Thursday, June 17, 2010

Seven times the DeKalb County Grand Jury said there was inadequate staffing at 911 call center. Today it is at the worst level ever.

Below is a link to an AJC article about the critical under staffing of DeKalb's 911 Call center and below that link and abbreviated article is what I call a clue, in fact DeKalb was given at least seven clues in the form of Grand Jury Presentments (reports) going back three years that the DeKalb 911 center had staffing problems.

The Grand Jury reports found on the DeKalb District Attorney website are interesting reading and a real wake up call of numerous problems facing the county with many of them lingering for years with little or no improvement. Besides the many 911 issues the unaccounted funds in the Recorders Court now needs a little follow up and possible further intervention by CEO Ellis.  But hey who needs to collect traffic and court fines when you can just keep cutting the court budget?

Vacancies plague DeKalb 911 center

The DeKalb 911 center is so understaffed that dispatchers sometimes can't take bathroom breaks, county officials say.  Almost a third (38) of the 122 jobs assigned to the center are vacant, and the county is investigating complaints of slow ambulance response times even as it seeks to hire 31 officers and seven supervisors for 911 dispatch.   Meanwhile, records obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution show six dispatchers were disciplined from May 1 to June 8 for failure to show up for work and other violations.  County officials have said they hope to address these problems with additional staff and training, but that will take several months.  “It will take about six months to get the positions filled. For now, we’re using overtime to cover it,” Police Major James Conroy told commissioners.

DeKalb Grand Jury - Sept/Oct 2008

911Center
Thank all those involved for their efforts – we were all very impressed with the facility and technology involved. An effort must be made to hire more police officers so that 911 calls can be acted on more quickly. The attention paid to Operators work areas deserves special mention. Ergonomic systems and individualized heating and cooling systems speak highly of the value placed on these individuals and the importance of their positions. However, these amenities are lost if the turnover rate continues at its current pace. It is the recommendation of this Grand Jury to invest in services aimed at personnel retention. More proactive counseling would be a step in the right direction. During our tour of the 911 dispatch center, we were introduced to the new 311 non-emergency program. The next term of Grand Jurors should be given an updated presentation on the successful implementation of the 24 hour service to lighten the load of 911 operators. (Never happened or not reported) Included in this presentation should be an explanation of the policies and procedures regarding code enforcement. The new 311 system is only as effective as the officers responding. This may be another area where more personnel would be worth considering in the next budget review.

DeKalb Grand Jury - May/June 2008

911 Call Center
There were concerns addressed regarding the 911 Call Center in prior presentments. The DA responded that the 911 Call Center was going to be added to the grand jury tour on an annual basis to assess progress. (last one appears in Sept 2008) The next Grand Jury to tour this center should reference prior presentments to reflect progress in the recommended areas.

DeKalb Grand Jury - March/April 2008

DeKalb County 911 Call Center Needs: We recommend that the planned improvement speedily proceed wherein lockers/places for employees’ personal belongings are added. Call Center personnel would then have a place to store limited personal effects before, during, and after their shifts. Such an amenity would not be
costly but would improve working conditions and morale amongst incoming call operators and dispatchers in this department. Any such improvement would be welcomed by those working there as the Call Center currently experiences a nationally-comparable dilemma of having a 20% turnover rate.

The Administrative Staff of the former Director of the Call Center relocated with that individual to another department in the county. Thus, several Administrative positions, though needed and funded, must be created and approved by DeKalb County officials to enable the current Administration to effectively perform their duties and responsibilities. We urge current county government officials to proceed with the creation of these positions.

