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Veloise

e911 call issues

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Today's piece, where the reporter went to several static locations and tested all the carriers' phones, was amazing. Here we've all been told "donate your old phone so it can be given to someone who needs emergency service," and it turns out that it might not work as expected.

And for a chilling experience, listen to the 911 call recordings on the Press site.

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As a dispatcher/call taker working in Grand Rapids I can tell you that Ken's article made it sound much worse than it really is. While mistakes can be made, and systems as busy as ours can get crazy, the examples given are exceptions not the rule.

The biggest problems tend to involve cell phone callers. More than 50% of our calls now are from cell phones. With these calls our automatic location/number identifiers don't work and the calls don't immediately go to your local dispatch agency but to a state police post. That dispatcher has to try to figure out where you're calling from and then transfer it to the appropriate center.

As you can imagine, we face poor reception, dropped calls, hang ups, people who have no idea where they are, etc. You attempt to get a correct street from a caller so that you can type it into the CAD system and dispatch the appropriate resources. Are they calling from Cedar st. (Grand Rapids) or Cedar ave (E. GR?) Are they calling from Center st (Walker) or Centre st (Kalamazoo?) 44th st SW or 44th st SE? Stuart or Stewart?

Many people have no idea if they're se, sw, ne, nw or how to spell the street where they are calling from. Simple details like this can be impossible to recall when having an emergency.

These examples are frustrating for us as dispatchers, crews on the street, and for the callers. I wouldn't, however, suggest that the solution is to create one huge combined disatch center. You'd find the same type of communication break downs in a center like that as you would in multiple seperate centers connected by phone lines. Believe me, it gets busy. While talking with one caller and attempting to help them through their emergency you're trying to get all their info verified and properly placed into the computer. As soon as you get off the line you're picking up another caller, the police are requesting this, fire's requesting that, etc. Wether you have to hit speed-dial to contact another center to pass on some info (as the system works now) or yell across the room (in a combined center) things can and will get crazy. Unfortunately mistakes will happen.

If you do the math our area dispatch centers answer more than two 911 calls every minute of every day around the clock. That's just the initial call. That doesn't count all of the multiple phone calls and information relays that result from each initial 911 call. Nor does it count all of the non-emergent phone calls that come into and out of our centers. It really is an amazing thing to be a part of but you can see how a simple break down (cell phone caller, no address, language problem, computer problem, simple operator error, or system overload) can be multiplied into a huge problem for the whole system. And as the article points out mistakes can result in negative consequences for the caller. As a side note though I will point out that Fire Departments particularly like to excagerate any response problem. These are used politically to help their unions justify bigger budgets, more staffing, and more equipment. In reality it makes no difference in a medical emergency if there's two firefighters on scene or 100. Their roll in a medical emergency is very limited. They are trained to the Medical First Responder level which is basically an advanced first aid. The Advanced Life Support (ALS) is provided by the ambulance service. As long as the ambulance gets there in a reasonable time the patient will receive the best care possible. Whether the fire department was there or not really doesn't usually matter.

You'll read plenty of stories of how a person would have survived if the fire department would have gotten there faster or if there was more personnel on scene, but in reallity that all makes very little difference in patient outcome. The real question is how fast is that patient received Advanced Life Support.

(Please don't read this to discredit the Fire Departments. They are very necessary and certainly do make a difference in some specific types of calls. My point is just that most of the stories you hear are greatly exagerated because the general public doean't understand the role of firefighters in a medical emergency.)

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Some egos need to be set aside in Grand Rapids and Kent County. No one is willing to give up control of their little fiefdom. Its gotten to the point that the city of Grand Rapids and the County of Kent do not even attend statewide 911 directors meetings, N.E.N.A. and A.P.C.O. and taxpayers here are paying the price for that arrogance.

We need a Central dispatch in Kent county and hopefully this series of articles helps in informing people that the funding is needed.

The biggest problems tend to involve cell phone callers.

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As a dispatcher/call taker working in Grand Rapids I can tell you that Ken's article made it sound much worse than it really is. While mistakes can be made, and systems as busy as ours can get crazy, the examples given are exceptions not the rule.

