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Northwest Central Dispatch System 9-1-1 Dispatchers Vote No-Confidence in Management; CAD Failures Put Them at End of Rope

Fri July 20 2012 8:09 am  http://www.arlingtoncardinal.com/?p=54363
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Executive board member Rick Tracy of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police — the telecommunicators’ union presented a “no-confidence” vote at the Northwest Central Dispatch System’s board of directors meeting about 10:45 a.m. Thursday morning. Tracy explained that in no way did the union instigate the action by the union members. Village managers, police chiefs, or fire chiefs from all of the member communities were present at the board meeting.

Sixty-six non-probationary members represented by the union representing Northwest Central Dispatch System dispatchers were polled. Just over 85 percent (57 of the union members) voted no-confidence in Northwest Central Dispatch System management.


Audio of police/fire communications reveals there were actually four delays related to four different emergency medical calls requesting ambulances and emergency equipment on Sunday, July 8, 2012. In the audio, three ambulances from Arlington Heights are involved in delays — twice to Frontier Days at Recreation Park, and one call to South Gibbons Avenue address. A fourth emergency medical call was delayed in Palatine on Hicks Road. An extra alarm brush fire call in the hour in Buffalo Grove did not experience serious delays.

A 14-minute delay caused by newly installed Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) software by ID Networks was a catalyst to the “no-confidence” vote Thursday. Northwest Central Dispatch Executive Director Cindy Barbera-Brelle stated in a July 10 article of the Daily Herald that the Palatine incident was the first time Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS) had delays in responses to emergency calls since the new software went live on April 24, 2012.

However, the letter presented to the NWCDS Board of Directors reads that the statement by the NWCDS Executive Director to the Daily Herald is a lie. The Cardinal reviewed audio from Sunday July 8, 2012 and discovered four incidents that involved delays of dispatching ambulances and rescue vehicles to four different emergency scenes — just in the hour of the alleged Palatine incident. Arlington Heights Fire Department firefighter/paramedics were delayed to Recreation Park Frontier Days, Arlington Heights Fire Department paramedics were delayed to an address on South Gibbons Avenue, Palatine firefighter/paramedics were delayed to a medical call on North Hicks Road, and Arlington Heights firefighter/paramedics were delayed to a second medical call at Frontier Days at Recreation Park. Cindy Barbera-Brelle did not return a phone message Thursday asking whether she was aware of any other delays during the hour of the noted delay in Palatine … the incident that was reported in the Daily Herald … the one she said was the first incident that has occurred since the CAD system went live.

Several union members spoke at the board meeting. At least 29 union members attended the board meeting. Union President Jennifer DeLaCerda said Sunday’s July 8 incident was not an isolated incident and there have been ongoing problems with the CAD system since April 24, 2012 — even as recently as during Wednesday night’s storm. Problems with double calls dispatched or failures to dispatch calls and other problems continue to exist. Union President Jennifer DeLaCerda stood in front of the NWCDS board, her bosses, and police and fire chiefs and asked for assistance from the chiefs to look into the validity of the union members’ claims. The stress levels to an already stressful job have become unbearable, according to union members. “We unionized under this management. We took a strike vote under this management and now we have taken a vote of no confidence,” DeLaCerda said.

Another union member, Dawn Wolf, explained that during training, ID Networks trainers kept saying the system will work when it goes live. It wasn’t working while the dispatchers were trained to use the new system. Wolf asked, “How can you be trained on something when the new system doesn’t work?” The errors observed during training continued when the CAD system went live. She also added that the stress levels at the dispatch center are extremely high.

Union member Ron Metz added that the challenge with CAD is significant, but that problems with management have been increasing and ongoing. Union dispatchers also have filed seven grievances over a previous labor contract, which are currently under arbitration with hearing set for August 20, 2012.

Outside the board meeting, when asked by The Cardinal if the dispatch center has been lucky to this point, he replied “definitely.” It’s the dispatchers and police and firefighters that have pulled the system together up to this point. Metz and DeLaCerda explained outside the board meeting that the radios ‘bonk’ when communications traffic gets intense. When radio traffic gets too heavy, the analog-digital conversion of radio processor can’t process all of the conversion. Red meters on the display warn that the system is red-lining, and when it goes bad, activating the foot pedal transmitter switch delivers a warning tone that the dispatcher’s voice is not being transmitted. Now the added stress of the CAD system being unreliable makes the job of the dispatcher that much more demanding. Metz explained that NWCDS telecommunicators and dispatchers are trained to go fully manual in the event of technical failures at the dispatch center. But going fully manual definitely takes its toll on the human factor of the employee, and the actual customer service to the public. The main problem is that failures of customer service caused by technology failures in the 9-1-1 business can cause a spectrum of responses from impolite or slow-to-resond dispatchers to life or death decision failures by dispatchers. The underlying stress it that the union members want management, the board, the police and fire chiefs, and village managers to help resolve the issues that they believe are like to cause these customer service failures. Surely they want the public’s support, too.

