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Dispatch Breakdown, 'Lost' Officer Delayed Bus Wreck Response

Wednesday afternoon's minor school bus accident with no injuries in Milton was properly classified as low priority, but dispatching an officer still took too long.

UPDATE 12:45 P.M., AUG. 31

A breakdown in the Alpharetta 911 dispatch center and a Milton police officer's difficulty finding the location in Crooked Creek subdivision delayed response to a until 32 minutes after the first call.

The dispatcher received a call at 4:27 p.m. from Fulton County Schools Transportation Division to report a minor accident with no injuries, said James Drinkard, spokesperson for Alpharetta. Milton has arranged for Alpharetta to dispatch its police and fire calls.

"The caller did advise that students were on the bus but was clear that no injuries were present and the students were in no way endangered," Drinkard said.

At least one parent received a call from her son at 4:09 p.m. about the accident.

Fulton County Schools spokesperson Susan Hall confirmed that since there were no injuries in the minor accident, school system policy dictates that first the school would be contacted to send out an alert to parents about the delay with the bus.

Next was a call to notify the school system's Transportation Department so the logistics of getting the children home could be handled, and to determine if the bus could be put back in service.

The Transportation Department called 911 to report the minor accident with no injuries. The students were required to stay with the bus as potential witnesses under police policy, and couldn't even be let off the bus (since there was no danger) until a school administrator arrived to supervise them.

Since dispatchers were on other calls, this call was classified as low priority, which was appropriate. The Alpharetta 911 center dispatched a Milton police officer at 4:42 p.m., and the officer arrived on scene at 4:59 p.m.

"Apparently the officer got turned around once in the large neighborhood and that added to his response time," said Milton Police Chief Deborah Harrell.

 By 5:21 p.m. the scene was cleared.

 "With respect to the delay of 15 minutes, 29 seconds between the time the call came in to our center and the time the officer was dispatched, that delay should not have occurred," Drinkard said.

The main police dispatcher was involved with another incident. Another dispatcher should have noted the accident call was still holding and dispatched an officer, Drinkard said.

"Our average wait time once a non-priority call is placed on hold is 3 minutes," he said.

Had the call involved injuries or an immediate threat such as fire, Drinkard said the call would have been classified as priority.  Measures such as flashing screens and chimes alert dispatchers to priority calls so that they are handled immediately.

"At this time we are working to determine where the breakdown in our protocols occurred (i.e. why another dispatcher did not pick-up the call when available). "Once we fully know the circumstances, the City of Alpharetta will take appropriate measures to address the situation with our personnel," Drinkard said.

Milton Police Chief Harrell said, "Alpharetta dispatch is the most efficient, competent, and professional dispatch I have worked with.  I rarely have a problem, concern, or issue with any of its operations. (In fact, I can’t remember ever having one.)"

Alpharesident August 31, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Just doing the math, if the times in the article were correct, the delay was 32 minutes, not 42 minutes. Too long yes, but not as bad as your lead paragraph states.
Bob Pepalis August 31, 2012 at 01:19 PM
Yes, you were correct. Unfortunately, there appears to have been a delay in getting a call made to dispatchers, as one parent said her son called at 4:09 p.m. about the accident – and the call to 911 wasn't made until 4:27 p.m.
Concernedcitizen August 31, 2012 at 03:39 PM
It I the bus driver may have advised Fulton, who then contacted 911. A couple of numbers are quite remarkable here, however. A fair estimate is 20 minutes for the County to contact Alpharetta 911. Disappointing but excusable. However, 15:29 to dispatch an officer to an MVA involving a school bus is an extraordinary length of time in the "dispatch world". Then, 17 mins for the first unit to arrive on scene in the southeast corner of Milton is at best inexcusable. I would wonder if the 911 center was short staffed, or were any "visitors" hanging around during that period that may have distracted the operators from proper handling of the call? Finally, Chief Harrell & her officers are outstanding, but if unavailable, why didn't the Alpharetta PD zone the covers North Park handle the call or as a last resort, why not dispatch a fire unit to verify the scene was safe with no injuries? 15 mins to dispatch & 17 more to arrive is frankly glacial these days, now that Fulton is no longer handling these duties in Milton.

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