DeKalb Grand Jury - January/February 2008

The Grand Jury visited the DeKalb County 911 Call Center Operation on February 14, 2008. Security was tight in the facility which serves as the first respondent to everything from domestic violence to homeland security. Captain James Conroy, the Director of 911 Operations gave the Jurors a briefing on the operations which raised many questions about potential concerns. One such concern was the placing of emergency calls from a mobile (cellular) telephone. It is possible for a 911 call made from a mobile telephone to be directed to an adjoining county. An example was given to the director of a real event which occurred two years ago when a 911 call to report a house fire was made using a cellular telephone in the most northern portion of DeKalb County. The call was answered by the Fulton County 911 operations because the cellular tower for that area for the caller’s carrier is located in Fulton County. Since the street address of the caller was not located in Fulton County, the fire department was not dispatched to the home. Fortunately, a neighbor was awakened by the flames and contacted 911 using his land telephone line and DeKalb Fire Department was quickly brought to the scene of the fire, but it was too late to save the house which by then had burned to the ground. This demonstrates a deficiency in the system. Two solutions to this problem exist: 1) educate the public on using land lines, not mobile telephones when calling 911 if possible; and, 2) technology is available today that would allow the 911 system to be integrated with GPS technology whereby the location of the mobile caller determines where the 911 call would be directed. The use of this technology should be explored and implemented as soon as possible.

Prior Grand Juries have indicated the high level of turnover in call center operators due to the stress of the job. Although the operations have taken steps to reduce the level of stress and have set up facilities to accommodate operators who have handled difficult situations, this turnover still prevails. Currently there are 18 positions unfilled at the facility. The training period for these positions is long and costly. The Grand Jury recommends that creative staffing patterns of shifts should be revisited.

The implementation of the 311 call system has not proven to decrease the number of nonemergency 911 calls. The system clearly has not been implemented as originally intended. According to the director, the problem with the system is not operational, but one of awareness. The Grand Jury believes that a marketing campaign designed to create awareness could alleviate this problem.

The director manages the facility without having access to his budget by focusing on headcount. This created a grave concern within the Grand Jury. This information should be shared with the director and he should be part of the development of that budget. The director should also be part of the task force which studies the technology requirements of the center. It is the Grand Jury’s understanding that technology decisions are made by an outside committee appointed by Police Chief Bolton and/or CEO Vernon Jones.

DeKalb Grand Jury - November/December 2007

We commend the 911 Call Center for their state of the art technology and their stress reduction programs. However, we do forward the concern for the high turn over rate for personnel.

DeKalb Grand Jury - September/October 2007

911Center
Thank all those involved for their efforts – we were all very impressed with the facility and technology involved. An effort must be made to hire more police officers so that 911 calls can be acted on more quickly. The attention paid to Operators work areas deserves special mention. Ergonomic systems and individualized heating and cooling systems speak highly of the value placed on these individuals and the importance of their positions. However, these amenities are lost if the turnover rate continues at its current pace. It is the recommendation of this Grand Jury to invest in services aimed at personnel retention. More proactive counseling would be a step in the right direction. During our tour of the 911 dispatch center, we were introduced to the new 311 non-emergency program. The next term of Grand Jurors should be given an updated presentation on the successful implementation of the 24 hour service to lighten the load of 911 operators. Included in this presentation should be an explanation of the policies and procedures regarding code enforcement. The new 311 system is only as effective as the officers responding. This may be another area where more personnel would be worth considering in the next budget review.

DeKalb Grand Jury - July/August 2007

The July – August Term Grand Jury had concerns regarding emergency telephone communications between the public and county emergency service organizations. The Grand Jury presented the District Attorney with a list of questions to be answered by those responsible for the Dekalb County 911 system. Two witnesses appeared, and a summary of their testimony appears below.

Sergeant Diane Rava, former commander of the DeKalb County 911 Center, appeared before the Grand Jury on August 20, 2007 to answer our questions. She presented an explanation of the operational methodologies of the 911 Center as well as some data pertaining to performance. When queried, she also spoke of the operational problems within the Center; among them: a. A very large percentage of the calls received by the 911 Center are of a non-emergency nature. Secondary phone numbers are available to the public; however, the public is not aware of these numbers due to poor publication. These non-emergency calls clog the system. b. The expansion of the 311 system should help lessen the number of nonemergency calls to the 911 Center. c. The 911 Center is operating with a new computer-aided dispatch system provided by InterAct Public Safety Systems. Performance data for 2006 was provided by Sergeant Rava; however, no data was presented for 2007 or for the period that the new system has been utilized. The only current performance figure given was a comment that in one recent week there were over six thousand (6,000) lost calls. The fact that there were 38,576 lost calls in all of 2006 indicates that there is a problem in staffing or in the spin up of the new system or both. e. Staffing within the Center is lacking due to a hiring freeze instituted by DeKalb County Government. There are eight (8) vacancies. Sergeant Rava testified that seven (7) to nine (9) operators are usually on duty at one time. When asked what is the optimum number of operators needed Sergeant Rava testified that approximately fifteen (15) operators are needed. She also testified that County Executive Assistant Richard Stogner was receptive to discussing the personnel needs of the 911 Center.

