Sarpy County is looking for ways to improve its emergency call dispatching.
Tuesday, the Sarpy County Board asked 911 director Larry Lavelle to address issues raised in a Sunday World-Herald story detailing slow dispatch times at the 911 center.
The newspaper found that Sarpy County dispatchers routinely fail to meet a national standard of dispatching 90 percent of its emergency calls in one minute or less. The median dispatch time for fire and medical calls in Sarpy County from 2008-12 was one minute, 43 seconds.
Lavelle and County Administrator Mark Wayne said changes were in the works long before The World-Herald article appeared. For example, the department has tweaked its quality assurance program, and it's considering changing how complaints and commendations are tracked.
The 911 center also is looking at standardizing the computer interface for dispatchers and mining call data to find trends. Until now, Lavelle said, the department didn't regularly review call data unless specific concerns arose.
It also is working with local fire chiefs to bring in automatic fire alerting systems to stations around the county.
But, he cautioned, “I don't want to sacrifice quality” in a bid to reduce dispatch times.
The discussion comes as Sarpy County and other governments in the region are considering proposals to share operator or dispatching services.
Another option is for Douglas County to hire four additional dispatchers to screen calls for Sarpy dispatchers. Douglas County already uses a two-step system that segregates the operator and dispatcher roles.
Lavelle said his staff is developing a description and pay scale for a dedicated operator, but it's not clear the county has the call volume to justify that sort of specialization.
Board members, meanwhile, praised the professionalism of the Sarpy County dispatching staff.
“I am in total support of our dispatchers, and I think we have the best dispatch corps in the area — if not the entire Midwest,” said board chairman Jim Warren, who is also a volunteer firefighter in Gretna.
Wayne said the dispatchers do the best job they can with the resources they have.
“They're a victim of the operation that we have,” he said.
Wayne also said the newspaper's analysis of “raw data” from the dispatch system was not appropriate.
“I don't think that gives you a fair picture,” he said.
Board member Don Kelly of Papillion said it might be worth hiring a consultant to provide recommendations.
“That could be money well spent,” he said.
Board member Brenda Carlisle of La Vista has been working to reinstate quarterly meetings with local fire chiefs to discuss dispatching concerns. That is important, board member Tom Richards of Bellevue said, because the county can't make unilateral changes to a system that serves multiple cities and rural fire districts.
Lavelle is working to gather more specific cost estimates on what it would cost to hire more people. He said they would have an update for the board in the next few months.
Contact the writer: