After tough criticism, Mpls 911 gets an upgrade

MINNEAPOLIS – After dealing with a computer system that was sluggish and outdated, the Minneapolis 911 call center officially upgraded its software program this week.

It's a project city officials have been working on for the last three years, costing the city $1.2 million.

While city officials said the vast majority of the calls were answered promptly, they said the upgrade was needed.

"The technology was outdated, the operating platform for the system was no longer supported," said Christine McPherson, the center's assistant director.

It's something KARE 11 discovered last year when city officials claimed they had no way of knowing how many callers in a given month had to wait 30 seconds or more before an operator answered.

Now the city will be able to track how well the system is working much faster and easier, according to McPherson. Since the switchover just happened Tuesday, she said they will learn exactly what the new system can do in the next few weeks.

"I'm very excited about this upgrade," said council member Andrew Johnson.

Johnson was one of the critics of the old system.

Even though city officials said the average wait time was about seven seconds last year, he calculated the longest wait times averaged more than two minutes on a given week in a 10 month period from 2013 to 2014 according to data he received.

He wanted a system that was better at evaluating answer times.

"It wasn't giving us what we needed, in terms of really understanding how long some folks are waiting," he said.

McPherson said the new system not only should be able to calculate wait times easier, it also makes it simpler to connect to other 911 operations in the metro and across the state, allowing different jurisdictions to help in a crisis.

"It gives us a huge opportunity to be able to take each other's calls when a major situation is happening," said Johnson.

"If you called 911 in Minneapolis but you needed something in Edina because there's where you live, it's a lot easier for us to transfer you to Edina," added McPherson.

She indicated other metro 911 call centers connected to the same system include Hennepin County Sheriff, Hennepin County EMS, Alina and Edina.

The time it takes an operator to answer a call in Minneapolis should also be faster, she said.

"The IP phone system actually delivers the 911 calls much more quickly through the phone system, so we actually answer a little bit faster 1 to 2 seconds."

Another improvement is how the system responds to a hang up call. In the past, if people called, hung up and then called again, McPherson said that would generate multiple calls for multiple operators.

"In the new system it will recognize that it's the same phone number calling and make that into one call," she said.

And while Johnson is optimistic about all of this, he said he will be watching in the coming months to make sure the system runs smoothly.

"We want to make sure we are doing it right and we're taking full advantage of it," said Johnson.

The new technology will also allow the public to send text messages or video to the Minneapolis 911 call center in a year or two, said McPherson.

The Minneapolis 911 operators are represented by the Minnesota Public Employees Association. A union representative wasn't available to comment, but one dispatcher who did not want to be identified, told KARE 11 while it's still early, the new system "seems like a good improvement."


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