It's rarely pleasant for a public agency when shortcomings in its operations are found.

When such disclosures spur improvement, however, they can help governments deliver public services more effectively

Commendably, that appears to be the case in Sarpy County, where the county 911 call center for emergency services is quickly improving.

In 2013, a World-Herald investigation reported lamentably long delays in dispatching police, fire and medical services to the county's suburban landscape.

Now, county data show a considerable improvement in emergency medical response times that, while not yet up to national standards, are demonstrating real progress.

This August, 69 percent of priority medical calls to Sarpy County dispatchers were dispatched to firefighters and/or paramedics in one minute or less, The World-Herald's Cody Winchester reported. That's up from just 36 percent in August 2013. The national standard is dispatching 90 percent of priority calls within a minute or less. (Priority calls include such things as serious medical conditions, injury accidents and shootings.)

Such a turnaround is a credit to the employees at Sarpy County's dispatch center. But how the county and its workers improved also merits attention.

Sarpy County officials didn't run and hide.

They brought in outside experts to verify what World-Herald reporting found. They identified some of the bottlenecks causing the delays.

They hired new management with ties to the public safety community. They spent some money hiring and training new dispatchers. They set incremental, achievable goals.

Then they met them.

"Things have been on the upswing for us," said Marilyn Gable, the 911 center's deputy director. "We're proving it with our numbers."

The outside consultants Sarpy hired to assess the 911 center's problems knew that meeting the one-minute dispatch standard was unrealistic. So they set a goal of dispatching 90 percent of priority medical calls within a minute and a half.

Now that they have met that goal (up from 71 percent a year earlier), dispatchers can aim even higher — and soon they will have some reinforcements, the new hires.

Public surprise at the quick turnaround says something sad about how rare it can be for public agencies to evaluate themselves critically and make effective course corrections.

But it also says Sarpy County leaders are doing something right. Police agency dispatch numbers aren't yet available, but the medical response times show a group of public servants willing to tackle a problem.

The Sarpy County 911 call center for emergency services is quickly improving.

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