UPDATE: Committee starts work on 911 concerns

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UPDATED: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 ----- 5:30 p.m.

Dane County's Executive is calling for quick action after concerns several agencies have expressed over 911 dispatch times. It's been a public battle between county officials and Madison's Mayor Paul Soglin, who's backed by the City's Fire Chief. Tuesday, County Executive Joe Parisi explained his latest plan to help address the issue and who's now taking the lead.

"With any new system, especially a GPS system, there are going to have to be kinks that need to be worked out," said County Executive Joe Parisi. He's standing behind the new software system implemented last April at the dispatch center; even when agencies like the Dane County Fire Chiefs Association, made up of 30 departments; expressed concerns over increased dispatch times, joining the Madison Fire Department.

"This isn't just a city issue as the Dane County Fire Chief showed. We're seriously concerned about delays and if we can get this addressed, it'll be a step in the right direction," said Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis.

Now, officials with the Madison Police Department say they've seen an increase with officer complaints since the new software went live; slow response times, wrong information given to officers both on the list. Parisi says even though concerns have been brought up; in the big picture, the amount of delayed calls is minimal. "The center receives nearly 400,000 calls each year and dispatches 85 different police, fire and emergency medical agencies that use nearly 1,700 different response combinations depending on the nature of the emergency and where it's happening," said Parisi.

A committee will now be reviewing all dispatching protocols that were approved, seeing if there's any room for improvement. Also how to handle cell phone calls, which make up 80% of emergency calls, and could cause delays prompting dispatchers to ask more questions.

Parisi adds, "it's time to work together." The oversight committee made up of police, fire and emergency members will start work Wednesday, reviewing all dispatching protocols previously approved by the 911 Center.

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UPDATED: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 ----- 4:45 p.m.

Controversy at the 911 Center. The debate over response times has turned into a public fight between the Madison Mayor and the Dane County Executive. Everyone agrees that public safety is the number one concern; but the argument is whether it's being put in jeopardy across the county.

To this point it has has seemed a classic case of he said, she said. But now, city officials have more support in their corner. The Dane County Fire Chief's Association sent a letter Tuesday night, to County Executive Joe Parisi saying things need to change, and quickly.

"We had a situation where it took one hour from the time the woman called until we responded to her husband's heart attack," said Madison's Mayor Paul Soglin. Mayor Soglin has publicly voiced his concerns since last month. He adds, "I've got a responsibility to the public." Calling out County Executive Joe Parisi, saying his main issue is the response time, from the time the call comes in, to the time that emergency crews are dispatched; and he's not alone.

"When somebody calls 911, the dispatcher picks up the phone and they follow their protocols, but what we're seeing is an actual time it takes is about 3:40 to dispatch that call," said Madison's Fire Chief Steven Davis.

And Madison's Fire Chief says that's just too long. The national non-biased standard on how long it should take EMS and Fire to arrive on scene is 6 minutes. Breakdown is 4 minutes for travel time, 1 minute or less from the time the call reaches the station and the vehicle is moving, and one minute for dispatch. "Our goal is to have our people get that within 60 seconds of the call and be on their way," said Mayor Soglin.

The current dispatch system went live last April, and since then the city says it has documented 32 cases of significant errors in the dispatch system's software adding even more confusion to a critical situation.

Actual dispatch call: "Just checking what do you have our status as," said emergency crews. Dispatcher answers, "Well I have you as available but it still shows you as... you're available but for some reason it's still showing you at St. Mary's."

But some with the county are backing the new system. "The system works, there are some issues. The city says it has had 32 cases but that's out of 400,000 plus calls the County gets a year," said Gary Ziegler, Chair of Public Safety Communication Operating Practices Advisory Committee. Ziegler is also the Director of Belleville EMO says no system is perfect, but this one is state-of-the-art. Protocols call for each person to answer at least 5 questions and those delays may lie within the caller. "The bottom line is how the people on the other end of the phone answer the questions," he said.

Just in the last 24 hours, the Dane County Fire Chief's Association, which makes up 30 departments, agrees with the City of Madison that there is a serious problem with response times. They, along with city officials, say it's a software problem and it's not about the dispatchers.

