dispatching, clients are matched to vehicles according to the order in which clients called and the proximity of vehicles to each client’s pick-up location. Telephone operators take calls from clients, then either enter the client’s information into a computer or write it down and give it to a dispatcher. In some cases, calls may be assigned a priority by the call-taker. Priority calls may jump the queue of pending calls. In the first scenario, a central computer then communicates with the mobile data terminal located in each vehicle (see computer assisted dispatch); in the second, the dispatcher communicates with the driver of each vehicle via two-way radio.
With home or commercial service dispatching, customers usually schedule services in advance and the dispatching occurs the morning of the scheduled service. Depending on the type of service, workers are dispatched individually or in teams of two or more. Dispatchers have to coordinate worker availability, skill, travel time and availability of parts. The skills required of a dispatcher are greatly enhanced with the use of computer dispatching software (see computer aided call handling).
Card systems employ a set of shelves with a slot for each unit in the dispatch fleet. Each vehicle or resource has a slot in the shelving system. In it, a card, like a time card used to track an employee’s work hours, is stored. A time clock, similar to the one that stamps work hours on a time card, is used to stamp event times on each card. At the beginning of a work day, the resource’s identifier or other information is handwritten on the card. Each time the resource’s status changes, the card is punched in the time clock and a new status entry is handwritten on the card. The card collects a series of entries through the work shift.
In a tow truck example, the card might be labeled with the tow car’s radio identifier, “Downtown 6” and may be labeled with the vehicle number or data about the capabilities of the specific tow car. It might give a weight capacity, show the unit as a flat bed or cradle snatcher, or mention the unit carries a can of Diesel fuel. The name of the staff on the car might be noted. At the start of a shift, the dispatcher would note the unit “available” and time stamp the card. At the assignment to a call, the call information would be written on the card and the card might be stamped at the moment the assignment is read to the tow car crew. The string of notes and time stamps allows dispatch staff to get a clear picture of the status of a small fleet.
Some systems use shelving with red and green lights and a switch at the back of the card slot. If the resource’s card is pushed all the way into the card slot, the switch is actuated and an indicator lamp turns red. This identifies the tow car whose card occupies that slot as not available or assigned to a call. Leaving the card pulled partway out leaves the indicator green, showing the dispatcher that unit is available. Is anyone available? The lights are supposed to give the dispatch staff a snapshot of their resource situation.
A major flaw of this system is that cards are inside shelves and trying to look at an entire set of cards to evaluate the overall situation requires the dispatcher to pull out every card, one at a time, and read it. If two or more resources are sent to the same call, the dispatcher has a lot of writing to do.
Punched tag systems employ a set of pegs with each peg holding tags for one unit in the dispatch fleet. Each vehicle working the current shift has a peg with a tag describing the unit’s current status. A time clock, similar to the one that stamps work hours on a time card, is used to stamp times on each tag. At the beginning of a work day, the resource’s identifier may be posted above the peg. The unit’s start time is stamped and their status is written on the tag. Each time the resource’s status changes, a new tag is written and the tag is time stamped in order to log the time the unit’s status changed. The peg collects a stack of tags through the work shift.
In a tow truck example, the peg might be labeled with the tow car’s radio identifier, “Downtown 6” and may be labeled with the vehicle number or data about the capabilities of the specific tow car. It might give a weight capacity, show the unit as a flat bed or cradle snatcher, or mention the unit carries a can of Diesel fuel. The name of the staff on the tow car might be noted. At the start of a shift, the dispatcher would note the unit “available” and time stamp a tag, then hang it on that unit’s peg. At the assignment to a call, the call information would be written on another tag and the tag might be stamped at the moment the assignment is read to the tow car crew. The tag would then be hung on that unit’s peg. The stack of tags allows dispatch staff to get a clear picture of the status of a small fleet.
Some systems use colored tags to show general categories of events such as “available”. For example, each unit that is available might have the fact noted on an orange tag. Is anyone available? A glance at the pegboard shows anybody whose tag is “orange” is available. An repossession might use a yellow tag to identify a service call with a safety issue where the police should be called in the event the tow car crew doesn’t check in by radio within five minutes. A blue tag might show a resource is taking a dinner or lunch break.
A major flaw of this system is that tags can easily be posted on the wrong peg, causing confusion. This can be countered by writing unit identifiers on every tag: a lot of work. In colored-tag systems, it is always possible to run out of certain colors of tags, messing up the system. If two or more resources are sent to the same call, the dispatcher has a lot of writing to do.
In a plastic icon system, the blank panel on the communications console or a nearby wall is fitted with a sheet of Velcro. The material has vertical stripes painted on it, making a column for each of several possible status conditions. The simplest system is two columns: available and unavailable. Magnetized icons can be used in place of Velcro. The icons can be coloured or shaped to identify the type of unit or some other feature of the resource.
Each vehicle working the current shift has an icon placed in the column describing the unit’s current status. A log book is used to track times, event details, and other information about calls for service. In a tow truck example, the icon might be labelled with the tow car’s radio identifier, “Down town 6”. During a shift, the icon would be moved by the dispatcher into whatever column describes the resource’s current condition. Alternatively, there could be columns for some other condition such as the names of move-up or standby points where resources are sent to backfill for busy tow cars.
A major flaw of this system is that icons can easily be misplaced or fall off of the status board. Magnetic objects can damage cathode ray tube displays if they get too close to the display face or housing.