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Potentially deadly flaw in 911 system exposed by I-Team 8; lawmakers now acting to fix it

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An investigation led last year by I-Team 8 exposed a potentially deadly flaw in the 911 system. Now, the state is acting to fix this problem.

On Nov. 16, 2019, 30-year-old Matt West had a heart attack caused by an undiagnosed heart condition. He was at a house in Fishers with his friends, who called 911 for help.

The call went to the Hamilton County Public Safety Center. The closest fire station to the Fishers home was Indianapolis Fire Department Station 28, less than a mile away. However, the station was outside of the county line, and Hamilton County dispatchers can’t see across county boundaries and vice versa.

As the dispatchers were unable to send the closest emergency assistance, Matt tragically died.  

Because of government boundaries. George West, Matt’s father has been working tirelessly to convince lawmakers to take a hard look at why communication centers can’t talk across county lines.

On Wednesday, Gov. Eric Holcomb ceremoniously signed legislation that puts $14 million towards finding a solution to this system problem.

“I think this is going to be a work in progress, getting this started and moving forward we are elated,” George told I-Team 8.

In many ways, technology has made the problem worse. The companies that dispatch computer systems use proprietary software and they aren’t really keen on sharing trade secrets.

The new legislation now creates a central database to protect proprietary software, while creating a way for 911 centers to talk to each other across counties. 

“This is something that is important. We have a chance to do something that is going to affect the citizens of Indiana across the state,” said Indiana Statewide 911 Board member, Jeff Schemmer.

Marion County and neighboring Hendricks County have an agreement to allow their respective dispatch systems to see and dispatch across boundaries.

Smaller counties don’t need, and in some cases, can’t afford the same system. I-Team 8 has been told this problem is well-known among first responders.  

Dr. Kristina Box, the current state health commissioner, is a close friend of the West family, and was devastated over Matt’s death. “Matt was like another son to us,” said Box. “It was heartbreaking to lose Matt, and to see Beth and George work so hard with the team here.” 

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

“To bring about this legislation, and have the funding that we got through the governor’s public health commission to be able to support that, eventually here in our state you will be picked up by the emergency medical services that are closest and most appropriate for your issue,” Box added.

A study committee has until next July to inventory all communications systems in the state, and find the technical and policy barriers that are keeping the systems from talking to one another.