Salt Lake County is willing to put up the money to get valley emergency responders on the same 911 system, saving time and potentially lives.
The County Council unanimously backed Mayor Ben McAdams’s proposal Tuesday to take almost $1.4 million in newly recovered funds and to use them to create a joint, interactive 911 system used by all police, fire and emergency response agencies in the valley.
McAdams’ five priorities for $1.75 million
Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams proposed these five regional priorities for using $1.75 million in funding recovered by the county through legislation last session, plus some additional money from the general fund:
$1.4 million » To unify 911 dispatch services
$190,000 » To hire a coordinator to oversee regional gang prevention, intervention and suppression
$200,000 » To pay for county Office of Regional Development
$100,000 » For an efficiency review of county government
$15,000 » To train planners to evaluate data about geographical areas
"I just want to make sure people get the help they need," McAdams said after citing accounts of panicked 911 callers transferred between dispatch centers that can’t communicate with one another. That leaves callers bewildered or angry at having to repeat information about the crisis they’re experiencing or witnessing and delaying responses to emergency situations.
The proposal received support at Tuesday’s council session from Councilman Michael Jensen, the Unified Fire Authority chief, and Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. Later, Weber County Human Resources Director Brad Dee, who helped develop a unified 911 system in his jurisdiction, added that "emergencies know no boundaries. … When people call 911, they don’t care who responds. They just want them to respond."
McAdams said he would leave the selection of a system to the experts, but it might make sense to go with the larger system.
For years, there have been two 911 dispatch systems in the Salt Lake Valley. Salt Lake City, the Unified Police Department and now Sandy use a computer software program called Versaterm. The Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC), which provides dispatch for other valley cities’ emergency-response agencies, uses Spillman Technologies’ product. The Versaterm system handles about 70 percent of the million 911 calls made annually in the county, said emergency services Director Jeff Graviet.
The inability of the systems to communicate has been a lingering concern, McAdams said, but no one has had the resources to get everybody on the same computer platform. And it would be unfair, he added, to charge only users of the abandoned software program for joining an integrated dispatch system when everyone in the county would benefit from a single center.
His solution involves legislation passed last session that returned to the county about $1.75 million in revenue that unintentionally had gone to 103 redevelopment agencies after local governments, school districts and other taxing entities raised taxes. To get the bill passed, McAdams pledged to use the money to promote regional collaboration to make government more efficient.
The 911 system is a great place to start, said the mayor.
Winder and Jensen agreed.
The sheriff, who also runs the UPD, called the plan for a unified dispatch, records management and emergency-response plan a "pivotal moment in public safety. It comes down to Windows versus Apple," he said, using another computer simile. "They’re both good systems, but at a certain point, you have to get everyone onto one system. It’s pretty foundational."
Added Jensen: "This is legitimately the first time I’ve seen or heard that the valley can get on the same [dispatch] page. This is huge for [the Unified Fire Authority]. Do not let this one go by the wayside. … Get this resolved once and for all and at some point in time, when people look back, they’ll say ‘they finally made the right decision.’ "
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