This being an election year and all, Williamson County Commissioners Court once again issued on March 30 what has become its seemingly obligatory announcement about planned technology improvements to the County’s antiquated system of responding to and dispatching 9-1-1 emergency calls. The WCCC made similar announcements in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. What’s surprising this election year, however, is Precinct 1 Commissioner-turned-hobbyist-journalist Lisa Birkman admits to the primitive nature of the system Williamson County uses to handle and dispatch life-or-death 9-1-1 calls.
“The current [9-1-1] dispatch system uses a sticky note pad and a paper map,” writes Commissioner Birkman in her Examiner.com blogger column on March 30, 2010. In her blog post, Birkman refers to first making this statement in 2005. Thanks to Birkman, Long, and others, this very same 9-1-1 dispatch system is still being used by the County today.
As we reported in 2008, Williamson County’s 9-1-1 computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system was wholly obsolete when purchased in 1996 in that it did not meet even the most fundamental criteria for circa 1980 CAD systems. A 9-1-1 CAD system – by definition – aids dispatchers in the process of selecting and dispatching police, fire, and EMS in response to 9-1-1 calls by automatically verifying addresses and making unit recommendations. The county’s so-called CAD system can’t do that. After all, sticky note pads and a paper map are about as far away from an automated system as carbon paper and a typewriter.
Is the County’s lack of a 9-1-1 CAD system really a big deal? Well, it is if you value speed and accuracy in an emergency. Instead of literally taking a couple of seconds to notify first responders and get them moving to an incident (like your home or your child’s daycare center, for instance), Wilco’s set-up takes several minutes to accomplish the same task – and there’s no telling if those first responders are the closest or most appropriate units. So, you could be waiting a good long while for help to arrive.
The original certificates of obligation were approved by the WCCC in 2006 and included $1 million for a new 9-1-1 CAD system. So why the endless foot-dragging?
The County’s March 30 news release features rah-rah quotes from incumbent candidate for Precinct 2 Commissioner Cynthia Long, who coincidentally is leading the latest incarnation of the Wilco CAD project. But don’t get too excited by the announcement issued on March 30. Collateral damage to those calling 9-1-1 for help notwithstanding, there’s no reason to rush things when you’re repeatedly milking an issue for political purposes.
According to the County’s news release, Long and her fellow Commissioners will continue to keep residents and first responders in peril for at least another 18 additional months – the “anticipated” completion data of the “new” technology. That timing also happens to coincide with the 2012 election cycle. See how that works??
For background and source documents, read:
“Court Awards Public Safety Technology Project Contract to SunGard,” Wilco news release, March 30, 2010
Lisa Birkman’s blog post as Examiner.com’s “Williamson County Conservative Examiner,” March 30, 2010
AAS “Wilco Wired” 3-30-10 blog entry on Wilco’s contract with SunGuard:
“County to Upgrade Dispatch System,” Williamson County Sun, May 16, 2008
“EMS Adds Staff, Will Get New System,” Austin American Statesman, May 16, 2008
Statesman reports WCCC officials told they could have a new system installed within a year
(Note: This article is located in the Statesman’s archives, for which the outlet charges a nominal per-day fee to access.)
“County Still Dragging Feet on 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatch System Replacement,” EOW, July 23, 2008
On Wilco’s stonewalling of CAD replacement efforts and implications.
“WilCo Sends Another One Packing,” Austin Chronicle, April 25, 2008. On departure of Wilco department head frustrated with County’s obstruction of 9-1-1 CAD system acquisition.
“County Plans for New Emergency Operations Center,” Community Impact, September 7, 2006
“Commissioners Court Names Program Director,” Wilco news release, June 20, 2006, on hiring of Gary Oldham as Public Safety Project Director
“County Names 911 Center Director,” Round Rock Leader, June 23, 2006