First Responders Call Rogers County 911 Call Center '$2 Million Failure'

Friday, April 25th 2014, 11:25 pm
By: News On 6

Allegations of mismanagement are putting the safety of Rogers County citizens at risk.

In 2009, Rogers County voters passed a bond issue to build a county-wide 911 center, hoping to alleviate life-threatening issues that kept first responders from quickly finding callers during emergencies.

The 911 center has been built, but it's nothing like first responders imagined, some even label it a $2 million failure.

Voters thought they were getting a state of the art facility, able to withstand an EF-5 tornado and fielding calls for all of Rogers County's 14 fire, four law enforcement and two ambulance services.

It, however, cannot withstand an EF-5 tornado, and it's only fielding calls for two law enforcement agencies and two fire departments.

Last year we introduced you to Luke Campbell, a Collinsville man upset with the way his 911 call was handled, as his son-in-law was having a medical emergency.

"She insisted we were in Washington County, I said no ma'am we're not in Washington County," Campbell said.

It took 911 operators nearly 30 minutes to send an ambulance to his home as his call was bounced from one dispatcher to another.

He, and many others who voted for it, hoped the new 911 dispatch center would fix all of Rogers County's 911 problems.

Opened at the beginning of the year, two to three dispatchers handle about 60 calls a day, but that's nothing compared to what was envisioned.

Rogers County Sheriff, Scott Walton said, "When you need law enforcement, fire or ambulance at your residence or business, you call 911 and it goes into one call center, and from that call center your emergency responder is dispatched from that location. That's simple and how it should be."

But Walton will be the first to tell you that's not how it is. Right now the sheriff's office is the largest of only four agencies using the new dispatch center to answer 911 calls.

The sheriff is not happy with the service he's getting and said he understands why no other agencies have signed up.

"I would tell those other agencies that they would be foolish to jump on board right now, a product that's not working in any way, shape or form," Walton said.

Sheriff's deputies have been keeping track of problems they've had with dispatching services out in the field. The most recent complaint is that a police officer was left alone on a traffic stop for 25 minutes before dispatch could tell his backup deputy where to find him.

Rogers County 911 Dispatch Director, Janet Hamilton, said, "This particular complaint, I did research it. The facts were accurate and I put the employee in remedial training where she is now."

Hamilton defends her employees, saying they go through 29 different training programs. She believes most of the complaints are unfounded.

"The center is working as designed. It is working top-notch. We have state of the art updated, upgraded equipment. We don't have what we had a year ago," Hamilton said.

She believes other agencies haven't signed on because they don't know how much it will cost them, and she admits she can't tell them.

The whole project is the responsibility of the Rogers County Commissioners, who set aside $1.6 million for the new building, but no money for anything else, and no real plan for agencies expected to join.

I caught up with one commissioner, Danny Delozier, who admitted they were in over their heads.

"The magnitude of what this thing is, was always a problem," Delozier said.

When asked if the County Commissioners should be in charge of, Delozier said they shouldn't.

He believes the issues are close to being resolved, and that other county agencies will sign on to use the dispatch center for their 911 calls this summer.

He said the county has hired an accountant who will help come up with a plan; four years after voters approved the center.

"There are people who say this thing is a failure," said Delozier. "No, it's not a failure. It will work. It's going to take some time."

Right now there are more than 15 fire, police and ambulance services in Rogers County that were originally supposed to use the Rogers County 911 dispatch center but have not yet signed on.

I've talked with the heads of five of those agencies and all of them said they had too many concerns to join at this point.