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Provo beefing up 911 center

Staff increase part of reaction to an audit done after botched call

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PROVO — Provo's 911 dispatch center will now have five dispatchers on duty 20 hours a day, every day, Mayor Lewis Billings told the City Council on Tuesday night.

Previously, the center only had five dispatchers on Friday and Saturday nights from 5 to 11.

The city also will move immediately to add two additional dispatchers. Billings said there is money in the budget to cover those hirings through June, the end of the fiscal year.

The positions likely will trigger a requested budget increase between $90,000 and $120,000 for fiscal 2006-07, Billings said.

The upgrade is part of the city's reaction to an audit of the center's operations and management by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO), an international organization.

The APCO report, released by the mayor's staff to the public and the council on Jan. 17, recommended the city have five dispatchers on duty at all times.

The staff now includes a police lieutenant serving as manager and 25 full-time dispatchers, including a training supervisor. Provo also has seven authorized reserve, or part-time, dispatchers who can fill in during sick leaves or vacations.

"This will give us a full-time committed training officer, dedicated supervisors on every shift and enough dispatchers to have five on duty from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week," Billings said.

Between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., four dispatchers will be on duty.

"I'm excited about this," Councilmember Midge Johnson said. "It's great we're being so responsive to the APCO report."

The APCO review, conducted during a visit to Provo last summer by five public safety professionals from California, Florida and Virginia, found significant problems in the city's dispatch center. One concerned poor morale among employees.

Billings said the center's work environment has improved.

"I think we've made some positive changes," he said. "We have now and always have had a very strong staff. We want the community to have confidence in the dispatch center."

Provo sought the review after a reserve dispatcher botched a 911 call by Scott Aston, who died waiting for emergency help that was sent to the wrong address. Aston called from his cell phone so the call couldn't be traced.

Billings said Provo's efforts to install enhanced hardware and software to track cell phone calls to within 50 to 300 meters should be in place by April 1.

The city expected the system to be ready last month, but delays dealing with a service provider were caused by the city's decision to use an Internet protocol system, Billings said.

Cell phone companies will have 60 days after Provo's installation is complete to implement measures that will allow the city's new system to track cell phone callers. That is done by either making changes to cell phone towers or to phones themselves. Most phones sold in the past two years are capable of being tracked by the system.

E-mail: twalch@desnews.com