Audit says Utah agency and 911 centers should work to reduce unnecessary call transfers

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Call taker uses multiple screens to render assistance to a 911 caller at the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center, one of the stakeholders in the Utah Communications Authority.

The Utah Communications Authority — recently reorganized after scandals including an employee embezzling $1 million and the agency being slapped for violating transparency laws — still has work to do to improve the state’s emergency communications, according to legislative auditors.

An audit released Friday said the group has far to go to improve 911 emergency phone line operations statewide, and to help ensure that public safety agencies now using different radio systems can talk to each other.

The 84-page report included examples of what can happen when the system doesn’t work right, including:

• A 911 call in Summit County was mistakenly routed to Salt Lake County and then mistakenly transferred to Park City Police. By the time the call was transferred to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and help was dispatched, the child died.

• During a high-speed chase in Emery County, Utah Highway Patrol troopers could not communicate with the Emery County Sheriff’s Office because they used different radio systems. Sheriff’s deputies disabled the speeding vehicle but could not communicate plans with UHP — increasing danger to troopers.

The audit said the agency and the call centers can and should do more to decrease the needs for thousands of transfers every year between 911 call centers, which cause delays averaging 60 seconds whenever they occur.

It recommended working with agencies to possibly tweak service areas or combine service, better connect computer-aided dispatch systems so multiple agencies could view call information at the same time, and use 911 funds raised from phone fees as incentives to encourage agencies to work together to improve systems.

The agency said in a written response that it is working on the installation of a next-generation 911 system that will be better able to identify the location of cellphone calls, and help route them to the correct agency.

The audit said a core responsibility of UCA is to coordinate interoperability of radio systems among different agencies, but said limited evidence exists that it has done much — and called for stepped-up efforts.

The audit also called for UCA to conduct exercises among agencies to test interoperability, a recommendation that the agency supports.