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Public Hearing on 911 Aims to Calm Fears

MADISON, Wis. -- The public's insecurity in 911 service is the main reason several Dane County Board supervisors are holding a public hearing Monday night in Fitchburg -- and not to point fingers or lay blame for a dropped 911 call made from slain UW-Madison student Brittany Zimmermann's cell phone April 2.

"People don't feel secure," said Supervisor Jack Martz of Fitchburg, one of three supervisors co-chairing the hearing, along with Supervisors Eileen Bruskewitz of Waunakee and Ronn Ferrell of Madison's southwest side.

In an interview Monday morning, Martz said the purpose of the hearing is to give the public an opportunity to speak out about the 911 service in Dane County, relating any personal experiences as well as suggestions on improving 911 service.

"The thing I'm trying to avoid is finger-pointing and personalities," Martz said. "We want to find out if the 911 center is understaffed or underequipped."

The hearing begins at 6 p.m. in the Fitchburg Community Center, 5510 Lacy Road.

The supervisors invited County Executive Kathleen Falk, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney and 911 Director Joe Norwick to Monday night's meeting, but prior commitments could prevent invited officials from attending.

"Kathleen said she'll be attending the memorial service for Mark Coyne (the Med Flight nurse killed in a helicopter crash May 10), while both Chief Wray and Sheriff Mahoney have conflicts," Martz said.

It isn't known if Norwick will attend.

The 911 controversy erupted two weeks ago when the weekly newspaper Isthmus reported a 911 call was made from Zimmermann's cell phone about the time she was murdered in her downtown apartment, but the dispatcher didn't hear anything from the caller's end, so the dispatcher went on to another call and then a third, without making a prompt call-back to the call from Zimmermann's cell phone.

Bruskewitz said careful scrutiny of the 911 system is necessary to make sure the public feels safe.

"911 is our lifeline in emergencies," Bruskewitz said. "The hearing will focus on the expectations of the 911 center and any concerns or questions people may have."

The Zimmermann case is not the focus of the hearing.

"Remove the Zimmermann part," Martz said. "We need to know if there are problems at the 911 center if a lot of people are waiting for their calls to be answered. We are not out to get Joe Norwick or anyone. We just want to get to the bottom of this."

Supervisor Brett Hulsey, chair of the board's Personnel and Finance Committee, said improvements in staffing and equipment at the 911 center are being made, but Martz is worried changes might not be coming soon enough.

"What do we need to do today, add three or four positions?," Martz said. "If we do an internal audit of the 911 center to see what needs to be done, it could be 3-4 months away before any changes are made. If we need a couple of positions now, I'll be the first one out there asking for the positions."

Calling 911 should not be something the public has to worry about, Martz said.

"I've had elderly people calling me, wondering if they call 911 if they'll get a response," he said. "If people have a sense of security, then they'll feel safe calling 911."

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