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Proposed bill would require Utah to consolidate dispatch centers

Published February 4, 2014 10:03 am

Legislation • Deck_here_with_period.
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Following the death of a Draper man who failed to get prompt emergency medical assistance, Salt Lake County leaders again pushed for a consolidated 911 dispatch system on Monday.

But this time, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams was joined by Utah House Majority leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, who announced he is working on legislation that would require consolidated dispatch centers statewide.

The exact wording of the bill and any state "incentives" to help poorer rural counties fund the measure were still being worked out Monday, but Dee said he is "pretty passionate" about the issue.

Ultimately, Dee hopes a police officer in Logan will be able to easily communicate on the same system as an officer in St. George.

To fund Salt Lake County's transition to a centralized dispatch center, McAdams said county leaders have already set aside $1.4 million, which is the total estimated cost to get everyone on a consolidated computer system.

Dee praised the consolidated dispatch center that handles calls in both Weber and Morgan counties as Utah's success story for centralizing dispatch.

McAdams announced in September his goal to consolidate all 911 centers but said he has found it to be a "frustrating conversation" to get the county's three dispatch centers — belonging to Salt Lake City, Unified Police, and Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC) — to agree on the right platform.

With the support of the legislation, McAdams said he expects the creation of a governing body to oversee the integration ofa consolidated 911 process in Salt Lake County. That governing body will determine how many centers are needed, the software and other logistical issues.

The announcement of legislation came the same day The Salt Lake Tribune published a story about the Draper man who died from a heart attack after getting routed to Salt Lake City's 911 center rather than VECC's.

It took emergency officials an hour to respond to his home. In the meantime, the man's wife came home 40 minutes after his initial 911 call to discover he had died.

The confusion surrounding the Draper man and the delays in responding to his emergency were traced to the fact that cellphone calls to 911 are connected to the nearest cell tower. Calls from cities surrounding Sandy are routed from a Sandy tower, and Sandy is connected to Salt Lake City's 911 system.

Salt Lake City911 Bureau Director Scott Freitag said records show that the man called Jan. 16 to report he was having a heart attack, and as the dispatcher was getting his information, the call was disconnected. The man called again and got another dispatcher, but the first already had enough information about the address that he relayed the emergencyto VECC. Freitag said the man then called a third time and said he was feeling better. When that information was sent to VECC, it canceled the response.

"We're not here to play the blame game and say it was somebody else's fault," McAdams said. "What's monumental today is that everybody is at the table to say that we are taking responsibility and the future is one where we work together."

Representatives from all three Salt Lake County area dispatch centers attended the Monday press conference.

"We're here today to show our support as a 911 center and as Salt Lake City in this effort," Freitag said.

"That bringing all entities together, making sure that we're all on the same systems, that we don't have transferred callers, that we don't lose somebody with any chance is the most important thing we can focus on right now. Seconds mean lives," he said.

Salt Lake City taxpayers just spent millions of dollars building a state-of-the-art dispatch center in its new public safety building downtown. It is not clear what would happen to that dispatch center if consolidation occurred.

Riverton's mayor, Bill Applegarth, said it's time for a change.

"The time has come that we can no longer have this type of response," Applegarth said. "Our citizens deserve and need the very best. I don't feel safe, frankly, totally safe, with the dispatch system the way it is set up now."


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