This is an editorial by the director of my place of employment. It does a good job of describing a problem that no one seems interested in discussing. The Salt Lake County Sheriff needs to join VECC and consolidate dispatch to improve public safety.

Taken from the Salt Lake Tribune Website 07/28/2008

By William Harry

Recently there have been news articles (“Audit may end feud over Salt Lake County 911 calls,” Deseret News, July 15; “Salt Lake County turns to state legislators to help resolve spat with dispatch center,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 16) and public discussions about the 911 emergency calls in Salt Lake County and the use of the 911 surcharge revenue.

A little over 20 years ago the Salt Lake County Council of Governments, which includes all of the cities, municipalities and the unincorporated areas of Salt Lake County, decided to create a communications center within Salt Lake County to handle police, fire, medical, 911 and other services for its members, with the exception of Salt Lake City.

An Interlocal Cooperation Agreement created the Valley Emergency Communications Center, which is a political subdivision of the State of Utah, to perform those functions. The membership of VECC included all of the cities within Salt Lake County and the county (for the unincorporated areas). It was decided that all 911 emergency calls would be answered by VECC. All of the self-policing cities, fire agencies and Salt Lake County Fire (now Unified Fire Agency) also elected to receive police, fire and medical dispatch services from VECC.

The only agency within the county that decided not to join VECC for dispatch services was the county sheriff. However, 911 emergency calls from the sheriff’s jurisdictions are answered by VECC. VECC is Salt Lake County’s own dispatch center; it’s just not used by the sheriff.

On July 15, the Salt Lake County Council approved an interlocal agreement between Salt Lake County and VECC for the transfer of 911 funds to VECC. These funds are generated from the 911 surcharges paid by citizens in the county’s unincorporated areas, which are collected and distributed by the State Tax Commission.
The purpose of the interlocal agreement is, based upon existing agreements, to fund the 911 services that VECC provides to the county’s unincorporated areas. The interlocal agreement expired on June 30, 2007. The county had failed to renew the agreement and was delinquent three months on its agreed-upon fund transfers.

VECC is a consolidated emergency communications center. This allows for the 911 emergency calls from all locations within the county to be answered at one location. Duplicate calls pertaining to a single incident, but reported from different jurisdictions, are appropriately handled. Emergency calls through cellular telephone companies that service wide areas are answered at one location and dispatched by the appropriate agency.

With the number of jurisdictional boundaries in the county, splitting 911 call delivery between multiple centers will cause excessive call transfers between centers and delayed emergency response. By design, all of the valley’s fire agencies are dispatched from the location where the 911 emergency call is received. This ensures the most timely, expeditious and coordinated response possible.

The greatest benefit of a consolidated emergency communications center is that all of the fire and emergency medical agencies and law enforcement agencies use the same dispatch system. This allows for multiple emergency medical and fire agencies and multiple law enforcement agencies, or any combination thereof, to be dispatched simultaneously.

If an emergency medical incident also requires police support, both resources are dispatched at the same time. If an incident grows and requires more resources, those additional resources are provided immediately. Within the Salt Lake Valley all of the agencies back up each other as needed. This is especially true of the fire agencies.

For example, if there is a fire incident in Draper and UFA requires additional equipment, Sandy Fire Department will automatically assist, or if all fire units in West Jordan are on assignment, either a West Valley or UFA unit will automatically take the next call in West Jordan’s area.

If the consolidation of these resources is lost, emergency medical and fire response across the entire valley will be greatly jeopardized.

If changes are to be made to the Salt Lake County 911 emergency response system, they should be made by the Salt Lake County Council of Governments with the safety and benefit of all the residents of the Salt Lake Valley foremost in mind.

— * WILLIAM HARRY is the executive director of the Valley Emergency Communications Center.