UPDATE: Dane Co. board ends 2010 911 policy to improve response - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UPDATE: Dane Co. board ends 2010 911 policy to improve response times

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A group that oversees decisions on Dane County's 911 Center is making changes in hopes of speeding up response times.

The Public Safety Communications Center Board met Wednesday afternoon to address a strongly-worded letter from Dane County Executive Joe Parisi who is demanding change to current policies after data has found the center lags behind national standards when it comes to answering and dispatching 911 calls.

Parisi outlines six steps he deems necessary to improve problems at the center, asking for a fix in the next 45 days or he would seek a change to the governance structure of the 911 center.

The board approved the biggest change Parisi recommended, to do away with a policy adopted in 2010. Police Priority Dispatch requires dispatchers to ask callers a series of questions to find out the best way to respond to each situation.

The problem with that method is 911 center data shows since it was adopted in 2010, dispatchers have been taking on average 25 more seconds on each call. Shaving off those seconds could save a life.

"We need to be mindful in striking that balance that obtaining that information doesn't come at the compromise of getting that info out," says Josh Wescott, Parisi's chief of staff.

Wescott presented Parisi's recommendations to the board at the meeting Wednesday, saying the executive's office wants to work to achieve two objectives: restoring public confidence in the 911 center and improving public safety.

The board approved a transition out of the Police Priority Dispatch policy, at least temporarily, as a review of the center's operations is completed. Dispatchers will go back to the policy in place before the changes in 2010.

911 Director John Dejung says half the center's staff were working before 2010 and are already familiar with the previous policy but it'll take 2-3 weeks to get the others trained on the new plan.

"There's some risk to this just like there's some risk to not answering a 911 call quickly," Dejung told the board. "We're going to do our darnedest to make sure that the risks are mitigated: those risks of not having that protocol in front of people, not perhaps asking those questions in the right order, the potential to forget to ask."

The board is made up of members of police, fire and EMS agencies and also community members. The group generally supported the changes but had some concerns.

"Is law enforcement getting better information now than than they were prior to [Police Priority Dispatch]?" Belleville EMS Director Gary Ziegler asked the board. "If they are, I don't think the answer is just as simple as postponing the program or temporarily suspending it."

A Madison police representative says it's possible the center could return to Police Priority Dispatch with some modifications after the policies are reviewed.

"My question is not should we discontinue it, my question is what replaces it, is it ready to go, how are we going to train people on it?" says Capt. Richard Bach.

The board will continue to address issues beyond the Police Priority Dispatch they believe is slowing dispatchers down. Parisi's recommendations also include an effort to better manage available staff and resources during peak season, which is during the summer months. He recommends hiring part time staff to fix scheduling problems.

Parisi also recommends maximizing available technology to free up and help dispatchers prioritize their time. Improving technology is a first step that Madison Fire Chief Steven Davis is looking forward to implementing. He, among others, have demanded change at the 911 center, to make sure his staff is dispatched faster.

"I think we're headed in the right direction, these are some good steps," Davis tells 27 News. "I think as time goes on and systems are vetted through even more, we'll see more and more positive come out of it. I like the idea of addressing technology and how technology can help us if applied correctly so I'm excited about that."

The board is scheduled to meet again next Wednesday to discuss another recommendation: how to handle abandoned calls. 15 percent of the calls that come in to the center are abandoned, where someone hangs up before a dispatcher can talk to them. Calling each one back takes up time so the board will look at other ways to handle those calls.

Dejung suggested a program that could let dispatchers know whether that person called back and was able to get help or if they need a follow up.

Dejung was asked to provide more statistics at next week's meeting to address abandoned calls.

Parisi's office also wants to find ways to redirect non-emergency calls out of the 911 center to free up dispatchers' time for the more important 911 calls.

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MADISON (WKOW) ---The Dane County Public Safety Communication Center board voted unanimously to suspend police priority dispatch at a meeting Wednesday.

The vote means the policy will go back to the previous 2010 policy until a review can be completed.

Today's meeting discussed 911 center changes that would improve call answer and response times.

Find out more on what this decision will mean on 27 News at 5 & 6.

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