Ask a Cop: 411 on the 911


Illustration: Brighton Metz

Dear Cop,

I’ve called 911 a few times in my time, and I’m interested in how responders coordinate between different 911-affiliated departments. I’ve seen an ambulance and cop cars show up to a call, and when I’ve called about a friend who was homeless who was experiencing a health emergency, there weren’t any cops, just ambulances, and my friend got the attention he needed. This seems to happen in a matter of minutes in most cases. What sort of criteria do 911 call centers use to determine the appropriate parties to send to a scene? Sometimes it seems like a firetruck might be in a neighborhood randomly when there isn’t a fire or anything apparently dire to require that resource—there’s a hypothetical situation that makes me wonder.

I’ve also heard on public radio that the 911 system was created specifically for callers in a landline grid, and now that cell phones dominate our communication—let alone phone calls—the system might be out of date. Does this diagnosis “ring” true for Utah as well, as far as the efficacy of 911 responses? Also, of the organizations that may respond to a 911 call, are there inter-organizational softball teams, like the fire department vs. the police department? If so, which teams win?

-411 on the 911

Dear 411,

I’m by no means an expert on your common question, but here’s what I know.  There are basically three dispatch entities in the SL Valley:  Salt Lake City PD dispatch, Unified Police Department dispatch and Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC).  Oh, yeah, the State of Utah, too.

Salt Lake City dispatch provides dispatch services for police and fire in, well, Salt Lake City.  Oh, yeah, Sandy City, too.  Go figure.  I know it has something to do with Sandy using the Versadex reporting system, whereas VECC agencies use the Spillman Computer Aided Dispatch system.

Salt Lake County provides dispatch services for the Unified Police Department and the areas that they service, such as the Midvale city municipality, Riverton, etc. and unincorporated areas of the county.  However, I believe (but don’t quote me) that VECC handles Salt Lake County fire calls.

VECC handles dispatching for most of the other agencies in the Salt Lake Valley.  The State of Utah handles all dispatching for the State such as Highway Patrol, AP&P, DMV cops, snow plows, DOT, etc. …

If you’re not confused, I am.  Not to mention—no doubt—it costs a hell of a lot compared to having one entity.  Confusing dispatching might be why you see randomness as you described.

The second part of your question has to do with Phase 1 and Phase 2 E-911 systems.  I don’t understand much about that either, but basically, the system knows where you are by landline, triangulation or GPS—something like that—and it routes your call to the proper center.  One of the centers is primary if there’s a problem, but I don’t know which one, and then you’re transferred.  What I do know is that all these dispatchers in all these centers are excellent at communicating with each other.  There are numerous instances where after the “911, what is your emergency?” question, the dispatcher transfers you to the proper center, virtually seamlessly.

Dispatchers working so well together is the reason they commonly kick the ass of police and firefighters at softball.


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