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911 Center Issues

February 24, 2014 1:19 PM

The issues the City of Madison Fire/Police Departments are having with the Dane County 911 Center are not just City vs. County issues.  The issues go much deeper into a problem at the County level.  The Madison Fire Department's primary concern is time of dispatch; namely, delays in dispatch time. 

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has established codes and standards for the installation, maintenance, and use of Emergency Services Communications Systems, known as NFPA 1221.  When the 2013 edition of NFPA 1221 was established, it took into account recent studies conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on proper response time and resources for structure fires.  This research was funded by the federal government to provide guidance and support for the NFPA response guides for the fire service.  What the research revealed is that rapid response with the appropriate number of people increases the level of survivability when an occupied structure is on fire.  The research done by NIST lends credibility to NFPA 1221 and NFPA 1710 (staffing guidelines) for the acceptable amount of time it takes for a 911 dispatcher to send resources to an emergency incident.

Since the implementation of the new TriTech© Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system in April of 2013, all Dane County emergency response agencies have worked diligently to ensure that the best possible service is provided to our residents.  With any new system implementation, it is reasonable to expect a learning curve and to have new issues arise.  The Madison Fire Department had to make numerous adjustments on our end to ensure the systems communicated with each other.  That work continues today, as we catch "hiccups" in the system on our end on a daily basis.

When discussing the new CAD system, 911 Director John Dejung and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi often speak proudly of the "accreditation" the Center has received. However, this accreditation is actually an internal company process.  The Accreditation Academy is actually a non-profit subsidiary company of the for-profit company Priority Dispatch Corporation. They are the company that writes and maintains the protocols that the dispatchers follow when a 911 call comes to the Center.   The Academy certifies the fact that Priority Dispatch Cooperation's protocols are followed without deviation.  However, the accreditation process does not have a dispatch time component as part of their scoring system.

At the 911 Center Governing Board meeting on February 19, 2014, the City of Madison received a new piece of information, discovering the likely source of the call processing delays.  Two representatives from Priority Dispatch Corporation were in attendance at this meeting, and they made it very clear that the TriTech CAD system and their software do not function at full compatibility with each other.  It is very likely that this lack of full compatibility between the two software products is a major contributor in the slower call processing.  The representatives from Priority Dispatch also made it clear that if their protocols are not followed to the letter, the Dane County 911 Center is at risk of losing their accreditation. 

The 911 Center, dispatcher quality, and dispatch times are of course important concerns, not only to the Madison Fire and Police Departments but to all users of Dane County's 911 Center. I do not feel that excellence can only be measured through how well dispatchers "follow a scripted protocol." Rather, excellence must be measured by how well a Center is meeting all the needs and expectations of the community they serve. 

Chief Davis





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