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Auditors find lingering issues with 911 dispatch in Salt Lake County

May 18, 2021, 9:09 AM | Updated: 10:31 am
911 dispatch center in salt lake county...
FILE: Public safety dispatchers Rosa Olives and Katt Kelson take calls as officials announce the chosen vendor to provide a unified 911 software system to improve emergency response during a press conference at the Valley Emergency Communications Center on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016. Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

A recent report shows Utah’s largest 911 dispatch system is still falling behind when it comes to response time.

This latest report is a follow-up to an audit that was released in August, and that one showed there were serious problems with the 911 response times for Valley Emergency Communications Center or VECC.

That report also found that thousands of callers every year waited more than a minute to report their emergency. In 2019 alone, 17,562 people calling 911 waited more than one minute before someone answered their call.

911 dispatch standards require fast response

National standards dictate that dispatchers should answer 90% of their calls within 15 seconds and 95% of their calls within 20 seconds. In other words, the guidelines say no one should sit on hold in an emergency, when seconds matter.

The problem for VECC goes beyond the last year or two, however; auditors found that at no time over the past 5 years has the center met national standards.

A recent report delivered to a legislative audit committee said there has been little improvement over the last six months. 

In their brief to legislators on Monday, auditors noted that VECC’s performance has varied greatly. 

“In September 2020, VECC answered 63.2 percent of its 911 calls within 20 seconds. This number increased to 90.2 percent for January 2021,” they wrote.

Response times fell to 80% in March.

Natural disasters affect response times in Salt Lake County

Auditors noted the drop in September could stem from the large wind storm and Neff Canyon fire. Both, visible from Salt Lake County, prompted a number of calls to 911 dispatch. They said both events also affected neighboring dispatchers at the Salt Lake City 911 facility, but without delays.

“SLC911 was still able to maintain its monthly performance above the national benchmark while VECC was not,” auditors said. 

In analyzing the use of an automated answering system, auditors found that 8% of callers served by VECC stayed in an automated call queue for more than 61 seconds. That compares to 0.3% of callers served by Salt Lake City’s 911 Dispatch and 0.1% of callers served by Weber County’s dispatch. Both use the same automated system as VECC.

Utah Legislative Auditor General Kade Minchey said VECC bears the responsibility to make the changes needed to meet standards.

“It’s a myriad of different things that are causing that, but it’s really the responsibility of that organization’s board of trustees to make sure they’re above that standard,” Minchey said.

Response from VECC to 911 dispatch audit

VECC’s Executive Director Scott Ruf promised the agency will make improvements — and said, the evidence shows response times improving already.

“VECC is totally committed to continuing to improve our performance remaining focused on call-taker and dispatcher training, continual hiring to maintain staffing levels, and implementation and leveraging of technology so that we continue to move VECC forward in delivering the high-quality public safety service to the citizens and agencies served by VECC,” Ruf said.


Audit: Does Utah have too many 911 call centers?

 

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