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Plan for Cincinnati's troubled 911 center focuses on technology, training and morale

911 center plan targets tech, training, morale
Posted at 11:54 AM, Apr 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-30 17:58:49-04

CINCINNATI -- Cincinnati's troubled 911 center has a goal: answer 90 percent of calls in less than 10 seconds.

For at least one city council member, that's not good enough. The life-or-death nature of the work, Councilman Greg Landsman argued, demands no less than perfection.

Council's Law and Public Safety Committee heard a detailed action plan for the city's 911 service Monday. It's faced increased scrutiny after 16-year-old Kyle Plush died trapped in his minivan at Seven Hills School, despite two 911 calls for help.

Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney and police officials didn't get into specifics of what went wrong the day Plush died; those details are expected at another meeting Wednesday. Rather, they focused on broad changes at the 911 center that's suffered from years of staff shortages, low morale and technology trouble.


"All of our human resources are going to be needed in this situation," Mayor John Cranley said. "We need every single person to continue to be part of the solution."

The mayor is not part of the committee but has attended two of its meetings since Plush's death. Plush's father, Ron, also was at City Hall on Monday, taking copious notes.

Council already voted last week to send an extra $1.4 millionto the center through June 2019, the end of the next fiscal year.


The center also has a relatively new leader: Capt. Jim Gramke, who;worked as a 911 operator before becoming a police officer, took over day-to-day operations earlier this year. He said he's worked to open up lines of communication between managers and front-line employees, and on upgrades to the work environment -- painting the walls and new chairs, among other things -- to make the center a better place to work.

Retaining employees is a problem at 911 centers nationwide. It's a high-stress job as call takers and dispatchers deal with life-or-death situations. Duhaney and Gramke plan to double fill some positions so, as employees leave, staffing doesn't fall too low.

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Gramke also promised far-reaching reforms to improve recruiting and training -- including creating a full-time training team with five employees. Right now, he said, just one person has to train more than 100 employees at the center.

The city plans to integrate its ShotSpotter technology, which uses sound waves to pinpoint a gunshot's location, into its computer-aided dispatch system.

Technology improvements also will allow home and business alarm companies enter information directly into the city's computer system -- an improvement Gramke estimated would save about 17,000 calls to the center per year. That amounts to about 2 percent of the roughly 850,000 total calls Cincinnati's 911 center handles annually.

Those massive numbers were part of what worried Landsman: If the goal is answering 90 percent of calls in less than 10 seconds -- something Gramke said was an industry standard -- it would mean roughly 85,000 calls take longer.

"That's a lot of calls. If we're saying every call, every time, then we should mean it," Landsman said. He gave credit to Duhaney and police officials for working on the issue nonstop, and for laying out measurable goals -- which he viewed as a sign of progress.

"It’s not just did the call get answered, but did the information get collected accurately? Did it get transferred to a police officer or firefighter -- did that get done accurately? And, where service is provided successfully?" Landsman said. "All that is going to performance measures that we track moving forward."

The public will be able to check progress on the action plan on the city's website, Gramke said.

Vice Mayor Christopher Smitherman, chairman of the committee, said he'd be back at the 911 center in July to talk with employees again. He and other city leaders led the media on a tour there last week.

The city hasn't ruled out possibly joining forces with Hamilton County's emergency communications center. That means collaborating where it makes sense, or even more.

"This will include the feasibility of merging parts or all of the cost and operations," Duhaney said.