Cumberland County 911 emails contain safety warnings

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Emails about the issues plaguing Cumberland County’s 911 system include a staffing analysis warning of safety concerns.

The document called Emergency Communications & Public Safety Answering Point Staffing Analysis was drafted by former Emergency Management Director Ted Wise. It was an attachment to an email sent to county officials.

In the analysis, Wise estimated the county was short at least one call-taker per shift. He wrote that this would cause a “risk of reduced service during a major event.”

This report was issued in March, before Cumberland County 911 added Carlisle to the mix. In fact, an email exchange between Chief Clerk Larry Thomas and Wise quotes Wise as saying the addition of Carlisle would “only exacerbate the dilemma.”

Wise indicated that the county would not allow him to hire more dispatchers because of directives to cut costs. County officials say Wise should have reorganized staff to account for any gaps, maintaining there was no need to hire additional people.

The emails are a result of a right-to-know request. Cumberland County said it could not hand over all the documents because some were parts of personnel files and others were deleted from the archives automatically after 60 days.

Some former employees contacted ABC 27 and said the email system, called Barracuda, does keep track of emails outside that time period. Cumberland County’s Open Records Officer said although the system has the ability to retain emails for a longer period of time, it is not county policy to do so.

The public first became aware of issues with the 911 system on August 27. Several police chiefs in the county publicly criticized the current 911 system for delayed responses to police officers.

For example, when an officer would call dispatch to get information for a traffic stop, he would be put on hold while dispatch handled other calls. The police chiefs said this jeopardized public safety.

Shortly after this meeting, Wise turned in his resignation.

County commissioners tell ABC 27 that was the first time they heard about the problem being so widespread. However, emails between Wise and Thomas more than one month before that meeting show discussions about the issue.

In these emails, Wise told Thomas the police chiefs have raised these performance issues “on several occasions.” Thomas agreed, saying he had heard anecdotes; however, he went on to tell Wise that he had not seen any numbers to support that claim.

ABC 27 asked Larry Thomas why the commissioners were not made aware of the police chief complaints of a widespread delay in response to their calls, since he and Wise had communicated about the matter well before the August 27 meeting. Thomas says it was Wise’s responsibility to communicate with police and adjust staffing.

After the August 27 meeting, the emails became more curt and direct.

Larry Thomas sent Ted Wise an email saying he had an “inability to come up with contingency plans and ensure adequate coverage.” He also referred to what he called “obvious options” that he felt had been overlooked.

Wise responded with a long email that quoted several parts of the staffing policy. He resigned a few days later.

As ABC 27 continues to dissect these emails, stay tuned on-air and online for more updates.


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