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Salt Lake County mayor gives $1.3M to unify 911 calls

By Pat Reavy | Posted - Sep 10th, 2013 @ 8:07pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams says the county needs a single 911 dispatch system, and he's putting $1.3 million on the table to make it happen.

On Tuesday, McAdams announced that the County Council had approved his request for the funds to standardize emergency dispatch throughout the valley.

"We have an inefficiency in the way we answer and respond to 911 calls. And as you can imagine, time matters," he said.

The question, however, is which system to use.

Currently, there are two main computer-aided dispatch systems in Salt Lake County: Versaterm and Spillman.

The Valley Emergency Communications Center dispatches for most of the police and fire agencies in the south end of Salt Lake County, including West Valley City, Draper, South Jordan, West Jordan and others. VECC operates using Spillman.

Salt Lake City and the Unified Police Department use Versaterm. And starting in October, Sandy police and fire will be dispatched out of Salt Lake City.

In a news release handed out during the mayor's comments Tuesday, it stated that McAdams wanted the money "to be used to transfer Spillman users over to Versaterm."

In preparation for Sandy's move to Salt Lake City dispatch, Spillman and Versaterm agreed earlier this year to have an computer-aided dispatch systems interface built between Salt Lake City and VECC. A similar interface is already used between VECC and Unified police.

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What that means is 911 dispatchers can send the closest person to an emergency, regardless of the agency.

But McAdams said those "software bridges" between dispatch centers isn't the solution.

"In a time where seconds matter, those bridges, as has been described to me, are not efficient," he said.

Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said a similar unified computer-aided dispatch system was developed in Weber County.

"I don't think there's any question that the systems works at their ultimate best under a single CAD system," Dee said. "The bridges, I've watched, they don't always work. If we can get to a unified CAD so we're all seeing the same thing at the same time, it certainly speaks to a stronger, more efficient way to dispatching our emergency responders."

But Dee conceded it wasn't an easy process getting one side to agree to change its software, which includes switching out police radios in all patrol cars and requires dispatchers to go through all new training and licensing.

In a time where seconds matter, those bridges, as has been described to me, are not efficient.

–Ben McAdams, Salt Lake County mayor

"It was about a three-year process, and we jumped a lot of hurdles. … There's a lot of turf battles over these things in migrating not only to a single CAD system but a single records management system and … a single dispatch center," he said. "There's a lot of concerns. It takes awhile."

McAdams, however, said he's optimistic an agreement for a single computer-aided dispatch system could be reached by the end of the year. And the $1.3 million the county is offering is a "major step" in making that a reality, he said, by offsetting most of the burden one side would have to endure in making the switch.

The county would also save about $200,000 per year by putting all 911 calls under a single roof, McAdams said.

Dee said he was encouraged that many of those who would make those decisions were already at the negotiation table. Getting everyone to agree on a single CAD system is the "heart" of unifying 911 calls in the valley, he said.

"That is the most important part of this domino," Dee said.

Contributing: Mike Anderson


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