Tucson police, fire departments consolidating call center to help with 911 delays

Tucson police, fire departments consolidating call center to help with 911 delays

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson has changed its 911 operations center to eliminate long lag times and wait times for some emergency calls.

While a typical high priority call averages about 23 seconds, some can run into several minutes depending on volume, staffing, and other issues.

For the first time, Tucson police and fire will use the same operators and will be housed in the same room and same building on the south side.

It will retrain its operators to handle both fire and police emergencies, eliminating a step in the process, which can save up to 30 seconds on many calls.

Right now, the 911 call center receives 1.6 million calls a year and it's not always perfect.

"I believe this problem is solvable," said Communications Administrator Ross Adelman. "Yes, we're going to solve it."

Both fire and police operations have been combined under one umbrella, the Public Safety Communications Department.

"When you're consolidated. You're eliminating those elements that contribute to longer lag times, longer hold times," he said.

Some of those are supervisors from both agencies will be centrally located, operators will communicate more effectively and old habits which might have become routine under one agency can be eliminated for better efficiency.

Ken Vaughnn is a retired Tucson Police officer who served for more than 30 years on the force and retired in 2011.

In the past year and a half, as a private citizen, he has called 911 twice.

"The first time, it was real suspicious activity," he said, "Guys with knives and guns near El Con."

He called 911 for help but got a surprise on the other end.

"When I was transferred and received a recording saying, 'you've reached 911 please hold', I literally moved the phone away and said, 'How can this happen?" he said. "I was on hold for just over two minutes."

When an officer finally responded, just one officer came. The second time he witnessed a roll over accident where the two occupants crawled out of the car and ran.

"I used my free time to follow them," he said.

He called 911 but was put on hold for several minutes. By the time the call reached dispatch, the men had fled.

Those are the kinds of incidents the new system is designed to eliminate but the new center, which is designed but won't be started for another 45 days means the same issues will persist for a while.

The operators will need to be retrained to handle both police and fire emergencies. And the department is facing a manpower shortage.

"We have 34 vacant positions," Adelman said. "We're interviewing to fill those position right now."

The department has given first time operators a nearly $4,000 dollar a year raise, to more than $17.50 and hour, Adelman is hoping to close the gap.

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