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Cincinnati's 911 center is implementing new call-taking protocols

Cincinnati Emergency Communications Center
Cincinnati Emergency Communications Center

The first of two new protocol systems for call-takers at Cincinnati's 911 center are now in place. You may think call-takers have a script they follow or a standard set of questions, but, until now, that was only the case for medical emergency calls.

This nationally based program helps 911 call-takers identify and respond to calls that require a fire department response, and do so in a structured, consistent manner.

"The way that non-medical calls — fire/rescue/police — are handled traditionally at the 911 center is entirely based on the call-takers training, knowledge and experience," explains Director Bill Vedra. "So much of it is coming from memory — what questions should I ask and what order should I ask them, and what instruction should I give that caller."

Vedra says that can be stressful and create inconsistencies in how calls are handled from person to person and shift to shift.

With the new Fire Priority Dispatch System, call-takers use a series of questions to identify problems and send the correct form of help.

"It almost treats it like a decision tree that when you ask the caller 'is the person breathing?' or 'do you see smoke or flames?' the answer to that question is going to branch them in different directions in terms of what information they're going to gather next and what instructions are most appropriate to give that caller."

Cincinnati reports it is the 10th city in Ohio to implement the expanded Fire Priority Dispatch System. A similar set of standards will roll out soon for calls that require a police response.

"A protocol system like what we're expanding into the fire and EMS space is bringing that consistency to calls and ensuring that we're gathering the same information each and every time, and giving the same instructions, when appropriate, each time to callers," says Vedra.

He notes the system is a combination of training and certification that the call takers undergo. There is also some software to guide them through the process.

The programs, combined, cost about $450,000 and were funded in the city's 2022-23 capital budget.

The ECC has been undergoing a series of reviews, training and upgrades. Part of that work is mandated by a settlement between the family of Kyle Plush and the city of Cincinnati.

The $6 million agreement included a five-year reform plan requiring Cincinnati to bring in three 911 experts to work with the ECC and allocate up to $250,000 initially for that
work. The advisory panel issuedits first report in 2021.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.