Danville dispatches facts about 911 center
Published 12:53 pm Friday, July 21, 2017
Merging the Danville-Boyle County 911 Dispatch Center with the neighboring Bluegrass 911 Dispatch Center would not be in the best interest of the city of Danville, city officials said during a special called meeting, held at the Danville-Boyle County 911 Dispatch Center on Thursday morning.
“We’ve looked into the question of merger with Bluegrass 911; we think it’s premature and not in the interest of Danville and its citizens, or, really, the citizens of Boyle County, to take that route,” said Ron Scott, city manager.
More than 20 people attended the meeting, including Danville Mayor Mike Perros; Danville commissioners J.H. Atkins, Kevin Caudill and Denise Terry; Boyle County Magistrate John Caywood; Boyle County Emergency Management Director Mike Wilder; Danville-Boyle County 911 dispatchers; and members of Boyle County EMS, Danville City Fire Department, Danville City Police Department and the Boyle County Sheriff’s Department.
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Scott called the Bluegrass 911 Center a “fine organization,” but said that it’s still young, while the Danville center has “proven performance.”
Danville Mayor Mike Perros was quick to point out that the decision of where the county should get services lay with the Boyle County officials, to which Scott agreed.
“Certainly. If Boyle County wishes to have their dispatch provided by that center, they can elect to do so,” Scott said. “It would invariably, though, as we continue to operate ours … it would require longer transmission. When seconds matter, it would only slow response time. I can’t see how it would be beneficial to residents to do that.”
On the surface, it would save money the first year, but that would be a short-lived savings, he said.
History of Danville-Boyle County 911
According to City Manager Ron Scott, the term “911” became part of the national discussion around 1968. During a Sept. 13, 1988 meeting of the Danville City Commission, Scott said, an agreement was entered into by the cities of Danville, Perryville and Junction City; and the Boyle County Fiscal Court to fund a 911 center.
“Danville paid 71 percent of total costs, Boyle County paid 19 percent, Junction City 9 percent and Perryville 1 percent,” Scott said. “That was the informal, and as far as I can tell, unwritten agreement that we reached.”
The funding continued in that way for a while, Scott said, ending “some time” before his arrival in 2011. The county increased their funding as a result of discussions early that year.
“The bottom line was, it was a recognition that (911) is a service that’s needed throughout the county,” Scott said.
A telephone tax was enacted in Boyle County the 1980s, charging 50 cents per month per landline. In more recent years, state-level taxes have been imposed on cell phones, following legislation to broaden that option.
Scott said the city and county have had to cover any shortages that the taxes don’t cover from their general funds, and it typically falls on the city to make up the difference.
The Danville-Boyle County 911 Dispatch Center facility is the former home of the Danville Fire Department. It is owned by the city of Danville, but is shared jointly by the county. It is also very important to the efforts of first responders in the city and county, Scott said.
“The 911 Center, if you think about it, is really just the heart of our first responders ability to be timely in their response,” he said.
The center also has a statewide reputation, he said, and he has never received complaints about the dispatch center.
“We have a reputation that has developed as a result of our center. Audits have showed years of zero error, for example,” Scott said. “We periodically are called upon to go to other centers and talk about how we provide calls. Our excellence is recognized because of our audits … That speaks to the dedication, ability, training and competence of our dispatchers.”
“In spite of the location and in spite of the equipment we give these folks to work with, we still have the best center in the state of Kentucky. We don’t tell our employees ‘thanks’ enough,” said Atkins. “This is my opportunity to say, ‘We know you do a great job. Thank you.’”
Michele Gosser, Danville chief financial officer, said the center has always come under budget and is on schedule to do so again this year, especially considering a staffing shortage. Former director Robin Parks and current director Rebecca Hafley have always kept a close eye on the budget, she said.
For the audited fiscal year 2015-2016, the budget was $592,716. $90,000 from state cell phone tax funding was used; the City of Danville paid $358,092; Boyle County paid an estimated $137,000; Junction City paid an estimated $6,900; and Perryville paid an estimated $500.
Gosser said she and other city officials had met with the Boyle County Fiscal Court about a potential merger, which would cost about $1.3 million the first year. That’s the bare minimum number, she said. Gosser and city officials followed up with their own meeting with officials from the Bluegrass 911 Dispatch Center.
“As we talked and as they understood our call volume a little better … that minimal staff would probably not cut it in future years. It would have to be increased,” Gosser said.
That’s not counting costs such as upgrades to the trunk lines — Bluegrass 911 currently uses the same number of lines that Danville-Boyle County 911 does, so they would have to increase the number of lines.