Mr. Richard Stogner, DeKalb County Executive Assistant, appeared before the Grand Jury on August 27, 2007 and gave a comprehensive briefing on the county’s emergency telephones system, its recent installation, current staffing problems, funding, and plans for the future. The 911 system is one element of a comprehensive approach to public safety emergency services, to wit: a new police and fire headquarters facility, the new 911 operations center, a new 311 citizens help center, and a new police communications system. The Grand Jury focused on the 911 system, the new 911 Center, and the plans for the 311 system. A summary of Mr. Stogner’s testimony follows: a. Funding for the 911 system is controlled by Georgia legislation. Money collected from both wired and wireless accounts amounting to the current $1.50 per month is used solely for the operation of the 911 system. Money in excess of annual requirements is carried over, and the County has the option to reduce the monthly charge to telephone users when deemed appropriate. Mr. Stogner presented a spreadsheet showing funds collected and expended on the 911 system from July 2007 back to 2002. b. County Government authorized the hiring of 8 new operators just in the past week in response to needs within the Center. Mr. Stogner testified there is “no reason to freeze 911 because salaries come from dedicated funds.” He also stated regarding staffing, “All the chief has to do is ask.” c. The 311 Center will relieve the 911 Center of handling non-emergency calls which represented 42% of the total volume of calls received in 2006. No 911 funds will be used for the 311 Center. Dekalb County will be the only jurisdiction in the metro Atlanta area offering this service which should be fully operational in 2008. After a “massive” public education effort focusing on when to use 311 instead of 911 the 311 Center is expected to be handling about 2,000,000 calls per year for nearly all departments of Dekalb County Government. d. The Grand Jury was particularly interested in standards of performance within the 911 Center. The only success standard that Mr. Stogner could recall was a goal to answer calls within 5 to 7 seconds. Other than that he could not testify as to the goals regarding lost calls or to other quality assurance methodologies.

Findings:
1. A tremendous amount of effort and money has been expended on upgrading emergency communications in Dekalb County.
2. Funding for the 911 system is being accomplished in accordance with Georgia law.
3. It is too early to tell how well the new computer-aided system recently installed is working.
4. Personnel issues are being worked out in a business-like manner
5. The 311 system is a superb idea, and, when fully operational and after thorough public education, will greatly relieve the load on the 911 Center. Operational efficiency of the 911 Center should improve and cost reductions should be realized. Quality Assurance methodologies within the 911 Center are still unknown.

Recommendations involving the investigation of the DeKalb County 911 Center:
1. The next Grand Jury should be made aware of this investigation, its findings and recommendations. 2. The next Grand Jury should be scheduled for a visit to the Dekalb County 911 Center. 3. The next Grand Jury is encouraged to continue our investigation in the following areas: a. Testimony should be provided from the principals involved in the Center regarding performance standards and goals – what are the performance goals, how performance is measured, the mechanics for resolving problems, and finally, whether corrective measures are effective. b. The progress of the 311 Center should be monitored.

1 comment:

Phillip said...

Being in a call center industry is a bit hard because you must really cater each and every need of your clients. But indeed, it is a lot harder working in a 911 call center because every minute you will encounter lots of prank calls and serious cases calls. That's why everyone who works in a call center do not stay for long.

But we must really salute these call center people because they really did their best in making an effort to serve their clients and to cater their needs.