“9-1-1, Where is your emergency?”
Over 127,000 times a year, that question is asked by Erie County 9-1-1 call-takers to initiate the interrogation of emergency calls-for-service, triggering a complex, interconnected sequence of events involving technology, procedures, and personnel. The calling-citizen in need of a police, fire, or medical response simply wants help as soon as possible, and we want the same thing. Yet, why does it take so long to send help? Why ask all those annoying questions? Why
are calls not answered quickly? Determining the location of the caller or the incident is the most important question. We have advanced technology which assists in locating callers; however, we must verify the location by asking, hence the first question when we answer the phone. Next, we need a call-back telephone number, in case the call is disconnected for some reason.
That happens often and our policy is to call the number back. Our user agencies—police, fire, medical—determine how they will respond within their jurisdictions for certain incidents. Those response plans are loaded in our dispatching computers and when such an incident comes in, we dispatch
apparatus based on those pre-plans. For example, a commercial fire at a certain location warrants X number of specific apparatus, say a tanker, an engine, and a ladder truck. Call-taker questioning generates, via computer, the predetermined response plan specified by the user agency. Therefore, the questions asked ensure we send the appropriate response.
At any one time, the dispatch center is manned with eight telecommunicators: two call-takers and six dispatchers. If both call-takers are busy interrogating 9-1-1 calls, the third caller will go into the waiting queue. Changes have been effected recently increasing our call-taker end-strength without increasing the number of employees – our telecommunicators now multi-task, handling both call-taking and dispatching duties. Effectively, we now have eight call-takers on duty. Please be mindful, on certain incidents, such as a motor vehicle accident, numerous callers report the accident simultaneously. In such a situation, if you are the ninth caller, you will go into the call waiting queue.
“9-1-1, Where is your emergency?”
In a converse context, this question suggests problems within the 9-1-1 center. Public perception of the efficacy of the county 9-1-1 center may be skewed by misinformation or misunderstanding of the call-taking and dispatch process. Knowing the call-taking and dispatching processes are so interconnected, tweaking one minor process may produce results (decrease in dispatch times; more accurately locating a caller) or it may create a ripple effect that interferes with a related or subsequent step in the process. Therefore, effecting improvements requires careful analysis of all steps and processes within the system. So far, we have reduced our dispatch times by 10%. Daily we examine ways to reduce that time further, but we do so carefully, ever mindful of the ripple effect.
During the past twelve months, numerous changes have been implemented to improve our operations. Referring back to the call-taking scenario, reducing the time-to-dispatch involves improvements in training, technology updates and maintenance, operational procedures, personnel management, and agency interactions. For training, we revamped the new-hire Basic Academy and instituted a comprehensive Supervisor Checklist of required knowledge. For technology, we proudly maintain all our systems with in-house technical staff. For the first time, the county has a standardized radio dispatch model for police and fire agencies. Personnel management involves treating our staff with respect and holding them accountable, firmly and fairly. Lastly, on-going committees populated with user agency representatives ensure an avenue for agency input.
9-1-1 call-taking and dispatch operations are stable. Yet we continue to look for opportunities to improve and provide the best possible service to our customers: Erie County citizens and user agencies. Our staff has a passion for public safety.
We truly want to help.