“There’s some increases that they did not think about in there that are not one-time expenses but on down the road expenses. This is a minimum number in my mind,” she said.
The first year, the costs would be split equally three ways, but Gosser said the county would be charged by call volume after that. Boyle County and Danville would likely have 60 percent of the call volume, based on current numbers.
“Boyle County would have to pay 60 percent of the budget,” she said. “Over the years, it would be more costly than less costly.”
Gosser said there was more to be considered as well, before a merger could happen.
“It’s not only about the money here. We have a very knowledgable staff … They really are concerned with the safety of all first responders and that is big. That trumps money,” Gosser said. “You have 12 employees that, yes, they could probably go work somewhere else, but they would lose their benefits. They would lose their retirement. They would lose their health benefits. Many of these women are single mothers.
“It’s not always about money. Sometimes … it’s also about other things.”
Dispatching the county
When asked, Hafley explained that all calls are answered by dispatchers the same way — whether it’s from the city or the county; whether it’s someone who lives here, works here, or is simply passing through.
“I want to be sure we get that cleared up,” said J.H. Atkins. “There’s no difference in a call that’s received between a person located in the city versus a person located in the county, or if it’s a traveler coming through the county … There’s no difference.”
Hafley said the dispatch center handles non-emergency calls, too, such as individuals asking for a phone number.
“We dispatch for law enforcement, fire and ambulance services, totaling approximately 350 emergency responders for nine agencies,” Hafley said.
She said over five years, the center:
• averaged 18,667 calls per year;
• dispatched an estimated 23,415 calls for service; and
• answered about 110,000 administrative calls, which are those where someone needs a phone number, has been burglarized, or needs to find out where to pick up a police report for their car following a wreck, among other things.
Sometimes, Hafley said, the administrative line gets emergency calls as well.
Hafley said the dispatchers aren’t finished when they get the first responders to the scene.
“Police, fire and EMS work one call at a time, although they do have multiple functions. Dispatcher handles all of that,” she said. They also can’t miss a call, she said, forcing dispatchers to multitask a lot.
“We also provide the National Crime Information Center for 13 agencies within our county. The database is for stolen property, missing persons, wanted persons, criminal histories and domestic violence paperwork,” Hafley said.
While there are 11 dispatchers in the budget and one person who works as a data entry person, there are currently only nine on staff.
There has been talk about the dispatch center offering Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) services, which would require dispatchers to remain on the line and talk people through certain medical emergencies, such how to perform CPR. Danville Police Chief Tony Gray pointed to the small staff as the reason why that is not currently an option.
“Two people can’t do what we talk about and provide that CPR service. That was part of our attempts to hire more people … We need staff to do those things,” Gray said. “Those agencies that are doing those things are a lot bigger.”
Commissioners said they were committed to getting EMD services in the future.
During the meeting, Mike Rogers, in charge of education and training for Boyle County EMS and a paramedic, said there were 54 heart attack calls in the county in 2016 and only two survived.
“I consider this a public health emergency,” Rogers said. “It’s so important. It literally keeps me awake at night.”
Rogers said age is not a factor anymore, but how quickly compressions are started can make a drastic impact on someone’s chances of survival.
Bluegrass 911 does offer EMD services, but Gray said they have a larger staff handling a smaller call volume than in Danville.
“These people are understaffed and underpaid,” he said. Planned upgrades for the center, he said, will help.
Commissioner Denise Terry said the city is planning to add EMD services in the future.
“We removed EMD from the budget (this year) but we did not abandon that completely,” she said. “Hopefully in the spring, next year, we can have that conversation and get that.”
The plan, Scott said, is to move the Danville-Boyle County 911 Dispatch Center to Danville City Hall, something that had been in the works since planning for the new city hall began in 2003.
“We intend to, want to, wish to provide service to all of Boyle County, as we have done since 1988,” he said. “That’s why we’re planning to improve our equipment … it will benefit all of our citizens, particularly our deaf community.”
Having everything in one location will make it a little easier to maintain, said Nick Warren, IT director for the city of Danville.
Warren said there are four areas to upgrade for the dispatch center:
• CAD software, which is used to record and keep details of all calls dispatched from the center to all city and county agencies;
• 911 automatic number identification (ANI) and automatic location identification (ALI) equipment, which is equipment received from the phone company that provides numbers and locations automatically;
• a voice recorder server that archives all phone, 911 and radio voice transmissions, as well as metadata associated with those, such as the unit number, the caller ID, the date and the time; and
• radio consoles, which will combine the radios into one, allowing dispatchers to communicate with all agencies on different bands and frequencies simultaneously.
