Dear Dunwoody Friends and Neighbors,

We continue to work through alternatives for providing 911 service. At the moment we are focused on two alternatives, staying with DeKalb County or moving over to ChatComm, the joint Sandy Springs/Johns Creek 911 center. It really comes down to how much to spend for what level of service.

A 911 center is really two different call centers in one building. On one side you have call takers. They spend their time talking over phone lines to folks who call 911. They figure out what kind of emergency it is, who is calling, and where the problem is.  Then they enter all of this information into a computer system. On the other side you have dispatchers. Once a call taker transfers a call to the dispatcher, the dispatcher works with responders to coordinate emergency response. Both teams have to function well for a call to be handled quickly and efficiently.

Industry standard benchmarks require call takers to answer 90% of calls with no delay and to complete the information gathering process within 60 seconds on average. DeKalb County 911 habitually misses both of these benchmarks. ChatComm (after their initial 6 month startup) has a consistent track record of exceeding these benchmarks. Seems like a simple decision, right? Well, maybe or maybe not.

ChatComm will cost Dunwoody as much as $300,000 per year more. That is $300,000 we can’t spend on Roads, Parks and Police. While DeKalb hasn’t hit the 90% mark in years, they do manage to hit 88% with some regularity. They don’t average 60 seconds, instead they average 99 seconds. Is that good enough? How much is 30 seconds per call worth? Is it worth almost a thousand dollars a day?

There are other issues as well. One advantage of ChatComm is their ability to coordinate response between Sandy Springs police and ours. That could be an important service improvement for both cities. Another big advantage to ChatComm relates to cell phone towers. When someone calls 911 from a cell phone, they are transferred to the 911 center related to the tower their phone connects to. If you are calling anywhere along our borders, that tower may not be in Dunwoody. If you are transferred to the wrong center by the cell network, valuable time is lost when the call is re-routed to the correct 911 center. With ChatComm, because Sandy Springs wraps around us, our Dunwoody residents would be insulated from that problem along half our boarder. If we go with ChatComm, whether your phone connects to a tower in Dunwoody or Sandy Springs, you will still be connected to the correct 911 center.

Finally, DeKalb’s 911 center has been in disarray for many years. They are trying to bring in a new director and they are in the process of acquiring a new Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system but the department has been understaffed and poorly managed for years. I tried to find out how many callers were on hold for two minutes or longer and was told, “no one knows how to get that information.” That is a bit scary.

On the other side, there is a disadvantage to ChatComm: Fire and EMS service will continue to be provided by DeKalb. While Fire and EMS make up a small portion of the total call volume, calls for those services to the ChatComm 911 center will need to be transferred to DeKalb for dispatch. There is also a one-time equipment and setup cost of $500,000 to transfer to ChatComm.

I’m not sure which way the City Council will ultimately decide to go, or when the decision will be made, but it is clearly not an easy call.

In other Dunwoody news, we have just received a grant to study the feasibility of creating a Dunwoody Greenway along the Georgia Power high-tension power easement that runs through Dunwoody from Sandy Springs to Gwinnett. This is a very exciting potential opportunity to create a path for runners, walkers and bicyclists.

Have a wonderful holiday season!