In our opinion: Calling 911

Published: Saturday, Feb. 8 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

A measure before the Utah Legislature for statewide consolidation of 911 emergency dispatch centers should not be viewed as an effort to trump the influence of local entities over local affairs. It will make vital public services more effective.

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A measure before the Utah Legislature to push for statewide consolidation of 911 emergency dispatch centers should not be viewed as an effort by a higher authority to trump the influence of local entities over local affairs. It should instead be welcomed as an offer to help make a vital public service much more efficient and effective.

Utah House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, has pledged to introduce legislation that would require statewide dispatch centers to be connected in a way that would facilitate seamless intercommunication. His proposal comes after a man died from a heart attack while waiting for up to an hour for emergency responders to arrive. Delays in the response were attributed to confusion over which jurisdiction should handle the call.

The mission of emergency dispatchers is simple: Get the right personnel to the right place as fast as possible. But we have allowed a complicated patchwork of separate dispatch systems — three in Salt Lake County — to operate in separate silos and on different computer platforms which has tended, on thankfully rare occasions, to impede quick response.

Salt Lake County government has tried for years to persuade emergency dispatch entities to get on the same page, but County Mayor Ben McAdams says the effort has been “frustrating” as a result of what has been described as a series of “turf wars.”

It is understandable that local entities wish to protect their turf, but there is clearly a greater good achieved by consolidation, which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean local authorities will lose control over basic policies and procedures for responding to emergency calls.

The root of the problem is that dispatch entities, acting on their own, have contracted separately for communications systems and other technical services without assuring that those systems are positioned to effectively communicate with each other. Fixing that won’t be cheap, but the county has set aside $1.4 million to help with the cost.

In addition, Rep. Dee says his forthcoming proposal will include financial incentives or subsidies for cash-strapped rural entities to bring their systems into compliance with a statewide network. The lawmaker envisions a consolidated system that will allow a policeman in Logan to communicate with an officer in St. George on the same platform.

Such a system will result in faster response times and, as a likely result, lives will be saved. That’s reason enough to justify the costs and to relax attitudes about preserving local autonomy.

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