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Minneapolis to drop ProQA – wants 911 workers to talk & think for themselves

City believes dispatch software may be hurting more than helping

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In what I hope will be a move that inspires 911 centers across the country, the City of Minneapolis has decided it’s better for call takers and dispatchers to rely on their brains to help the public instead of reading verbatim from scripts. After many complaints, Minneapolis 911 officials have decided to end its two-year use of ProQA. Critics, including union officials and a former veteran 911 employee, have called the use of the software “dangerous” and “detrimental”. They claim it’s slowing responses and failing to get key and timely information into the hands of those responding. The people publicly lobbying against the software also say its use is responsible for many vacancies in the city’s 911 center.

Over the past 12 years STATter911 has shared many incidents showing serious problems when 911 workers are taught to strictly follow scripts and protocols. While not advocating against or for any programs like ProQA, I’ve strongly pushed for much better training of the nation’s 911 workers. Training that allows them to use those skills, knowledge of the area, situational awareness and critical thinking to better serve the public. One of the more recent failures involved the death of Lorretta Pickard in Polk County, Florida.

Read: Florida report confirms how low we set 911 center standards

Read: 911 must be better than a telemarketing call center – A STATter911 op-ed

Minneapolis Emergency Communications Director Kathy Hughes echoes some of those concerns. In an interview with KSTP-TV Hughes said, “They’re not only going to get a better response time, they’ll get a better response from the dispatcher they’ll be able to talk to them and they won’t have to read a script word for word.”

Carri Sampson-Spande, who quit the Minneapolis 911 center after 24-years partly because of ProQA, has been leading the charge against the program. Sampson-Spande supports the decision. She told KSTP-TV, “I truly believe people were hurt and possibly died because of this program.”

In a February CityPages article, the city’s interim director for emergency communications, Christine McPherson, and ProQA’s Dave Warner pushed back at critics like Sampson-Spande and union officials. They believed the problems were just “growing pains”.

Keith Schubert, CityPages:

McPherson says the script also makes it so any call-taker can handle any call, regardless of past experience. She argues the value in both the software and the rigid script is in eliminating liability for the department. No agency has lost a lawsuit while using the ProQA protocol, notes Priority Dispatch’s Dave Warner.

“Is that a negative thing?” Warner asked, regarding increased call times. “If we are getting more information, wouldn’t we be expecting call times to increase?”

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Those February quotes from McPherson and Warner point to the real reasons 911 centers across the country go with the concept of script reading over well trained workers using their brains. There’s a high turnover rate in 911 due to low pay, lack of career advancement and the stress of the job. Investing in just training–without improving working conditions and salaries–means a poor return on that money when the people being trained leave at a high rate. The cheaper alternative is to train workers to be script readers. It’s quite similar to the script readers who constantly call our homes pitching products and services from call centers around the world. While this method often provides inferior service for those calling 911 for emergency help, it checks two important boxes for local governments that always seem to be the key to everything: lower cost, lower liability.

Doesn’t it give you great confidence in 911 when a key point that always comes up in these discussions about script reading is not how great the system operates but that “No agency has ever lost a lawsuit using the ProQA protocol”?

Congratulations to the Minneapolis Emergency Communications Center, Carri Sampson-Spande and union officials for thinking there’s a better way. Here’s more on the Minneapolis decision.

Matt Belanger, KSTP-TV:

In an email to staff Thursday, Minneapolis Emergency Communications Director Kathy Hughes wrote, ‘Over the next few days I will message the plan for transitioning to disable ProQA. This will include training for staff. For now operationally, please continue working in the manner you are. ‘

In another email to city staffers Thursday, Minneapolis City Coordinator Nuria P. Rivera-Vandermyde wrote, “While there are certainly benefits to a program like ProQA, ultimately, the drawbacks to the system and its lack of integration with CAD have propelled me to not move forward with PROQA any longer.”

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Jennifer Austin, KARE-TV:

In an email to staff Thursday, Minneapolis City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde announced they would stop using ProQA.

“You all know it is not a decision I take lightly, but given all I have heard from you – both pros and cons – and the amount of financial resources that we would require to continue forward with a program that ultimately cannot overcome its lack of integration issues, it makes even less fiscal sense to continue with this program,” wrote Rivera-Vandermyde in the email.

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