Decision-Makers' Guide to
for Essex, VT
and other Chittenden County Communities
Regional Dispatch (centralized)
Local Dispatch (decentralized)
Larger towns already provide Emergency Dispatch for others -- because economies of scale occur when needs are pooled
and when resources, such as labor and supplies, are shared.
Essex, for example, dispatches Essex Police and Essex Fire, plus Essex Rescue, Essex Jct. Fire, and Westford Fire.
If several towns agree in 2018 to further combine Dispatch functions under a Union Municipal Agreement (UMD), the plan is to co-locate with the South Burlington PD on Gregory Drive.
Regional Dispatch will cost a bit more up front due to setup and training costs. Long-term savings and efficiencies are predicted.
Expected advantages of Regional Dispatch over local dispatch via a regional center that does not serve as a 911 hub -- this will happen if voters in 3 or more towns say YES to Regional Dispatch in March elections:
More dispatchers in one room -- fewer overall -- focused only on dispatch. Dispatch teams will allow for adequate backup, supervision, training, quality assurance, camara-derie and career advancement. (The practice of carrying phones into the rest room or break room will be history.)
Expected advantages of Regional 911 Hub over local dispatch -- this will happen only if Shelburne voters direct their dispatchers to move to the Regional Center. (Shelburne callers, uniquely, tend to have a 1-stage response when they call 911):
Whether or not regional dispatch passes at the polls,
please know that Faster Emergency Dispatch can happen today, without regionalizing anything or costing more.
“I tell my loved ones not to call 911. I tell them to call dispatch,” said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo. (12/19/17, Vermont Digger article)
If you don't dial 911 and instead call 878-8331 (the direct number to Essex PD), you can expect faster (1-stage) dispatch of first responders to your location in many cases.
That number is known as the 7-digit Non-Emergency Number. Ironically, this # is also a good bet for fast dispatch when you have an emergency!
Downsides to the Regional Dispatch model -- as well as several challenges being addressed -- include the various tasks that Essex dispatch does well:
Local dispatchers are very familiar with their territory and first response units. While multiple streets share the same names across the county, for example, an Essex dispatcher knows our Main Street is also Route 15, which in turn is aka Pearl St, Upper Main St, Center Rd or Jericho Rd depending on your coordinates.
Local PD relies on dispatchers to do a host of paperwork when phones are silent. (If dispatchers get assigned to RD under a merged scenario, other staff [new hire?] will need to take on such tasks.)
Faster Dispatch of emergency responders. Each call-taker dispatches responders in a 1-stage process.
Local PD Admin Desk is open 24/7, thanks to dispatch for in-person as well as phone service.
Mutual Aid no longer dispatched manually / sequentially. Instead, it would be automated, with a collective view of resource availability, aided by computer selection of the most appropriate resources.
Dedicated oversight during fire / EMS calls. Dispatcher stays on-the-line throughout the incident. The caller may obtain emergency medical advice immediately, and the first responders, once they arrive, get prompt additional assistance as needed.
Local dispatchers have experience with current equip- ment and protocols. They have a comfort level which they'd have to re-create in a different location, with different co-workers and new systems/software, if their efforts were merged into a region-wide function. Dispatchers who live in the town where they work would have longer commutes. They'd also forfeit the protection of their current collective bargaining unit, beginning anew.
"I hope that regional 911 call centers, cost-saving economies of scale aside, become a thing of the past. Had [my wife]'s call gone directly to the Somerville Police, I am convinced that game of telephone wouldn’t have resulted in disaster. A local dispatcher, familiar with the hospital, would have asked Laura whether she was at the top or bottom of that hill."
U.S. Improvements to 911 Mapping Would Also Improve Response Times
"Why Uber Can Find You But 911 Can't," by Ryan Knutson (Jan. 7, 2018, Wall Street Journal), details another obstacle to rapid response: outdated technology. Excerpts are below:
Accurate location data is on smartphones, so why don’t more wireless carriers use it to locate emergency callers?
Software on Apple Inc.’s iPhones and Google’s Android smartphones help[s] apps like Uber and Facebook to pinpoint a user’s location.
But 911, with a far more pressing purpose, is stuck in the past.
U.S. regulators estimate as many as 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the 911 emergency dispatching system were able to get to callers one minute faster. Better technology would be especially helpful, regulators say, when a caller can’t speak or identify his or her location.
After years of pressure, wireless carriers and Silicon Valley companies are finally starting to work together to solve the problem. But progress has been slow.
Roughly 80% of the 240 million calls to 911 each year are made using cellphones. For landlines, the system shows a telephone’s exact address. But it can register only an estimated location, sometimes hundreds of yards wide, from a cellphone call.
“It is really frustrating to know that ... I call for Uber and they know exactly where I am,” said Christy Williams, who runs a 911 system in the counties that surround Dallas, “but that it can’t be used for lifesaving methods.”
That frustration is now a frequent source of tension during 911 calls, said Colleen Eyman, who oversees 911 services in Arvada, Colo.
“The moment you pick up that call, you have to start interviewing: ‘Where are you?’” Ms. Eyman said.
“All they want is to just get some help. They don’t understand why you’re asking all these questions. And it creates an angst and a lack of confidence.”
Smartphone sensors continually monitor [GPS location data] and occasionally relay it back to Google or Apple. As a result, the tech firms’ ability to determine a smartphone’s location quickly surpassed that of wireless carriers.
But carriers and the tech giants didn’t immediately work to ensure that enhanced data was available to 911.
In mid-2016, [BT Group PLC and Google] jointly launched a technology that improved location accuracy of emergency calls down to a radius of just a few yards. It is now in use in at least 10 countries, including the U.K., Austria and Estonia.
U.S. wireless carriers, however, moved much more slowly, partly because regulators weren’t spurring them along.
Historically, U.S. regulations only applied to outdoor location accuracy, where GPS works better.
“The commercial location solutions…are built for a different-use case than 911,” said Matthew Gerst, an assistant vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA, the wireless industry trade group.
The smartphone data is still just an estimate, so it doesn’t deliver an exact street address like many in the 911 community want, he added.
Carriers hope the National Emergency Address Database [NEAD, currently under development] will be operational in late 2018.
Until then, 911 operators continue to wait.
Ms. Eyman, who runs the 911 center outside Denver, recalled a situation recently where a young child fell from a window and a baby-sitter calling on a cellphone didn’t know the home’s address.
“She was looking for numbers on the mailbox, on the outside of the house,” Ms. Eyman said.