Board suspends 911 call-answering protocols

Statistics: Questions dispatchers ask have dramatically increased length of call times
Board suspends 911 call-answering protocols
Dane County 911 Center Board meeting

The Dane County 911 Center Board is temporarily suspending the list of questions required for every emergency caller that needs a police response.

Statistics from the Dane County Executive’s office show the so-called police protocol has dramatically increased the amount of time 911 operators are on calls, even non-life- or property-threatening ones, thereby preventing other emergency callers from having their calls answered quickly. The questions are designed to gather information to be passed along to emergency crews so they can best be prepared when they arrive on the scene.

“The problem we have and that we’ve seen is it’s a cookie-cutter (approach) that doesn’t really fit all the time,” Madison police Capt. Richard Bach said. “The protocol at times, when they’re getting all this information, is delaying the times information should be going out to the dispatcher.”

Board members were told that in the summer of 2006, the average length of time on a 911 call was 1:27. Today, the average length of time on a 911 call is 2:26, a full minute longer.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi asked the board to meet in an emergency session to suspend the police protocol in an effort to help get the 911 phones answered faster and help get responders dispatched to emergency scenes sooner. His chief of staff told board members today Parisi was committed to working with them to make that happen.

911 Center Director John Dejung said his staff would go back to asking the questions they asked before the police protocol was implemented in 2010. He estimated it would take two to three weeks for his staff to be trained or retrained on what they used to do. Still, he said the switch comes with a caveat.

“There’s all these questions that people are supposed to ask,” Dejung said. “The protocol ensures that all of those are present in front of the person and in the right order and the right language. There’s some risk to (suspending them), just like there’s some risk to not answering a 911 call quickly.”

The center board agreed to continue discussing the current policy on returning all 911 hang-ups.

However, to make an educated decision on that policy or any other, at least one member of the board expressed her dissatisfaction with the type of information the center board has provided in the past.

“We certainly welcome looking at information in making decisions, governing when we have a complete picture,” Madison fire Asst. Chief Laura Laurenzi said. “Part of the problem is we don’t get the complete picture. The way the information has been presented to us and the lack of information has made our job as a governing board, if not difficult, impossible.”

The board is set to meet again next Wednesday.