911 Advisory continues to combat sign theft

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 5/24/23

OSAGE COUNTY   — Osage County 911 Geospatial Information System (GIS) Coordinator Richard Jones told advisory committee members at their May 10 meeting that he and Director Ron Hoffman …

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911 Advisory continues to combat sign theft


OSAGE COUNTY  — Osage County 911 Geospatial Information System (GIS) Coordinator Richard Jones told advisory committee members at their May 10 meeting that he and Director Ron Hoffman continue to replace stolen road signs, with 90 missing as of the meeting.

“It’s a boredom thing,” Jones surmised. “It baffles me.”

Jones and Hoffman recently replaced about a dozen road signs in the CRs 700 and 800 area.

While Osage and Maries counties are experiencing this issue, Cole and Gasconade counties are not. Another aspect is the missing signs are not found.

“I don’t know what the college guys are doing, or even the high school guys are doing, but they’re wiping us out,” said Jones. “Wherever those signs are going, they’re not just dumping them in a road ditch or a creek, although we have found some like that. I think they’re keeping them or scrapping them or using them for something like decorations in somebody’s barn or something. We’re trying to combat it as best as possible and being able to use things like the plastic board and put signs up that way. That may stop people from trying to scrap them for the aluminum. It’s a matter of getting them back up as soon as possible. I have been getting more emails from Road and Bridge. For whatever reason, people call them to report missing stolen signs.”

Many people are unaware that 911 handles signs and replacements. Jones asked that anyone wishing to make a report email gis@osagecountyema.com. “I’ll get them added to the list and replace them as soon as possible,” Jones said.

Thieves are targeting signs on named roads and CR road signs, while green address signs are not being taken.

Jones also continues to utilize software that will allow him to plot physical building layouts, driveways, and road widths. “I’m hoping to get to a point where I can start mapping low-water crossings and bridges and have weights associated with those points on the map,” said Jones of his wish list. “So, if we have a firetruck trying to respond to an incident, they’re not crossing some slab that can’t handle it.”

A new cutter was purchased for the truck, which means that Jones and Hoffman can replace signs immediately in most cases instead of having to return.

Hoffman purchased the cutter due to the extended time it always takes to put up signs with so many other GIS duties to perform. 911 inventories 473 miles of roads, including private road names that staff maintains. With a sign at each end of the road, that is more than 2,052 signs.

“Sometimes, we will get a phone call saying there is a missing sign so we don’t have to wait to find out ourselves,” said Hoffman. “We document the sign, return to the administration building, make the sign when we can, and then, at another point, we  put the sign back up. All of these steps can take up to a month between them, so that’s two months before we could replace a sign.”

Signs are made in alphabetical order, and one example of a challenge is that if a sign toward Morrison needs to be replaced, Hoffman may be in Meta.

“I have been trying to make changes and save money with a plan but have run into obstacles,” said Hoffman. “I have been using plastic signs where I can.”

He has also been inventorying sectors by road numbers in each series, 200, 300, etc. “This will get me at one sector a week, with a lofty goal of having an entire sector inventoried every eight days,” said Hoffman.

For residents whose signs are stolen often, Hoffman has offered to change their address to the main road and do away with the private road name, instead giving them the green address sign for free.

“We do not worry about the distance rule on a private roads anymore or if there are two homes side by side on a single drive,” said Hoffman. “They will be addressed based on the main road.”

With the cutter, however, Hoffman has found a solution that allows him to make and replace signs on the spot. “I finally built a sign rack for the 911 truck with elevated sides on the edge of the truck so I can hop up and be at sign level to put on the new one,” he explained. “This also works for driving in a taller post. All the material and signs are on top where I’m standing. Before, everything was piled in the bed and we had to get a ladder out, set it on un-level ground and climb over the back of the tailgate because we can’t drop it due to all the posts in the bed. It was a totally dysfunctional and unorganized mess.”

Hoffman added that this process works best when he’s not on a 911 console because of staff shortages, and better when two people are involved.

“My goal with the portable cutter is to make the sign right then and there when I come up on it and leave a roadway complete,” Hoffman said.

In other business, Training Coordinator Savana Atkisson told the committee that quarterly compliance has improved compared to the last quarter.

“Our high-compliance and compliant calls have gone up, and our total high-compliance and compliant combination has increased,” she said. “We’re getting closer to 10 percent.”

For this quarter, 911 telecommunicators met partial-compliant call standards two out of three months and low-compliant standards every month but have not met the standards for non-compliant calls. “We have to have a minimum of three non-compliant calls to meet the ACE accreditation standards,” Atkisson explained. “Our lowest so far has been five, and our lowest for this quarter was six. We are still working on that. We have training going out every month, and we’re doing in-house training along with IAED-approved training to combat that.”