"If you'd talk to dispatchers, they'd tell you they're frustrated with the system too," adds Chief Davis. "I don't know why taxpayers in Madison are paying tens, hundreds of millions of dollars to build police stations, fire stations, buy fire trucks, ambulances, pay to have police officers and firefighters on duty and then it takes 15 minutes, an hour, to dispatch them," said Mayor Soglin.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi hasn't commented on the letter from the Fire Chief's Association, but he has authorized the 911 Center's leader to spear-head a new pilot project., where Madison fire units will be pre-alerted of a fire or life-threatening medical emergency call.

As for the next step, a sub-committee of the 911 Center Board will meet next week. They hope to develop a plan, which they'll submit to the Center Board for review. We're told that will take some time. There are more than 200 protocols that need to be reviewed, and that could take around five months.

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UPDATED Wednesday, February 19, 2014 --- 5:15 p.m.

Controversy over how the Dane County 911 Center is being run continues as more speak out. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi sent out a statement Wednesday, saying holding press conferences creates a hostile environment and makes problem solving difficult if not impossible.

This all stems from Madison Mayor Soglin taking to the podium to express some concerns the City of Madison is having; the biggest, response time. Mayor Soglin says since April, the 911 Center has been processing calls at a rate three times slower than the agreed upon national standard. He also says more than 30 mistakes jeopardized public safety. "There are men and women, in not just our police and fire departments but in all city agencies who rely on communications, who rely on reliable systems," said Mayor Soglin.

Wednesday, County Executive Parisi fired back, saying the statements are simply untrue. He says the Mayor has never sat down with him, to express his concerns. Parisi says Mayor Soglin has suggested that the city have its own 911 Center, but that would come with the costs. Right now the county solely pays for the service with county taxpayer money. "While I believe in regional cooperation, if the Mayor believes the city's unique needs are not being met by being part of Dane County's 911, I'm certainly willing to help him transition out of it," said Parisi. Parisi adds the 911 Center receives on-going training with weekly meetings, and that the efforts of increasing public safety are numerous and continuing.

Madison's Fire Chief says he completely agrees with Mayor Soglin. His team is frustrated, especially with the timeliness it takes to get a 911 call, as well as misinformation. As of right now, Mayor Soglin and Parisi do not have a meeting scheduled to talk about this issue.
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UPDATED Wednesday, February 19, 2014 --- 2:16 p.m.

Dane Co. Executive Joe Parisi has sent a letter to Madison Mayor Paul Soglin about the county's 911 center and staff.

Tuesday, Soglin demanded that Dane County's 9-1-1 Center straighten up, citing concerns over response times. But Dane County Public Safety Communications officials said Soglin is magnifying the issue. More details on yesterday's developments can be read below this update.

In Wednesday's letter, Parisi writes “Governing by press conference and attempts at “gotcha” politics do not make for a productive partnership - - indeed they distort the reality on the ground and only unnecessarily frighten the public, creating a hostile environment in which problem solving becomes difficult if not impossible.”

He goes on to write “There is no evidence the county's 911 staff aren't taking your concerns seriously.”

To read the entire letter, click HERE.

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Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 --- 9:00pm

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is demanding that Dane County's 9-1-1 Center straighten up, citing concerns over response times. But, Dane County Public Safety Communications officials says Soglin is magnifying the issue.

Tuesday, Mayor Soglin wrote a five page letter, addressed to Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. He says since the implementation of the new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) last April, things at the 9-1-1 center have gone down hill.

In the letter, Mayor Soglin says, since April, the 9-1-1 center has been processing calls at a rate three times slower than the agreed upon national standard. He also cites over 30 mistakes he believes jeopardized public safety. Several errors, cited in the letter, involved police and fire being dispatched to the wrong address.

Tuesday, NBC 15 spoke with Jon Dejung, Dane County Director of Public Safety Communications, to get a response. Dejung says the public safety department has been working with the city for months and many of the mayor's concerns have already been addressed, while other issues are currently being worked on.

While Dejung admits that the new system isn't perfect, and work still has to been done, he disagrees with Soglin, saying the 9-1-1 center is not in grave danger.

"We want to say that we don't have a public safety crisis. The issues that we have are being worked on, and we're chipping away at those” says Dejung.

But, Mayor Soglin stands by his statements. "This is not an issue of getting along, this is not a question of compromise. There is zero tolerance for these mistakes” he says.

Over the phone Tuesday afternoon, after the above statement was made, Soglin told NBC 15 "this is very unfortunate they are waging a publicity campaign, putting lives at risk. I'm very disappointed."

Mayor Soglin says he does plan to meet with Parisi, in the near future, to discuss the issue.


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