Ga. town to change dispatch services in wake of delayed response
By Marcus K. Garner
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
MILTON, Ga. — The city of Milton won't depend on Fulton County's 911 call center after September.
Officials of the north Fulton city inked a pact earlier this month that will shift emergency dispatching from the Fulton County Emergency Communications Center in Atlanta to the 911 center in Alpharetta.
As Fulton's emergency call center comes under scrutiny because of a recent botched call that ended with a Johns Creek woman's death, Milton public safety director Chris Lagerbloom took heart in his city's plans.
"Some of the catastrophic failures we've seen further solidify that we've made the right choice," Lagerbloom said Saturday.
Milton's move, set for Oct. 1, has been planned since December and predated the Aug. 2 emergency call in which Fulton 911 operator Gina Conteh took 25 minutes to dispatch help to a dying Darlene Dukes.
In a prepared statement Sunday night, Fulton County Manager Zachary Williams noted Milton's decision was made before the "unfortunate incident that occurred two weeks ago." He continued, "I have a responsibility to take all steps necessary to assure public confidence in the county's 911 system."
In addition to emergency dispatchers, Milton and Alpharetta will share fire responders, sending fire engines from the closest station to the call regardless of the city. But the ability to dispatch fire, police and ambulances more quickly is a key to the change, Lagerbloom said.
Alpharetta police spokesman George Gordon said having a Rural/Metro Ambulance dispatch desk inside the city's 911 call center makes for a quicker, seamless connection to emergency medical aid.
"This way, there's no miscommunication," Gordon said. "Once an Alpharetta dispatcher logs it, the Rural/Metro dispatcher gets it and calls an ambulance."
Evidence of additional miscommunications in Fulton's 911 call center surfaced last week in an interoffice memo from embattled director Alfred "Rocky" Moore. It noted shortfalls of a new system requiring operators dispatching Rural/Metro ambulances to Milton and Johns Creek to dial a 10-digit number in Alpharetta.
In the Aug. 5 memo, Moore said, "There were nine episodes of failure to notify the Rural/Metro Ambulance company" when medical help was needed.
The new system took effect Aug. 1 and may have contributed to a 20-minute lapse in Conteh's Aug. 2 call that further delayed an ambulance, even after police and fire were called.
Lagerbloom said at least one of those nine calls mentioned in Moore's memo involved a Milton woman whose car struck a deer.
Fulton 911 operators, Lagerbloom said, "dispatched police, like they normally would," but failed to notify Rural/Metro. After arriving at the scene and finding the driver was not hurt, "police canceled the ambulance, then realized no ambulance was coming anyway," he said.
In his statement, Williams referred to the independent audit he has requested of the Emergency Communications Center, and said, "The work of the outside auditor will incorporate the contents of this memorandum and the issues it raises to determine what needs to be done to identify and correct any shortcomings in our system."
Lagerbloom also pointed to a number of technological enhancements that will be an improvement, for less money, over what Fulton's 911 center offers.
He said that for about $100,000 less than Fulton's roughly $600,000 annual fee, the Alpharetta 911 center will be able to "push" dispatch information to computers in police cars and locate emergency vehicles.
"We can dispatch the closest resources, because our dispatchers will always know where they are," Lagerbloom said.
Copyright 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution