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Emergency Call Center Reports Performance, Upgrades to City

Oct 08, 2015 11:12AM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Scott Bartlett

To keep Murray residents safe, 911 operators have to be prepared for anything. At a recent committee meeting, the Murray City Council learned what emergency operators do to be ready when called, and what they’re doing to improve.

The Valley Emergency Communications Center, or VECC, handles most of the emergency calls in the Salt Lake Valley, excluding Salt Lake City and Sandy. The VECC covers 643 square miles and about 860,000 residents. In Murray alone, this translates to nearly 50,000 emergency calls per year, as reported by John Morgan of the VECC.

Call centers such as the VECC are referred to as a Public Safety Answering Point, or PSAP. The VECC is a primary PSAP, and it routes calls to six secondary PSAPs throughout the valley.

“You never know what is going to be on the other end of the phone when you answer it,” said Morgan. To train its employees, the VECC puts new hires through 400 hours of training over their first three months, at a cost of $50,000. That training includes an alphabet soup of certifications – EMD (Emergency Medical Dispatch), CPR, POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training), and BCI (Criminal Identification) are just a few. To be a police dispatcher, another 480 hours of training are required, and another 240 hours are needed to become a fire dispatcher.

With an annual turnover rate of 18 percent – about 23 of its 128 employees – the VECC’s cost of training is a big part of its budget. Most PSAPs have a turnover rate of about 20 percent. To reduce the VECC’s turnover rate to its current level, Morgan has both increased wages and been more selective about who he hires. Starting wages are about $15 per hour, and job applicants are tested with worst-case scenarios to see if they can handle the pressures of the job.

To help its operators handle that pressure, the VECC is currently searching for a new Computer Aided Dispatch, or CAD, system. Morgan has narrowed the hunt to two potential providers and will use $1.4 million in Salt Lake County funds to purchase and implement the new system.

According to Morgan, the current CAD system was not designed to be used in an all-in-one center such as the VECC. The new system will help operators better handle all calls, whatever the emergency.

For its part, Murray funds the center based on the volume of calls coming from the city. The VECC also receives 911 tax funds charged on every mobile phone and landline, as well as various grants.

Another challenge the VECC faces is answering calls it shouldn’t have to handle. The proliferation of cell phones means that multiple calls come in for the same emergency, which operators then have to reconcile. Also, non-emergency calls get in the way of true emergencies. The VECC may partner with Murray in the near future to help educate the public on what they can do to help reduce unnecessary calls and make sure the VECC’s resources are spent on true emergencies.

The VECC’s mission is to be prepared no matter what is happening on the other end of the line. Through training, system improvements and public education, Morgan is looking to make sure his staff is ready for whatever emergency they face.

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