About 2½ years after Dunwoody signed on with the Chattahoochee River 911 Authority, the dispatch system still does not employ the kind of software that Dunwoody officials want to handle their fire and ambulance calls.

Although Dunwoody city staff members repeatedly predicted the software would be ready at various points in the past, a test in late February found new “glitches,” City Manager Warren Hutmacher told members of Dunwoody City Council during their March 19 meeting.

“The product doesn’t work, but it needs to,” Hutmacher said. “It should have a long time before this.”

The delay has stirred some Dunwoody residents to appear at council meetings to complain about the city’s management of the situation and about the emergency dispatch services provided by the authority, generally known as ChatComm, without the new software.

“It is a fiasco,” resident Robert Wohlford told council members.

City officials say that 90 percent of Dunwoody’s 911 calls are police calls. ChatComm, they say, does a better job of handling those calls than the DeKalb County dispatch system did in the past.

The 10 percent of the calls that are fire or ambulance calls – roughly 10 calls a day, city officials say – are dispatched through the DeKalb system. ChatComm operators who get a Dunwoody fire or ambulance call now uses a “one-button transfer” to send those calls to the DeKalb system. City officials say that method of transfer is the standard for the industry.

But former City Councilman Danny Ross and others in Dunwoody argue it’s not good enough. They say the time lost while a human operator transfers a call for an ambulance could result in serious harm to a patient. Ross argues the 911 system should use a computer-aided dispatch program, or “CAD-to-CAD” system, to handle fire and ambulance calls.

During recent council meetings, Ross had played recordings of 911 calls to point out delays in emergency transfers.

On Feb. 28, resident Maxine McQuaig told council members she called 911, “and I sat there.” “I waited and I waited and I waited,” she said. “I prayed, ‘Don’t let me pass out before somebody answers.’”

McQuaig said she had been a nurse before retiring and understood the need for a quick response to emergency calls. “I’m not confused. I’m not senile… I’m saying we’re all in grave danger with a system that doesn’t work,” she said.

Later, outside the council meeting, she said, “I haven’t lied. I was on hold a long time. … If I’d had a cardiac arrest that day, I wouldn’t be here.”

At the same meeting, Ross claimed a man died while awaiting an ambulance. “This is not the way we want to run our 911 center,” Ross said. “This man died on our watch.”

But city officials reviewed the case and later said it appeared the man had died before the 911 call was made.

City officials say that developing the software needed for a workable CAD-to-CAD system between ChatComm and DeKalb County dispatch has proved difficult. Hutmacher on March 10 said part of the problem has been working with two software companies who work for two different agencies, ChatComm and DeKalb County.

Also, developing the software has not operated as a typical project, in which the work is done by a single company. In this case, the project required two competing companies to work together, city officials have said.

“Part of the frustration from the public and part of the frustration from our staff is we don’t have someone we can fire,” Hutmacher said.

Hutmacher said the two vendors want the project completed, in part to avoid further public embarrassment. “They are nowhere near as frustrated as we are, but they’re ready to get rid of this project,” he said.

So more work and more testing lay ahead. Another discussion is scheduled for the March 24 council meeting.

“We’re disappointed the last test didn’t prove to be the final test,” Hutmacher said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

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