Harvey County 911 Communications had quite a year — and Director Don Gruver was on hand to review it, from the work handled to the recognition received, with the county commission at Monday's meeting.
While total Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) events continued their downward trend in 2017, dropping 1.95 percent from the past year, there were certain agencies the department works with that saw significant upticks over the past year. Police departments from Newton, Burrton, Halstead and Sedgwick all saw increases in traffic (with Gruver noting Newton's in particular may have had to do with more traffic incidents), as did the fire departments in Sedgwick, Walton and Whitewater. The only EMS department to see a significant increase was Halstead's, which took over services for Sedgwick in 2017.
In total, Gruver reported there were 64,626 CAD events in 2017, but that doesn't reflect the total unit responses (97,649), as multiple units may respond to one event while the event itself is logged just one time.
The nature of calls directed to the various departments saw many of the same patterns repeated among the top hits in 2017, though there was an increase the number of calls on reckless driving and for school resource officers among law enforcement, while the EMS departments got more calls for hospital transfers and on suicide attempts.
Regarding suicide attempts, Don Gruver said the way those calls are received and logged into the system is changing based on threats versus attempts, while commissioner Chip Westfall asked if 911 could check on multiple calls originating from the same address to help take proactive measures, but Gruver stated that is not a situation the department deals with often.
"I don't know that we have a lot of repeat on that," Gruver said.
Overall 911 calls were down in 2017, though it was reported that the department bucked a trend in the digital age — as the number of landline calls in 2017 increased six percent, while wireless calls were down 10 percent (though still making up 64 percent of the 35,990 calls).
Speed is a necessity in 911 Communications, to help callers get the assistance they need as soon as possible, and Gruver was pleased to report that 99.32 percent of calls were answered within 10 seconds, while 100 percent were answered within 40 seconds (with a ring cycle every six seconds).
NextGen 911 was only in place for the last three months of 2017, so Gruver said it was hard to tell if that had an impact on call responses, but he was quick to credit his dispatchers for making sure there was no negative effect in the transition.
"Anytime you introduce change to the main systems that you're using, especially in a high-stress job such as dispatching is, it creates a little bit of consternation among the employees, but our people are good people and they kind of roll with the punches and adapt," Gruver said. "It's good for me to know that we don't have calls ringing more than five or six times before they're getting answered. That's still a lot, but then when you look at the numbers, a dozen calls in three months' time out of 13,000, that's a pretty good tally."
Part of the biggest improvement with the new system is the mapping service, which Gruver said has improved the ability to locate callers — noting an 80/20 split in mapped versus unmapped calls now.
Text to 911 also launched in Harvey County on the heels of NextGen911, and while Gruver said the majority of those entries this year are linked to dispatcher training, there were a handful of live texts that came through the system. For the most part, Gruver said those texts were not situations where the service was recommended, but he believes that is something people will come to understand in time.
"People are getting used to it and using the system, but the idea again is we want people to call us if they can and text if they absolutely can't, if it's a danger for them to use a voice call," Gruver said. "Texting is there if you are hearing or speech-disabled and not able to communicate like you normally would on a phone, of course that's a perfect reason to use the Text to 911."
While the relatively new 800 MHZ radio system is seeing a lot of traffic as well — particularly from outside agencies — Gruver said that is nothing unexpected and nothing they system can't handle, as it is still operating at just 20 percent of the full system capacity.
Even during the Reno County wildfires this past year, when most of the busy signals occurred on the system, Gruver noted that was only in the span of a couple of days and it was not that noticeable to the department during its normal, day-to-day use.
Harvey County 911's Criminal Justice Information Systems actions were down in 2017 — though Gruver noted that is partly stemming from law enforcement being able to run license plate numbers and other data requests on mobile units in their cars. Like the overall events, there were increases in some areas. Most notably, Gruver pointed out spikes in protect from abuse (PFA) inquiries, missing persons and wanted persons.
Through all the calls and changes to the system, Gruver noted the Harvey County 911 Dispatch team — honored as the APCO Team of the Year for 2016 this past year — continues to function like a well-oiled machine. Part of that stems from not having to make new hires for the past 18 months. Along with having a certain chemistry, the department has more than 250 years of service in the field combined, which helps Harvey County 911 handle all that is thrown at it.
"We have good people; they do a great job. We're very, very proud of them and we hope you are, too," Gruver said. "They do a heck of a job, and they have been through the wringer the last couple, three years."