Former 911 director talks role of call takers

Jacob Smith • Jun 11, 2018 at 9:17 PM

At the Wilson County 911 Board meeting Monday, former emergency communication director J.R. Kelley expressed concern with current call processing methods.

Kelley resigned from the director position in April 2016 after he said local government officials stalled and ignored multiple attempts to improve the county’s emergency response times.

He said Monday he was optimistic about the board’s current plan for co-location of the county’s municipal police and fire dispatchers under one roof, but expressed concern with the fact that no local agencies had signed on officially, and he felt workers should work on site at the Wilson County Emergency Management Agency to prevent a lag in time between the calls placed and units dispatched.

“The calls could be delivered to WEMA,” said Kelley. “Employees could be moved down there, as we proposed at one time, and at least emergency medical calls would not have to be transferred.

“If that’s not done, the public needs to know that’s not done, and they need to know that they can call WEMA directly, rather than having to repeat themselves.”

Current emergency communications director Karen Moore explained the reason calls are not sent directly to WEMA, and instead come to call takers at the 911 office.

Moore said when a call comes in that requires WEMA assistance, the call taker puts the information into a computer-aided dispatch system that is automatically shared with dispatch, and the ambulance is sent to the scene of the incident. Moore said the CAD system used in Wilson County is just as fast as if the calls went directly to WEMA.

She also explained the call takers have another role, as well. In June, 6,359 calls came into the 911 center and only 3,287 of them were sent to an emergency agency. Moore said this is because the call takers were able to resolve the issue without transferring the call in the 3,087 cases the call wasn’t transferred.

“We had almost 6,400 calls this month, but we only sent out a little over half that,” said Moore. “If we had sent out all those calls unnecessarily, it just would have burdened them.”

This isn’t the first time Kelley has brought the issue before the board, however. Kelley said he’s fought the issue since 2011, when he said he met with local law enforcement leaders to present the initiative to them and received support form Lebanon and Mt. Juliet police chiefs at the time.

“However, based on a letter to the Wilson County mayor expressing opposition, the board subsequently voted that direct routing to law enforcement was a dead issue unless requested by one of the emergency service providers,” Kelley said in his resignation letter.

In 2011, then-Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe wrote a letter to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto following a meeting with Wilson County emergency personnel.

“After a two-and-a-half hour meeting, it is the general consensus of all present that the largest proposal for direct routing would not be in out best interest at this time. This included all municipalities and the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office. This is a very complicated procedure and method that currently has more unanswered questions than answers,” Ashe said in the letter at the time.

“Simply said, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’”

During a 911 Board meeting the following month, then-board members Fred Burton, Larry Stone, Ken Davis and David Hale expressed concerns about the proposed changes.

According to meeting minutes, Hale said he had received more calls on the issue than any other issue, and none of the callers saw the proposed change in how the county handled calls to be a good thing. He said he saw several holes in the proposal.

Kelley said in 2014, he proposed moving dispatch to the WEMA headquarters following an installation of a 911 back-up center at the facility. He said his proposal was again denied.

Wilson County Sheriff Robert Bryan addressed the board, according to minutes from the October 2014 Wilson County 911 Board meeting.

Bryan said he had heard “talk” about moving Wilson County 911 to other departments and urged the board to be cautious in its consideration of the request. Bryan said he met with police chiefs of the three municipalities, and they believed the “system is working,” with the number of monthly enforcement calls far exceeding medical calls.

“In fall 2015, during discussions about increased data sharing between emergency service providers, stakeholder representatives began asking why Wilson County 911 continues to operate as the only 911 call transfer center in the state,” Kelley said in his resignation letter.

He said the conversation continued until fall 2015 when a Mt. Juliet police representative asked the 911 Board to conduct a test of direct routing, which was followed by Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead joining Mt. Juliet in the request to ask for a meeting with all emergency service providers in the county to discuss direct routing.

“Subsequently, once again, some prominent local government officials, including some 911 Board members, led the opposition. In the board meeting this past Monday, without holding a joint stakeholder meeting, the board voted (6-2-1) to “table” all discussions on direct routing,” Kelley said in the letter.

Kelley said his proposal would save an average of 45 seconds on 75 percent of the 911 calls made in Wilson County, with no jobs lost because dispatchers would be hired as law enforcement dispatchers. The Wilson County Emergency Communication District would pay impact fees to local city and county governments, which Kelley said would equate to more than $400,000 per year in additional funding to local city and county governments.

“Prominent local officials have continually opposed any change to status quo and may soon propose spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a ‘second’ computer network with the claim of reducing emergency response time. This would be like placing a very expensive Band-Aid on a severed artery,” he said in the letter.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto discussed Kelley’s resignation at the time.

“J.R. was a good employee for the 911 center, no question. He made a lot of good changes while he was down there. It seems in this instance he couldn’t get the board on board with him,” said Hutto.

Hutto said each county has a different way of dispatching, and Kelley and the 911 Board seemed to fail on an agreement.

“He submitted several plans but none that the board ever got on board with. I wasn’t at any of the meetings, so I can’t speak to what exactly took place. I appoint the board. The board oversaw J.R., and J.R. oversaw the 911 day-to-day operations. It’s like me and the [Wilson County Commission]. If I can’t get them on board with something, it likely won’t happen,” said Hutto.

“There are a lot of different things we could do. I think the board and board director have to be on the same page.”

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