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Flaws in Indiana 911 system get lawmaker’s attention

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A call to 911 in Indiana doesn’t guarantee the closest first responder will be sent to the caller’s emergency.

Last year, I-Team 8 showed viewers the trouble with the 911 system.

Now, a bill in the General Assembly takes one step to making the 911 system work for everyone. 

Matt West is one of the people who the 911 system did work well enough to save. On Nov. 16, 2019, an undiagnosed heart condition caused the man to have a fatal heart attack. His friends called 911. First responders from Hamilton County were sent to him. An Indianapolis Fire Department station was much closer but, since he was in Hamilton County, Indianapolis Fire Department wasn’t sent.

That’s how the 911 system in Indiana works. The closest first responders are not always sent. It is the problem Matt’s dad, George West, is working to change. “This is going to save people’s lives for sure.”

Technology has made the problem worse in some cases. Plus, dozens of companies make and design dispatch systems. Those businesses are not always keen on sharing proprietary technology.

The bill’s sponsor is Indianapolis Republican state Sen. Kyle Walker, of Indianapolis. He says the bill would create a central database that would protect the proprietary software while creating a way for 911 centers to talk to each other.

Senate Bill 316 passed the Indiana Senate 48-0 on Feb. 13, and now awaits action in the full House after its approval by two House committees.

“So, the approach they are looking at right now is a common CAD (computer-aided design) language, so it would allow for counties to have the CAD system of their choosing but also require that any system can talk to another,” Walker said. 

Marion County and neighboring Hendricks County have an agreement to allow their respective dispatch systems to see and dispatch across boundaries. That allows both counties to send the closest available resources. But, there is a cost to making these systems compatible.

Marion County is one of the largest communication centers in the country, which requires millions to maintain and operate.

Smaller counties don’t need and, in some cases, can’t afford the same system.

Jeff Schemmer, director of the Indiana Statewide 911 Board, said about the issues facing sending the closest first responders, “A lot of people are looking at that, and say, ‘You know, this needs to be fixed.”

He told I-Team 8 this problem has been around for years.

Without George West telling his son’s story to lawmakers and I-Team 8, local governments may have continued to ignore the problem.

Schemmer said, “It brings it to the forefront, and a lot of people are starting to look at that and saying this needs to be fixed. I think everyone was aware for a while. Now is our chance to make a difference.”

If the bill passes and is signed into law, I-Team 8 is told it could take 18 months for 911 centers across the state adopt the changes.