After a dismal year for the Dane County 911 Center - in which public support and faith in the program plummeted - the opportunity to turn the page has finally arrived. Dane County executives and the 911 Center must take full advantage of it.
As 911 Center Director Joe Norwick announced his resignation, effective Sept. 19, the organization will shed a leadership figure who absorbed the brunt of public criticism for the mishandling of Brittany Zimmermann's call to 911 at the time of her slaying. Whether or not Norwick was the sole cause of the problem, his inability to publicly answer questions regarding the call and apparent lack of knowledge about proper procedure brought a great amount of criticism from the Madison community. Furthermore, Norwick's failure to apologize for the mishandled call left even greater doubt about the 911 Center's competency in the public eye.
With Norwick's resignation, the 911 Center finds itself in dire need of change. Dane County officials and 911 Center executives currently debate priorities in budgeting and proposed changes for the coming year. The current computer system is severely outdated, and while other states prepare to update their current systems for technological advancements - such as receiving text messages and online phone calls - Wisconsin is one of only three states without funding dedicated to maintaining Enhanced 911 equipment and covering related costs.
If Norwick's resignation signals anything for the 911 Center and Dane County in general, they must allow it to symbolize a changing of the winds. Those in charge of the 911 Center, and whomever is appointed as the new director, must understand that the current 911 system in Dane County, and most of Wisconsin is severely flawed.
Furthermore, those in charge must aim for a greater statewide coordination of the 911 Center. Minnesota, which operate with a statewide 911 board accountable for the actions of an entire 911 system, implemented technology to better trace wireless callers in 1994 - 10 years before Wisconsin passed similar legislation. Minnesota's 911 centers also require certification of dispatchers and the publishing of an annual 911 report. Wisconsin requires neither of these.
Wisconsin must take a hint from other states and the services offered by their 911 call centers: Its current practices and equipment are in danger of becoming increasingly outdated and insufficient. When an organization's purpose is to serve citizens in need, money cannot continue to be an issue. Finding an alternative source of revenue to support the call center must become a top priority.
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and the 911 Advisory Board have a daunting task ahead of them in finding a new director, but they must take full advantage of Norwick's resignation - using it as an opportunity to both clean house and restore public faith after a horrendous year. Appointing a director who is experienced in 911 Center procedures and willing to push for reforms in funding and existing policies is the first step.