By John Hyde
Mayor Lewis Billings announced plans Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2006, to improve Provo”s 911 Dispatch Center by adding two additional dispatchers and one supervisor. The changes come as a result of a poor audit from the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials, an independent company that found Provo”s dispatch center to be understaffed, under-supervised and struggling with low morale.
Provo city sought the audit after a 2004 call when a Provo man called 911 from his cell phone and dispatch responded with an emergency unit sent to a wrong address. Aston died, his body was found four days later.
Additional employees at the dispatch center will satisfy the association”s recommendation to have five employees on duty 20 hours a day – from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. – seven days a week. Before Billings announced the change, there were only five employees on duty Friday and Saturday nights.
The audit reported it wasn”t a shortage of employees that led to the 2004 incident, but rather a dispatch error coupled with unsophisticated software in tracking cell phones. Existing software can locate a cell phone call to a 990-foot radius, which is hardly pinpoint accurate. Billings said upgraded software, which will identify a call within a 165-foot radius, will be implemented and in place by April 1.
The new software, or “phase II 911 technology,” as Capt. David Bolda of the Provo police department calls it, will utilize the latest in positioning technology.
“We”ll be able to locate the cell phone geographically through antenna triangulation or through a GPS chip bouncing off a satellite,” Bolda said.
Although the Aston case wasn”t a direct result of understaffing, it was an indicator to the city council that there could be other problems with the dispatch center, said City Councilwoman Midge Johnson.
“If nothing is broke you don”t fix it,” Johnson said, referring to the city council”s attitude toward the dispatch center before the Aston case. “When that happened, it made us take a better look at what was happening at the 911 center. That”s when we realized we had some other problems, like how we were short on workers.”
Johnson also said she feels the low morale of the dispatch employees reported in the association”s case was a result of understaffing. The lean employee pool didn”t allow for days off, she said, which put a strain on all the employees. The upgraded software requires the cooperation of cell phone companies, which will have 60 days after the new equipment is in place to implement measures allowing the city”s new system to track callers.
“I”m very happy with the new changes,” Johnson said. “It makes the community more safe, more comfortable, and that makes me feel good.”
Billings also announced new protocol for dropped calls, which is another cell phone problem. Before a dropped call can be closed, a dispatcher must resolve the case with a supervisor and a battalion chief.
Although there is enough money in the budget right now to hire additional dispatchers and supervisors, Billings said an additional $90,000 to $120,000 will be needed for the 2006-2007 fiscal year.