Cumberland Times-News

November 13, 2013

County 911 phone system upgrade improves efficiency

Jeffrey Alderton
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Allegany County 911 dispatchers average 4.1 seconds in answering 911 calls and 10 to 12 seconds for nonemergency or administrative calls that come into the emergency center located in Constitution Park.

Roger Bennett, chief of the 911 Joint Communications Center, revealed the dispatch response times Wednesday when contacted by the Times-News.

“The response time for our dispatchers on 911 calls is terrific. Our goal is to stay below six seconds,” said Bennett.

The emergency center is staffed by 25 dispatchers and four administrative staff workers. At present, dispatchers are working out of the 911 back-up center at Mexico Farms while the center’s 911 system is receiving a $1.1 million telephone system upgrade.

“We moved down there on Nov. 4 and expect to be back at the 911 center the beginning of December. The install of the phone system upgrade is expected to take two to three weeks and the last week will be for training of supervisors and dispatchers provided by Cassidian, the manufacturer of the phone system,” said Bennett.

The phone system upgrade was not expected to take place until next year, but the state advanced the schedule to allow the upgrade to take place sooner. The Maryland Emergency Number Systems Board is paying for the upgrade through 911 surcharge fees, such as appear on telephone bills.

“We’ve been planning for this since June,” said Bennett. He said the phone upgrade is the third one to occur at the 911 center since it opened its above-ground dispatch center in 2009.

The center handles 200 to 300 emergency or 911 calls daily along with 500 to 600 information or administrative calls (a number that typically increases during bad weather). The call volume has increased by 20,000 in the last four years.

The phone system upgrade will provide an “answering tree” for non-911 calls — such as requests for phone numbers, addresses, inquiries, requests to speak to an officer, barking dog complaints, etc. The system will relieve dispatchers from becoming overwhelmed with informational calls.

“With this phone system upgrade, the nonemergency, informational calls will get to where they need to be more quickly. Previously, those calls sometimes backed up,” said Bennett.

“I think this will increase morale and allow our dispatchers to work more efficiently and organize calls to where they need to go without slowing down the process.”

The phone system improvements will provide four new independent servers for processing of informational phone calls. The servers also allow the center to have 18 computerized dispatch positions that can be operated at the 911 center or at the back-up facility at Mexico Farms.

The phone upgrade will provide technology for receiving and answering text emergency calls. Until now, the 911 center could not receive or respond to emergency text messages. Text messages are sometimes able to be sent from remote areas where voice messages cannot be sent due to a lack of signal strength.

The upgraded phone system will also provide the capability to increase its number of 911 lines. Currently, the center has capacity to answer four cell phone calls at one time and six land line calls simultaneously. The center is staffed by five dispatchers on each of its three shifts.

Bennett said dispatchers also employ “quality dispatch” protocols for asking proper questions immediately. The nationally based protocols provide guidelines for questions that are used for fire, emergency medical services and police calls received by 911 centers.

In 2012, the Allegany County 911 center logged 219,000 calls — 47,000 that were 911 calls (13,500 by land line telephones and 33,700 by cell phones). Administrative or informational calls handled one-by-one by dispatchers that year totaled more than 172,000.

“All those informational calls will soon be gleaned through the answering tree,” said Bennett.

Jeffrey Alderton may be contacted at jlalderton@times-news.com.