911 dispatch snafu delays response to medical emergency

Posted at 9:46 PM, Nov 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-26 17:31:57-05

SALT LAKE COUNTY — A dispatch snafu cost valuable minutes in a medical emergency response in Salt Lake County on Thursday morning.

Valley Emergency Communication Center, or VECC, which handles the bulk of 911 calls in the Salt Lake Valley received the initial call, which came by way of a cell phone.

VECC Public Information Officer Geana Randall described the incident.

“When we put the address into the system, it came up as a Sandy Fire response,” she said. “And since Sandy has moved to Salt Lake City dispatch, we tried to transfer the call to Salt Lake City, and when the call taker there answered the call they didn’t recognize it as a Sandy address, and they declined to take the call from us.”

Sandy City 911 calls have been answered by the call center within the downtown Salt Lake City public safety building since October 25. They were previously answered by VECC.

Adding to the confusion, which resulted in the delay of service, is the fact that the call came from one of several areas within Sandy known to dispatchers as “islands.”  These pockets and parcels of land within Sandy City limits are part of unincorporated Salt Lake County.

Emergency medical/fire services for Salt Lake County are provided by Unified Fire Authority, except for these Sandy “county islands”, in which case, UFA has contracted with Sandy Fire Department to cover those islands to minimize response times.  As of, October 27th, Sandy Fire & Police Departments have been dispatched by Salt Lake City Fire & Police Dispatch Centers.

Dispatchers tell FOX 13 News that transferring calls from one center to another is a common practice, sometimes occurring as much as 500 times a day. They said this is largely because cell phones route 911 calls to either center at random.

In Thursday’s incident, Salt Lake City dispatchers stayed on the line with the call for less than one minute before referring the call back to VECC, where dispatchers did ultimately respond.

“Normally with that situation we would have had it dispatched in two minutes,” Randall said. “Ultimately it was five minutes before the unit was paged out and 13 minutes before the first unit arrived.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said he, unfortunately, is not surprised.

At his request, the Salt Lake County Council set aside $1.3 million months ago to address the issue.

The money is intended to unify the software systems of the two major call emergency call centers. McAdams added that he doesn’t have a preference as to which agency changes its software to match the other, but hopes to see it happen by year’s end.

The exact medical condition of the person in need of help on Thursday morning is unknown to FOX 13 News due to federal law, which protects identity and medical condition, but dispatchers said it’s their understanding the person is recovering.