The biggest problems tend to involve cell phone callers. More than 50% of our calls now are from cell phones. With these calls our automatic location/number identifiers don't work and the calls don't immediately go to your local dispatch agency but to a state police post. That dispatcher has to try to figure out where you're calling from and then transfer it to the appropriate center.

As you can imagine, we face poor reception, dropped calls, hang ups, people who have no idea where they are, etc. You attempt to get a correct street from a caller so that you can type it into the CAD system and dispatch the appropriate resources. Are they calling from Cedar st. (Grand Rapids) or Cedar ave (E. GR?) Are they calling from Center st (Walker) or Centre st (Kalamazoo?) 44th st SW or 44th st SE? Stuart or Stewart?

Many people have no idea if they're se, sw, ne, nw or how to spell the street where they are calling from. Simple details like this can be impossible to recall when having an emergency.

These examples are frustrating for us as dispatchers, crews on the street, and for the callers. I wouldn't, however, suggest that the solution is to create one huge combined disatch center. You'd find the same type of communication break downs in a center like that as you would in multiple seperate centers connected by phone lines. Believe me, it gets busy. While talking with one caller and attempting to help them through their emergency you're trying to get all their info verified and properly placed into the computer. As soon as you get off the line you're picking up another caller, the police are requesting this, fire's requesting that, etc. Wether you have to hit speed-dial to contact another center to pass on some info (as the system works now) or yell across the room (in a combined center) things can and will get crazy. Unfortunately mistakes will happen.

If you do the math our area dispatch centers answer more than two 911 calls every minute of every day around the clock. That's just the initial call. That doesn't count all of the multiple phone calls and information relays that result from each initial 911 call. Nor does it count all of the non-emergent phone calls that come into and out of our centers. It really is an amazing thing to be a part of but you can see how a simple break down (cell phone caller, no address, language problem, computer problem, simple operator error, or system overload) can be multiplied into a huge problem for the whole system. And as the article points out mistakes can result in negative consequences for the caller. As a side note though I will point out that Fire Departments particularly like to excagerate any response problem. These are used politically to help their unions justify bigger budgets, more staffing, and more equipment. In reality it makes no difference in a medical emergency if there's two firefighters on scene or 100. Their roll in a medical emergency is very limited. They are trained to the Medical First Responder level which is basically an advanced first aid. The Advanced Life Support (ALS) is provided by the ambulance service. As long as the ambulance gets there in a reasonable time the patient will receive the best care possible. Whether the fire department was there or not really doesn't usually matter.

You'll read plenty of stories of how a person would have survived if the fire department would have gotten there faster or if there was more personnel on scene, but in reallity that all makes very little difference in patient outcome. The real question is how fast is that patient received Advanced Life Support.

(Please don't read this to discredit the Fire Departments. They are very necessary and certainly do make a difference in some specific types of calls. My point is just that most of the stories you hear are greatly exagerated because the general public doesn't understand the role of firefighters in a medical emergency.)

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After I posted the previous reply, I read tonights Press articles. There are some points that need correcting.

First, Kent County has repeaters and has had repeaters for years, don't know where they got that :angry: Has there been poor reception in some far reaches, yes, has that been corrected YES.

Second, the State Police complaining they couldn't talk to anyone during the multicar pile up on US 131. They could talk to the Kent County law enforcement dispatch who could talk to Kent County fire dispatch (they sit next to each other in the same room) who talks to township fire. Here's the dirty laundry. The township fire dept set up their incident command post too close to the incident so they were in the traffic backup. Yes the State police couldn't drive to the IC. So what did the SP do, set up another IC on their radio frequency :angry: The SP forgot that state statute mandates the fire service is in charge of these type incidents. The SP should have requested, through Kent County dispatch, the township fire Incident Commander relocate to their location or at least coordinated their activities. Setting up anoher Incident Command post was NOT the correct action. Having a central dispatch won't fix players not knowing what their responsibilities are :(

Another little secret no one talks about. The 800 Mhz sysytem was some consultants dream It's a fantastic technologically advanced system. Unfortunately, the radios cost about $3000 each and there's a $200 per year per unit license fee. The agency I work for has about 150 mobile units. That's $450,000 to replace our radios and $30,000 per year fees. In the era of shrinking budgets, where's the money going to come from?. (And don't tell me a Federal grant ) We replaced all our radios about 10 years ago before 800 Mhz. Current cost $400 per unit and no yearly fees. Do we need radios that can talk to the UP and anyone in the state for our daily operations? I'm afraid the answer is no. Do we need interoperability? Yes and it can be and is being done in this county with the existing radio systems.

