Nye County Commission Chairman Lorinda Wichman called for a revamp of Nye County 911 and the emergency dispatch system at a meeting of the Commission on Tuesday.
Though she said she understands the logic of centralized communication, having dispatchers located in one location in the county, sacrifices are being made to the health, safety and welfare of Nye County citizens.
“I think we need to rethink that whole program,” she said. “If we have lost one life due to a dispatch error, that is way too many.”
If any of those circumstances have been experienced, the system has failed, she said, and under those conditions, the system should be re-evaluated.
Chief Dispatcher Natalie Arms bristled at Wichman’s assertions, citing human error.
“Dispatchers make errors because they are human,” she said.
The dispatching system was reorganized and consolidated in May 2014. Prior to the organization, Arms said, dispatchers in different locations in the county adhered to different standards. Standards were more “lax” in northern Nye County, she said.
Since the relocation of dispatch centers in Beatty and Tonopah to Pahrump, all dispatchers now have a support system and backup personnel to assist with “large incident” calls, such as fires or motor vehicle accidents.
Dispatchers, Arms complained, are faced with problematic callers who yell at the dispatcher, refuse to answer dispatcher questions and ask dispatchers what office they are located in. Callers are also subverting the 911 system by calling off-duty and on-duty deputies directly, she said. The argumentative nature of callers to the 911 system can delay dispatch of emergency services to a scene, she said.
Wichman responded to the claims saying that callers have been conditioned to those behaviors by struggles to get a timely response to an incident.
Arms reported that 2015 first quarter 911 dispatched calls have increased slightly to 3,580 from 2014’s first quarter report of 3,418 calls. Arms said that her review of response time remains at an average of 16-minutes per call. Each complaint regarding a delayed response time was investigated and found to be largely without merit, she reported to the Commission.
Four equipment failures have occurred within the system during the past nine months. Those failures have been attributed to repeater transmission failures, faulty cable lines and battery failure. An extended loss of service occurred on Dec. 12 which resulted in total loss of all Nye County 911-communication. The problem was resolved and a preventative maintenance and back-up policy implemented to deal with potential future outages.
Wichman asked that comparative complaint reports of pre- and post-911 consolidation be provided to the Commission by the emergency services department.
“We need to figure out where the gap is and how to fix that gap,” she said.
A department spokesperson advised callers to enable a cellphone’s GPS identification system, prior to making a 911 call. That will enable dispatchers to better pinpoint a caller’s location. All 911 calls made from cellphones are directed to the nearest cell tower and may not be to the location of the nearest 911 emergency responding agency.
Under that circumstance, it is important to relay the location (town) of an incident, Arms said.
Funding for upgrades to the Nye County 911-emergency communications system is being sought.