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FCC drops Muskego's call for help on 911 issue

April 23, 2012

Muskego - The Federal Communications Commission won't help the city end the practice of the Waukesha County Communications Center, instead of local dispatchers, answering Muskego 911 cell calls.

The FCC responded to Muskego's request last week by saying that the city and Waukesha County Communications will have to resolve the issue themselves.

At present, 911 cell calls originating in Muskego are picked up by WCC dispatchers. Muskego police officials say that causes an average 72-second delay before the information is routed to Muskego - time that is critical in incidents such as heart attacks.

"Seventy-two seconds is a long time if your loved one is on the floor and doesn't have a pulse or isn't breathing," said Muskego Police Chief Paul Geiszler. "That's totally unacceptable."

But WCC has its own reservations about the 911 cell calls going directly to Muskego.

The objections from Richard Tuma, the county director of emergency preparedness who is in charge of WCC, boil down to three main issues:

Too few 911 cell lines go into the Muskego Police Department, in their opinion, and only one dispatcher is there to answer the 911 calls.

About a third of 911 cell calls coming from the towers Muskego wants to divert are not from Muskego and must be responded to by other departments. A sophisticated mapping system is needed to tell where 911 cell calls are coming from and which jurisdiction needs to respond.

WCC dispatchers are practiced at guessing where problems actually are when drivers calling on cell phones report a fire or an accident without specifics.

However, the Muskego Police Department refutes all of those claims.

In throwing the problem back to the city and WCC, James Arden Barnett Jr., chief of public safety and the Homeland Security Bureau, wrote: "We strongly encourage the city and the county to resolve this jurisdictional dispute as soon as possible."

But Geiszler said negotiations between the city and WCC have been fruitless. Tuma could not be reached for comment.

Nevertheless, the police chief views this only as a setback, not the end. He said he plans to try to get support from other police departments to persuade WCC to negotiate.

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