Sorry about the soap box, but this is a hot button with me since I've been working on interoperabilty with these agencies for a couple years. Quite frankly, I'm proud of what the local agencies have accomplished and are going to accomplish to be able to talk to each other and at a affordable cost :thumbsup:

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After I posted the previous reply, I read tonights Press articles. There are some points that need correcting.

First, Kent County has repeaters and has had repeaters for years, don't know where they got that :angry: Has there been poor reception in some far reaches, yes, has that been corrected YES.

Second, the State Police complaining they couldn't talk to anyone during the multicar pile up on US 131. They could talk to the Kent County law enforcement dispatch who could talk to Kent County fire dispatch (they sit next to each other in the same room) who talks to township fire. Here's the dirty laundry. The township fire dept set up their incident command post too close to the incident so they were in the traffic backup. Yes the State police couldn't drive to the IC. So what did the SP do, set up another IC on their radio frequency :angry: The SP forgot that state statute mandates the fire service is in charge of these type incidents. The SP should have requested, through Kent County dispatch, the township fire Incident Commander relocate to their location or at least coordinated their activities. Setting up anoher Incident Command post was NOT the correct action. Having a central dispatch won't fix players not knowing what their responsibilities are :(

Another little secret no one talks about. The 800 Mhz sysytem was some consultants dream It's a fantastic technologically advanced system. Unfortunately, the radios cost about $3000 each and there's a $200 per year per unit license fee. The agency I work for has about 150 mobile units. That's $450,000 to replace our radios and $30,000 per year fees. In the era of shrinking budgets, where's the money going to come from?. (And don't tell me a Federal grant ) We replaced all our radios about 10 years ago before 800 Mhz. Current cost $400 per unit and no yearly fees. Do we need radios that can talk to the UP and anyone in the state for our daily operations? I'm afraid the answer is no. Do we need interoperability? Yes and it can be and is being done in this county with the existing radio systems.

Sorry about the soap box, but this is a hot button with me since I've been working on interoperabilty with these agencies for a couple years. Quite frankly, I'm proud of what the local agencies have accomplished and are going to accomplish to be able to talk to each other and at a affordable cost :thumbsup:

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Reception issues have been cleaned up in the county? The Lowell area is okay now? NE Kent County is okay now? The County needs more satellite receivers but those cost money too. Ottawa county has a great system of satellite receivers which increases their portable coverage over the entire county.

The State of Michigan system is the key for interoperability. I thought the per mic fees dropped, but if you have a working system, more then likely you are talking Ottawa or Muskegon counties, there is no need to change. It wouldn't hurt to have one State of Michigan system radio for every jurisdiction. Also, Ottawa and Muskegon counties have "interoperability boxes that allow disparate radio systems (VHF,UHF,800 mhz.) to connect through a sort of magic box. I won't mention brand names.

There have been Homeland Security grants over the last 5 years that allowed agencies to afford to go on to the State system.

In the end, 10 different dispatch centers in Kent County is too much. It needs to drop to 1-3 dispatch centers.

/works in the telecommunications industry

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And - central dispatch doesn't eliminate the cell phone problems and the "customers' that don't know where they are:(

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Kent County used 2006 HSGB money to raise the main tower to 500 feet, added several towers, and system upgrades to eliminate the problem reception areas.

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Lowell still uses a Sprint/Nextel solution to access the LEIN network instead of the counties data network.

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[snort]

How come FRS el cheapo walkie-talkies have a switchable channel and you can decide which one to use for your group...but e911 responder radios lack that simple feature? (Seems like baby monitors have a switchable frequency too, yes?)

/also in telecom

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Lowell still uses a Sprint/Nextel solution to access the LEIN network instead of the counties data network.

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