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The City Journals

Non-emergency calls keep VECC 911 dispatchers busy unnecessarily

Mar 28, 2017 04:46PM ● By Bryan Scott

About 30 emergency dispatchers work the VECC call center 24 hours a day. (VECC)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

The executive director of the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC), John Inch Morgan, asked the Taylorsville City Council—at one of its recent meetings—to help remind their constituents, these are the only three “life or death” circumstances that should prompt an emergency call: to save a life, stop a crime or report a fire.

“We (VECC) handle 28 percent of all the 911 calls placed in Utah,” Morgan told council members. “That’s about 600,000 each year. Our dispatchers are trained to act quickly and efficiently. But if they’re dealing with non-emergencies, it slows the process.”

Morgan received some good-natured ribbing from council members and Taylorsville City staffers, because he’s a familiar face.

“I became Taylorsville Administrator about six months after the city was incorporated (in 1996),” Morgan said. “I was in the job until three years ago, and involved in hiring most of these people.”

Morgan accepted his current position in January 2014, primarily to work through VECC’s transition to the computer aided dispatch (CAD) system.

“I was hired by and serve at the pleasure of the Salt Lake Valley Emergency Communications Center Board of Trustees,” Morgan added. “That’s the governing board of VECC, comprised of city managers and administrators, elected officials and (others).”

In addition to overseeing the VECC public awareness campaign—to limit calls to true emergencies—Morgan is also coordinating a massive computer overhaul at their headquarters, near 5400 South 5900 West.

“Dispatch centers in the Salt Lake Valley are challenged because they don’t communicate as efficiently as they should,” Morgan said. “That’s why we are implementing a new computer system.”

Morgan says the communication problem has grown in recent years, as nearly everyone has shifted to using cell phones rather than land lines. Often calls come into dispatch from a cell phone tower that’s in a different jurisdiction than where the emergency is occurring.

“When that happens, under the current system, dispatchers have to transfer calls,” Morgan said. “When they do, the caller sometimes has to answer the same questions again, slowing response time.”

After thoroughly investigating computer hardware and software options, Salt Lake Valley dispatching agencies put out a request for proposal (RFP).

"That lead to a big meeting last summer, where four finalists made presentations to a room filled with 70 to 80 people," Morgan said. "From that group, Hexagon (Safety & Infrastructure) was selected."

A news release from Huntsville, Alabama-based company claims, "More than 40 communities will benefit from Hexagon's dispatching, records, mobile and analytics solutions."

Morgan says the initial Hexagon bid for all the equipment was around $12 million. But the local agencies negotiated that down to about $6.5 million.

"We are now about three months into our transition, as the new system is implemented," Morgan added. "But it will still be about another year until it's fully integrated and all of the dispatchers are trained."

Company Vice President and General Manager of U.S. public safety Hank DiPietro said in a news release, "Deploying Hexagon's public safety systems, Salt Lake Valley agencies can benefit from unified systems. We're honored the police and fire agencies have put their trust in our system."

Morgan is also proud of VECC's recent accreditation from the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch (IAED). 

"IAED is based in Salt Lake but reviews and certifies emergency responders from all over the world," Morgan said. "Ours is one of only seven agencies, worldwide, that has been accredited in police, fire and medical dispatching."

Morgan says the VECC public awareness campaign--to educate people when to call 911 and when not to--will continue this spring and summer, as the organization makes presentations and distributes informational literature at area schools and during community "Night Out Against Crime" events.