She added that three non-compliant calls are low because of 911’s call volume. “It’s a percentage of the call volume, so to meet accreditation standards, that’s less than 10 percent,” Atkisson said. “We can have five partial-compliant calls a week. Low-compliant is the same at 10 percent, which again is five calls. We can have a maximum of three non-compliant calls per week to meet the seven percent standard workflows.”

Atkisson noted the most common problem is an input error in key questioning that results in a final coding error or a critical deviation, the latter of which will always be non-compliance, not selecting a priority symptom call, and not giving aspirin on a chest-pain call. “That’s where our critical deviations come in,” said Atkisson.

Better call compliance is the significant goal for this year. “We have gotten a lot closer than what we have been seeing,” said Atkisson.

Between the final quarter of 2022 and this quarter, she said 911 had seen another increase in overall compliant calls and a decrease in non-compliant calls.

“We are on an upward roll, and we’re still working at it,” said Atkisson, noting 911 needs to get a minimum of 52 reviews per month and has been receiving 53 each month.

Moving into the second quarter, ProQA has a new QPR reviewer. “We are working through a rough adjustment period, so I am re-reviewing over half of the calls that they reviewed to catch errors that are missed, and errors that are marked but not appropriate,” she said, noting the liaison with whom she works knows about the situation. “If we can’t get standardization, accuracy, and continuity by the end of May, he’ll be looking at replacing the person doing our reviews with someone else.”

ACE accreditation is the ultimate goal. “Accreditation is a paper certification stating that your center takes awesome calls, provides fantastic customer support, and utilizes the protocols appropriately,” said Atkisson. “It is the epitome of medical dispatch. That is the ultimate goal. We’re not meeting the ACE accreditation standards.”

While accreditation does not help 911 with funding, it exemplifies quality customer service, noting it’s similar to an ISO rating for fire districts.

“It’s about how well dispatchers are doing their job to the person that calls 911,” said committee member Kenny Helton, chief of the Meta Fire Protection District. “They’re basically graded on that.”

He asked if dispatchers had the same issues as the first day ProQA was installed or if there were other problems causing 911 not to reach its goals.

“I think it’s new and different things,” said Hoffman. “We’ve been having issues with computers freezing up, and then we can’t finish the call in accordance with the program.”

Atkisson added that newer employees are doing well through ProQA. “I think our biggest hang-up on compliance was that year that we went without any reviews happening,” she said of the pandemic-related shortfalls. “We had a lot of bad habits that we are getting rid of.”

“Are the older dispatchers that have been here a while going back to bad habits, and is that why we’re still having these non-compliances?” Helton asked.

“The bad habits are breaking,” Atkisson replied. “I can see that through the quarterly review, which has slowly become more compliant. We are definitely breaking those bad habits, and our new call-takers are working hard so they don’t learn that.”

Thresholds have increased, and Atkisson said Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) goals will go up as well.

“I think that we do a really good job with our service,” said Hoffman. “I’m pleased with it. We’re pushing for the best. The word non-compliance doesn’t mean somebody’s belly-up in a road ditch like a box turtle.”

“I will say with the consistency issues in the review that we’ve had this last month, I’m not sure what our next quarter numbers are going to look like. I’m going through and catching everything I can, but the people that we’re paying to do the reviews are not meeting the standards. So, that is something that we are aware of we are working on, and we’re catching what we can to make sure that we’re fixing it.”

Of 13 calls Atkisson reviewed during the week of May 10, two of them had no changes. Two of them will go from compliant to high-compliant. The other is going from high compliance to low compliance. “That’s it’s a big range of stuff that they’re missing and errors that they’re marking inaccurately,” said Atkisson. “I am working through them and catching them and working with our liaison.

Full-time dispatchers have an average experience of 3.8 years, Hoffman noted, with some still in training or very new on the job.

“That doesn’t matter, though,” he added. “Someone who’s been here 10 or 11 years doesn’t reflect on someone who’s been here a year.”

There is still a learning curve with new employees, Hoffman said.

“You can’t take a medical 911 call until you’ve gone through ProQA’s course,” Atkisson added. “After they go through the course, they spend a week with me before they go to their full shift.”

In addition to monthly training, Atkisson said she is working on a training board to promote visibility and continuity. “That way, even the part-timers, when they’re in here, are able to remember that they have training too,” she added.

