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State Audit Says 911 Transfers Can Be Dangerous And Should Be Reduced

Photo of 911 call. / releon8211
911 calls were transferred more than 110,000 times in 2018, according to a new state audit.

A family in Park City called 911 for help for their choking child. But the call wasn’t routed to local authorities that could help them, according to a new state audit.

“Their call was mistakenly routed by a cellphone tower to the Salt Lake Valley,” said Audit Supervisor Jake Dinsdale. 

There were several more transfers, which “delayed that response and the child ultimately didn’t make it,” Dinsdale said. 

The audit said there were more than 110,000 instances last year where 911 calls were transferred due to jurisdictional issues. It found the median delay per transfer in Utah is 60 seconds. National standards say calls should be answered within 20 seconds. The audit cited the Park City incident as a local example of how 911 call transfers can have dangerous implications. A Summit County official said that happened in 2008 and that since then, the county has made changes to its system to help cut down on call transfers.

The audit suggests that local governments and the Utah Communications Authority invest in new technology called NG911 that helps route cell phone calls to the right dispatch center. It also recommends investing in computer systems that allow different dispatch centers to share information about the call without having to transfer it. 

“It is UCA’s hope that by eliminating certain optional features of the NG911 solution, along with some new technology solutions recently proposed to UCA by its consultants, the NG911 solution can be procured in a cost-efficient manner,” the agency wrote in response to the audit. “UC believes that the suggestions made, if implemented, will greatly improve emergency services in Utah.”

Correction 2:43 p.m. MST 12/16/19:  A previous version of this article misstated the date of a Park City 911 call transfer incident. In fact, it occurred in 2008, according to a Summit County official, and Summit County has made changes to its 911 operations since then.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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