At a meeting of the Lansing City Council's public safety committee, council members and the public questioned the Ingham County 911 Center's director for more than an hour. At issue: the technology being used for dispatch and the effect it's having on the staff.
"A number of employees have left the county because of a wide variety of things, most of which is the equipment we use and the morale in the room," said one longtime dispatcher during the public comment portion of the meeting. "The computer system freezing up and crashing with the issues has definitely impacted the center."
Since the center opened a year and a half ago, it has struggled with its computers and phone lines. Director Lance Langdon says Ingham County 911 has come a long way in that time.
"We've got as many major bugs out as we can. Now it's much more minor," Langdon said, adding that he thinks the center is "90 percent" there in terms of solving technological problems. "The problems we've had have been greatly improved. One of the problems it sounds like we're having from the meeting is that the employees still aren't reporting the problems so that we can address them either.
"I can't fix it if they don't tell me it's broke."
Employees at the meeting disagreed saying they've given up reporting problems because management never addresses them.
Together with understaffing, dispatchers say morale is low.
Langdon says there are currently two openings at the dispatch center. Employees contend it's more like 14 because those that are employed haven't been fully trained. That means they can't operate all the equipment or dispatch on their own.
The result is long hours and a lot of overtime pay. Langdon said employee overtime hours range anywhere from 160 per year to 800. But it's been difficult to find people to fill the positions. Not everyone who applies shows up for the preliminary test. And not everyone who passes the test makes it through training.
And while employees say the low morale and technical difficulties have had an effect on response times, Langdon contends the opposite.
"The morale issues, the staffing issues don't change the most important thing, and that's that the people are there at the center are all extremely professional, they know what to do whether the technology's working or not working," he said. "They will answer the calls, send the firefighters or the medics to get the emergency handled."
Interim Police Chief Mike Yankowski agreed, saying there are back-up systems in place that don't require computers. Technical difficulties are nothing new, he said.
"In any agency, technology as hampered our ability to move forward at times," he said. "You've got to work through those kinks in the systems and sometimes there's a learning curve there. And I think with any technology you're going to have any of those snafus along the way."