• A new version of ProQA (version 5) was released on April 11. “Right now, ProQA is recommending that we wait on pushing out the update until the Aqua software can reflect those changes,” said Atkisson. “I would look for more to come on that in the next couple of months. I believe the Aqua update should be coming out by the end of June. That will be about when we start pushing the next step date.”

911 has one dispatch tablet, and because of maintenance issues that have arisen through ProQA, the company is going back to a paper version until updated tablets are available.

Hoffman praised Atkisson for her efforts. “Savannah does a great job,” he said.

• In terms of staffing, Hoffman said he’s full with two in training. “I got another person who’s retired and wants to work part-time,” he added. “Like I told commissioners, we’re fully staffed, but if someone goes down, I don’t have a spare person. It would also be great to have folks start taking vacations. Our only limitation is the budget.”

Hoffman noted that certified training officers are in place who can teach a 40-hour class. “I don’t necessarily need that because I still have to pay for the person to go to class, so I might as well send them somewhere,” he explained.

• New phones are expected to be installed soon.

Related to that, Hoffman said he spoke with the 911 directors at Gasconade and Maries counties about a virtual 911 center. “Through NG-911, they’re going to come in and go through our mapping to help make sure that everything is what it is out in the real world,” said Hoffman. “Richard is our seventh guy to have managed maps, and things get a little foggy from what we used to do 22 years ago. That’s part of a $70,000 grant to come in and do the county. We’re doing it as a group, so that’s where some of that other money in the future can lie. If our Soma phones work fine, we can do what we originally wanted to do. So, if we’re doing it, and we’re showing that we’re doing some things together, or we’re making it so that we can work better together, there’s some grant money out there through NG-911.”

If the grant is approved, the NG-911 audit will be conducted by SDR, a company with which 911 has a lot of experience. Jones said the firm handles Go To It mapping software and addressing software. SDR is slated to handle both Osage and Gasconade counties.

He added that SDR would use satellite imagery to inspect the data first. “If they have any discrepancies, they send somebody out to physically look at it,” Jones said. “It’s a lot of a lot of satellite matching up and things like that, which they’re used to doing.”

Osage County had an NG-911 compliance rate of 87% before any of these changes. “We’re already well on our way to being NG-911-compliant,” said Jones.

Compliance requires 911 to score a 95 or higher on addressing and mapping data. “This audit is going to be a good thing to hopefully reevaluate our data and what we need to be capturing or what we need to change to capture it correctly,” Jones noted.

• Internet issues have plagued the department. Hoffman said he would like to have a second fiber-optic line dropped at 911. Currently, the line goes through the sheriff’s office, which means someone from 911 has to reset the server across the street.

Osage County Health Department Administrator Kim Sallin said fiber to her new building cost $4,000.

Hoffman noted that the new Soma Computer-Aided Dispatch system is internet-reliant.

About six weeks ago, 911 dispatch computers went down. “We had radios and 911 phones,” Hoffman said. “And as an old timer, I’ve always preached paper CAD. It was the switch from the server that distributes to the three computers.”

Eric Reichel of Remote Computer Services bypassed the switch.

“My crew never missed a beat,” said Hoffman.

Presiding Commissioner Darryl Griffin said he understands the need to upgrade. “I mean, we want the best for y’all,” he added.

Griffin and Western District Commissioner Larry Kliethermes promised to look into it further.

• The 911 repeater in Belle is shot and too old to repair. It sits on the old water tower, and Hoffman is addressing that.

The north repeater is on the Ameren tower. “They’re going to start charging us rent, but because we’re public safety, they’re going to charge us half, which is only $800 a month,” said Hoffman. “I’m still in negotiation with that guy, but I might have to move the repeater. That’s still gonna cost money. There’s probably $2,000 worth of antenna cable coax, then you have to hire someone to take it down.”

The tower is just south of the Callaway Nuclear Power Plant on CR 421.

Griffin asked where it could be moved.

“I don’t know yet,” Hoffman replied.

He has signed another Memorandum of Understanding, and the south repeater is on the Conservation towner at Meta. “That’s up for renewal,” said Hoffman.

• Hoffman wants to take the north and south repeater arrays and combine them into a group operations channel. That would allow multiple agencies to communicate on the same channel at the same time.

“Right now, we simulcast and connect the radios, but if fire says something, ambulance can’t say it,” Hoffman explained. “It’s best when we can tell everybody the same thing once. It’s just a contact channel. We’re not flipping back and forth.”

• Hoffman is ordering a new 911 chair because one broke. It was seven years old and passed its warranty. “A good 24-hour chair costs $1,650,” he added.

• The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Aug. 9.