PSAP problems in Illinois raise safety concerns

Industry group: Municipal monitoring not ‘inherently safer’ than central stations
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.—A PSAP that controls emergency communications for numerous municipalities around Chicago is reportedly having such problems with delayed response times that dispatchers recently voted “no confidence” in the agency’s management.

The situation at Northwest Central Dispatch System serves as a good example of why cities and towns shouldn’t shut central stations out of the fire monitoring business if they want the public to be safe, according to the head of the Illinois Electronic Security Association. The IESA, based here, is actively battling an ongoing effort in the state by public fire districts and municipalities to monopolize fire alarm monitoring.

“The municipalities and government units that are choosing to go into municipal monitoring so often state—and that’s their main argument—that the reason they have to go into this is for public safety,” Kevin Lehan, executive director of the IESA, told Security Systems News.

However, he said, “PSAPs aren’t inherently safer than central stations ... Don’t cut the central station out of the loop—we are very much a part of the public safety process.” Lehan said central stations have “documented time and time again” that they are safe because of standards they have to meet to become UL listed and gain other approvals.

Northwest Central Dispatch provides emergency dispatch services for about 500,000 residents in Arlington Heights and 10 other nearby communities, and is looking into adding new members, according to the Daily Herald newspaper.

Lehan said the agency “has been pushing its municipal members to pass ordinances requiring commercial fire accounts to link to the PSAP [instead of using private central stations].”

But dispatchers have safety concerns about the PSAP, the Daily Herald reported last week. It said the union representing dispatchers for Northwest Central Dispatch “presented a vote of ‘no confidence’ in management at a board of directors meeting” on July 19.

The newspaper said the union has a number of ongoing concerns with the PSAP’s management. However, it said, the vote “stems from members' frustrations with a new computer-aided dispatch system installed April 24. The system, used for routing emergency calls to fire and police departments, has been plagued with problems affecting response times.” Earlier in July, the paper said, “software glitches caused a 14-minute delay in the response to a potential heart attack victim.”

According to the story, the chairman of Northwest Central’s board, Ray Rummel, told dispatchers the board retained confidence in management but would take their concerns under advisement.

Rummel is the manager of Elk Grove Village, one of the communities served by the PSAP.

Elk Grove Village earlier this year had been considering an ordinance that would have mandated that all new commercial businesses—and existing businesses replacing or doing significant upgrades to their fire alarm systems—have wireless fire alarm systems that would connect directly with Northwest Central Dispatch.

But after industry members filled a public hearing to express concerns about government stifling free competition in the fire monitoring market, Elk Grove Village’s board effectively scrapped the ordinance on Jan. 24.

However, Lehan told SSN last week, he is concerned that Elk Grove has since been giving out marketing materials to commercial businesses saying “we recommend you connect [to Northwest Central Dispatch].”

Lehan at the public hearing had urged the village not to make such a recommendation because he said it discourages competition. When an AHJ “encourages you to go with a specific provider, there’s a certain pressure right there,” he said at the meeting.