Mayor’s short visit to 911 center irresponsible

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. made a mistake Friday when he visited the Vicksburg-Warren County 911 Communications Center. He left too early. Way too early.

The mayor’s visit was tied to a request by 911 director Chuck Tate’s request to the 911 Commission for more dispatchers. Something Flaggs has not supported.

His visit was scheduled for three hours Friday to get an idea of the communication center’s operations. He left after one hour, saying he had a better understanding of the center’s operations, praising the dispatchers and offering to consider money for two more dispatchers in the city’s fiscal 2017 budget.

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Thursday, the mayor toured the city’s fire stations with Fire Chief Charles Atkins in less than two hours.

But the dispatchers he left Friday afternoon said his one-hour visit wasn’t enough to understand how the center operates or to get a good handle on emergency communications. Flaggs, they said, needs to stay a full shift, put on a headset and listen to the radio traffic they hear and the calls that come into the center.

“Our scheduled work day is 12 hours,” assistant 911 director Shane Garrard said. “To get a full grip on how 911 actually is, you have to be here for a 12-hour shift. I know that’s a lot to ask of a public official, but I felt like he could have given us eight hours instead of three and only here for one. That’s the only thing I have with it. We’re a 12-hour operation; at least give us eight hours, and plug in (to hear radio traffic).”

Garrard and the dispatchers are right. Like the fire and police departments, it is very hard to get a good understanding of how 911 operates by just spending an hour or two.

Unlike other city or county departments, emergency service and law enforcement employees work   unusual schedules. The issues and matters they deal with are unpredictable and can’t be put down in numbers or percentages. They could come on duty and work several hours or a day where nothing serious occurs, or start a quiet day that suddenly turns active with fires, crimes, accidents and other serious emergencies.

The only way to learn and to understand how emergency services work is to spend time with the men and women who have the duty. That means spending a full shift — or two or three — with them to learn how the systems work.

The visit to the fire stations and 911 are part of the mayor’s program to get a better understanding of how our government agencies operate.

That’s commendable, and something all elected officials should do. We’re sure the mayor has good intentions, but to get that understanding, he needs to do it right. He needs spend at least one full 12-hour shift at the communications center. He also needs to spend a day or two at one of the fire stations and make their runs as an observer.

But visiting an agency like 911 for one hour and saying you understand it is irresponsible and a slap in the face to the people to whom we entrust our safety.