311 Is The Answer
March 5, 2010 11:03 AM
The problems in Dane County's dispatch center have their roots in inadequate staffing, equipment and leadership. That's not my conclusion. That's the conclusion of the county's own report on the situation, which you can read for yourself here: http://danedocs.countyofdane.com/webdocs/pdf/911/911_Comprehensive_Review_Phase2.pdf
To the credit of the County Board and the County Executive, they've responded to the report by addressing these needs. For the first time in years, there will be a full complement of dispatchers in place soon. That comes after chronic staffing shortfalls of as much as 24%. And dispatching equipment has been upgraded. New workstations were recently installed, a complete remodel of the Center is currently underway, and the Center will install a new and much-needed Computer Aided Dispatch system in the near future.
To be fair, the report did point out, among its less important recommendations, that it would be better if operators handled fewer nonemergency calls for which a dispatch is not required. The City of Madison agrees. But the answer isn't to unravel the cooperation and efficiencies that come with a regional solution. The answer is an even greater regional approach. That's why I've been pushing for years to begin a 311 service to take all nonemergency calls. This would give the public two easy numbers to use: 911 for emergencies and 311 for non-emergencies.
When I first raised this idea nearly two years ago, the County Executive rejected it out of hand. Too expensive, she said. Since then there has been a softening toward the idea and, to her credit, she hired a new communications center director who has experience in creating a 311 system from scratch.
So, that's where we should be headed. Rather than double charging Madison taxpayers or turning back the clock on regional cooperation, let's get to work on a comprehensive, regional improvement in both emergency and nonemergency dispatch functions.