Warren explained that analog equipment in the center is about 20 years old and it’s difficult to obtain replacement parts. The upgrades will allow first responders to access information and alerts about an address or person from their vehicles, instead of the dispatchers having to call that information out over the radios, reducing time and freeing the dispatchers to focus on other calls. It will also make it possible to locate first responder vehicles automatically, ensuring greater safety.
The current system is also not compatible with new standards that will be coming, including new capabilities for texting and video calling emergencies.
“While it’s not currently standard throughout the state, text will soon become standard,” Warren said.
If there comes a time when the call volume is too heavy, the center will be connected to the Central Kentucky 911 Network, allowing calls to roll over to another center in the same network so that calls still get answered. That capability will come with the new, updated, “trunk” lines, or main lines for the telephone system.
Those new lines will also make upgrades easier.
Warren said AT&T did a review of the system and said the center needed two more trunk lines, of which there are currently four, to keep up with the call volume.
Landline volume, according to Danville-Boyle County 911 Dispatch Center Director Rebecca Hafley, is only 10 percent of the center’s calls — the rest are cell phone dispatches.
Whatever happens in the coming months with other agencies, City Attorney Stephen Dexter told the commission he is drafting a skeleton service agreement.
“There would be a separate service agreement with the county, with Perryville, with Junction City, with all the agencies served, that clearly identifies the roles of the parties, as well as the contractual obligation and the financial aspects of it,” Dexter said.
He said another point to those agreements is that the way grievances are filed will be plainly spelled out. That’s to address a July 11 article in The Advocate-Messenger, in which Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney said some of the first responders have “concerns” about the dispatch center and how calls are being handled.
“There’ve been no formal complaints filed. People may object to something casually or without some type of precision,” Dexter said. “The city has received general comments, but nothing with precision where tapes can be reviewed and documented to be evaluated with personnel to say, ‘Did we handle that right or not?’
“It’s not sufficient enough to complain to dispatch. There needs to be some type of formal, written complaint formed that can be reviewed by management, or the chief, or even the city manager. That’s something that’s not in place now.”
The agreements would have that policy plainly in place, Dexter said, so that complaints can be studied and evaluated.
“We do it with everything else we have in the city. Every other ordinance we have, we say, ‘if there is someone who objects or has some type of grievance, you do it in this certain way.’ But it can’t be done orally or casually and without precision, in order for results to be made and for things to be seen if they were proper or not,” he said.
Dexter pointed to the city’s arrangement with Boyle County pertaining to the position of Boyle County Emergency Management Director Mike Wilder and with the arrangement pertaining to Solid Waste Director Donna Fechter; the city has no managerial control over either position, but pays for part of the positions and receives a service.
“Those work well; it’s efficient,” Dexter said.
He said city staff agree this would be better moving forward.
“If the county is considering moving to another service, they are certainly free to do so, however, moving forward if services should be rendered by the city of Danville, then we should enter into an agreement,” Dexter said.
If services were to disappear
Commissioners asked what would happen if, for some reason, the city ceased to have a 911 center without agreeing to merge with anyone else, and were told that the calls would be routed through the Kentucky State Police until something could be established to take on those calls.
“And we’d be in a tizzy,” Atkins said.
Perros said the dispatch center is too important for that.
“911 is one of those services that’s out there and you really don’t know what it’s about until you use it, need it. Then you’re thankful that we’ve got it,” said Perros. “We want to make our 911 service as efficient and as advanced as we can.”
Dexter said the city is waiting on a response from Boyle County regarding a request made for $750,000 being held by the county in funds collected for the 911 center.
“The city has requested immediate transfer of those funds by the end of the month,” he said.
The funds can only be used for the 911 center, and only in certain ways, such as technology and building upgrades. The county collects the funds, but, Dexter said, should only operate as a pass-through, as is done with collecting taxes.
“The perception is possession is nine-10ths of the law. The way the city feels is, we’re having to go to the county and ask permission to spend our money. It should be a pass through,” said Terry. “They should immediately pass those funds to the correct entity. For whatever reason, for several years, that has not been happening.”
Moving forward, Dexter said he hopes to see some type of agreement, or official word that no such agreement will be reached, by December, so that all agencies can have time to begin preparing for their next steps.
In the meantime, a timeline provided by the city of Danville states that the Danville-Boyle County 911 center should be moved to city hall by April of 2019, and that all updates will be completed by then.