Dispatchers speak out about problems at 911 center
They say work environment at center is 'uncomfortable'
Reporter: Claire Doan
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – The system you rely on for emergencies is in a state of emergency of sorts – at least that’s what public safety dispatchers at the emergency call center said. For the first time, they publicly discussed the issues that have handicapped the 911 system since late May – defying a city memo ordering them not to talk to the media.
Councilmember Steve Kozachik said it took a bit of convincing for dispatchers to come forward with their concerns at a press conference he held Monday afternoon, after a city-wide memo was issued in early July to department supervisors to instruct staff to say “I cannot comment” regarding questions about the communications department.
However, dispatchers said they felt compelled to come forward, given the gravity of the problems and the impact on public safety.
“I don’t want to keep our issues quiet. I think the public has the right to know. We have some issues and we’re doing the best we can,” said Roberta Vance, a dispatcher who said she now works twice as hard at her job to compensate for glitches in the system. “[The problems] are daily occurrences, and there are many more anomalies where you’re talking and the call just disappears…that’s very frustrating.”
Vicki Jonda, another dispatcher, worries about whether the system will fail during a call where time is of the essence.
”It’s nerve-wracking and it’s upsetting when you don’t know if the phone system is going to fail you. I haven’t heard of any instances of it failing in the middle of a critical call, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” Jonda said, adding that it could be a matter of life and death for calls in which dispatchers are giving instructions to frantic people trying to do CPR or stop someone from choking.
The public safety dispatchers said they want a forthright and proactive approach to fixing issues with the 911 system that have made their job more challenging, including locator screens not appearing, caller identification not working, and dropped calls without indication.
9 On Your Side asked the dispatchers what they would like the city manager or the general services director to do about the problems.
“I would appreciate if they could put Qwest to the fire and really make them figure out what the issues are and why they’re having glitches with the system, why we’re having issues that we’ve never had before,” Jonda told KGUN9 News.
Dispatchers also said that they have been dealing with whispering, gossiping and snide remarks from both coworkers and supervisors about sneaking information to the media. They said it makes for an “uncomfortable” working environment; Kozachik called it “hostile.”
“The management has the responsibility when [dispatchers] bring this to their attention, to say, “knock it off.” That’s what’s ticking me off about what these people are going through. It’s not happening,” Kozachik said.
Neither City Manger Mike Letcher nor General Services Director Ron Lewis would agree to an interview.
City staff and public safety dispatchers have met several times after the switchover to address concerns regarding the system, but Kozachik said members of the “Meridian Group” are now being handpicked, so as to “not rock the boat.” Since its inception, four dispatchers have resigned from the group.
Since late May, problems have plagued the city's new emergency system and have challenged dispatchers on their job, through faulty screen locators, dropped calls and difficulties monitoring those calls. Concern over the issues increased after records disclosed that a 10-year-old girl died after a dispatcher sent paramedics to the wrong location, with some blaming that mistake on the new system.