911 dispatch debate: Safe or slow?

Director wants to stick with protocol; Madison's mayor says its too many questions
911 dispatch debate: Safe or slow?
Dane County Dispatch Center

There’s some math that goes into dispatching emergency crews after someone dials 911 and reaches a Dane County dispatcher.

John Dejung, 911 dispatch center director, said any caller is asked a minimum of seven questions so dispatch knows what to tell first responders.

Dejung said it takes an average of two to two and a half minutes from the time someone picks up an emergency call to the time crews are told to respond to a situation.

“The fact is we do need to take the time to ask the right questions to make sure the responders are safe and the callers are safe and we have an effective response going on,” Dejung said.

Dane County’s 911 Dispatch Center is one of seven dispatch centers in the world with triple accreditation from the International Academies Of Emergency Dispatch. Dejung said that means operators are trained to ask certain questions in a certain order to make sure the response goes smoothly.

“It’s the most established. We think they bring the most rigor to the research behind the questions and how they’re asked and what order,” Dejung said.

Dejung said there is an opportunity for call takers to skip over some steps and get first responders on their way. He said if there is a life-or-death situation coming in or if there is a risk of significant property loss, operators are allowed to get some information as authorities are en route.

“Then we’ll send (crews) at that point and continue to ask the rest of the questions as the dispatcher is engaged to call out responders,” Dejung said.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said he doesn’t see why dispatchers can’t get crews moving while collecting information.

“We can’t have these kinds of response times. It’s unacceptable,” Soglin said.

Soglin said it shouldn’t take more than a minute to send first responders to a scene. He said he has additional frustrations with technology at the call center, and he expects more pressure from police, firefighters and the public in the future.

Soglin said if the issues are not addressed, he will consider creating a separate 911 center just for calls in Madison.

“I think the notion of creating our own dispatch and going back to the city’s own dispatch is an option to be considered, but only if the current county system can’t be fixed,” Soglin said. “That’s our first commitment. Get it fixed. But it has been a frustrating six months.”

“I’m very confident it would be expensive for the taxpayer to duplicate that service right here,” Dejung said.

In addition, Dejung said having two call centers handling emergencies in such a small area could complicate response.

“I’m confident that the protocols we’re using are the best,” Dejung said.