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Editorial: Time to merge emergency dispatch operations

Published February 6, 2014 1:01 am

Consolidate emergency services
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If you or a loved one is suffering the crushing pain of a heart attack, the frightful disorientation of a stroke or the indescribable panic of a child who has stopped breathing, the name of the agency in charge of sending emergency aid is the last thing you are worried about.

You don't care where the dispatcher is sitting, who provided the software or even how much the whole set-up cost. You want help, and you want it now. The same is true of police and fire services, as well as paramedics.

The fact that Salt Lake County doesn't already have a fully integrated 911 emergency dispatch system — even as nobody ever seems to speak out against such an idea — is evidence that some other authority is going to have to step in and, despite Utahns' supposed preference for government closest to the people, impose a solution.

That's what has moved Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, a Democrat, and state House Majority Leader Rep. Brad Dee, a Republican, to stand together Monday and call for state legislation to move all of Utah toward consolidated emergency dispatching systems.

It will be expensive and involve a lot of work to lay out systems that provide the best coverage to the most people. Old political boundaries may have to be ignored or erased in order to provide efficient and effective service.

The fact that Salt Lake County now has three such systems is suspected as the prime culprit in a sad case, reported the other day by Tribune columnist Paul Rolly, of a man who died of a heart attack while his 911 call was somehow dropped or misdirected.

The whole idea behind having a 911 system is that it is simple for even panicked people to remember. You don't have to know, or find, separate 7- or 9-digit numbers for the police, the fire department and the ambulance. There are even emergency services providers who caution the media to refer to their phone number as "nine-one-one," never "nine-eleven," so that people won't waste a precious tenth of a second looking for the 11 key on their phone.

The growing number of people who primarily use cell phones, who may live in households with no landline telephones at all, makes the need for a consolidated system even greater. Otherwise, its too easy for a cell call to be routed to the wrong dispatch center.

Utah officials, at both the state and the local level, must work together to make sure there is no such place as the wrong dispatch center. To see to it that, no matter how many jurisdictions are involved, no matter where the dispatchers may be based, calls are immediately sent to the right place.