Northwest Central Dispatch board Chairman and Elk Grove Village Manager Ray Rummel replied to the union members, and thanked the dispatchers for coming forward and bringing the issues to their attention, but added the board has confidence in the NWCDS management and that “The management from our perspective follows our policies and rules. I know you have some issues with the labor agreement. I implore your group to find some ways to dialogue with management.” He added that there will be no retaliation for their action. However, union members believe that management at NWCDS has already punished staff by denying duty trades. Working a 24-hour business requires intense scheduling. Dispatchers are required to work many consecutive weekends. They don’t want to experience denial of duty trades when need to attend a wedding or other family outing.

Emergency 9-1-1 dispatchers at NWCDS now use the Ohio-based ID Networks CAD software to transfer information from 911 calls into the computer, and send the data to 21 police and fire departments within 12 member communities, including Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Elk Grove Village, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, Mount Prospect, Palatine, Prospect Heights (police only), Rolling Meadows, Schaumburg, and Streamwood. The communities together serve about 500,000 citizens.

The letter presented to the Northwest Central Dispatch System Board of Directors Thursday morning, in its entirety …

The undersigned employees/Telecommunicators, members of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police Chapter #540 of the Northwest Central Dispatch System no longer have any confidence in the management of Executive Director (name blanked for media) and Assistant Director (name blanked for media).

In April the Executive Director made the decision to go “on line’ with a new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system provided by ID Networks. During training by ID Networks, telecommunicators were informed on several occasions that the system was not working to its full capacity and they would have to wait until “going live” to see how it works. The Executive and Assistant Director were informed by some of their management staff the system was not ready to be implemented. They made the decision to implement the system even though many fault with the system were brought to their attention.

Since going on line, the CAD system has been a disaster. Many problems have been reported with few solutions given. On many issues instead of permanent fixes, telecommunicators have been provided with “work around.” Problems with the system have become life threatening to the public and emergency personnel. They have been well documented for months. On Sunday July 8, 2012 a system failure caused the delay in dispatching a Paltine Fire Department call for at least 14 minutes. On Jully 11, 2012 The Executive Director (of Northwest Central Dispatch System) is quoted in the Daily Herald Newspaper as saying “Sunday was the first time there have been delays in responses to emergency call since the new software went live.” In fact there have been many delays since the system went live, some even longer than 14 minutes. There are many issues with the ID Network system including crashes where the system simply shuts down. When these occur, the telecommunicators have to find a way around the crash and are sometimes forced to manually navigate around the system to get an emergency call dispatched. The statement by the Executive Director to the Herald is a lie.

The telecommunicators of Northwest Central Dispatch joined the Metropolitan Alliance of Police (M.A.P.) in 2009. Since that time, the Executive and Assistant Director have made many policy changes. These changes were made without the benefit of bargaining with the union. Some changes are the subject of Unfair Labor Practices and grievances filed by M.A.P. and are being hear in the proper venues. On July 11, 2012 articles concerning the CAD system appeared in the Daily Herald and Arlington Heights Cardinal Newspapers. On July 13, 2012 the Executive Director and Assistant Director made a unilateral change in the requirements for granting for granting shift trades. One of the new changes now requires at least four persons be available to work overtime before the trade is approved. This is a new requirement, believed to be in response to the newspaper articles.

The Executive Director and Assistant Director failed to fully investigate the capabilities of the ID Network CAD system before agreeing to purchase it. They have denied problems exist with the CAD system to the Media and possibly even the Board of Directors. their continual neglect in handling the CAD system and their vindictive handling of employee and labor issues has greatly increased the stress of an already extremely stressful job. Currently the morale of employees is at an all time low. Telecommunicators have become fearful of the work place and are hesitant to report for work. The management of (names blanked for media) has created a hositle work environment for their employees and a dangerous work environment for emergency personnel dispatched by NWCDS. Their management decisions have placed the public in the covered communities at risk of not receiving emergency services in a timely manner.

See also …
MINUTES OF THE REGULAR MEETING OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE NORTHWEST CENTRAL 9-1-1 SYSTEM, HELD IN THE NORTHWEST CENTRAL DISPATCH SYSTEM TRAINING CENTER, 1975 EAST DAVIS STREET, ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS ON THURSDAY, July 15, 2010 [PDF].

The Cardinal Complaints About ID Networks CAD Software at Northwest Central Dispatch 911 Raises Concern About Delays, Systemic Software Problems



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