911 board responds to county executive’s suggestions

Chairman: 'We all missed something, somewhere, and now we have to make the fixes'
911 board responds to county executive’s suggestions

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is calling for change in how all 911 calls for police help are handled in an effort to reduce call answer times and the time it takes to dispatch emergency crews to a scene.

In a memo, Parisi outlined six steps he wants 911 center director John Dejung to enact immediately. Any operational changes to the way Dane County’s 911 system is run needs the approval of the 911 center board.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval said 911 center response times have been a serious issue for months.

“For once we are truly being heard as a consumer of those services and this is a refreshing new start for us,” Koval said.

Koval said Parisi’s recommendations are a start toward fixing the current problems within the system.

“We are delighted at the outset, that the executive had the foresight and the vision to look at this and realize that this was a flawed system. A system that was self-defeating and it wasn’t serving citizens, and it was certainly not helping police and fire to do their job,” Koval said.

The suggested changes come after a News 3 investigation chronicled how the Dane County 911 system had failed to meet national standards of answering 90 percent of all 911 calls within 10 seconds or less over the last year. Additional reporting showed more than 4,100 calls taking longer than 40 seconds for 911 communicators to answer.

“We all missed something, somewhere, and now we just have to get together and make the fixes. It can’t be a blame game at this point we have to fix it,” said Josh Ripp, 911 center board chairman.

Parisi is asking the board to make immediate changes to improve response time, including the suspension of the protocol or questions operators have to ask if police are heading to a call. It’s a change the board had already been looking to improve, for a separate issue.

“That wasn’t a part of the study we were originally looking at. Up until recently we hadn’t even started looking at the call time for when someone makes a 911 call (until) it’s picked up, that hadn’t been on our radar,” Ripp said.

In response to Parisi’s suggestion, Ripp said he is apprehensive about eliminating or revising the abandoned call process. Each year 911 receives 22,000 calls where someone hangs up before a 911 operator picks up. That represents 15 percent of the total call volume at the 911 center. Current policy requires operators to call back every hang-up. Ripp said he fears if this process were changed it could do more harm than good.

“It needs to be reviewed (to) make sure we are not doing one thing and sacrificing another in the process,” Ripp said.