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IBM Grant Helps Memphis Tackle Emergency Service Troubles

Memphis will use funds from IBM's Smarter Cities program to assist in analyzing data about non-emergency calls, which can delay response times and increase costs.

(TNS) -- Stating non-emergency calls to the Memphis Fire Department’s emergency medical services are driving up response times and costs, Mayor A C Wharton was in Las Vegas Monday to accept an IBM Smarter Cities grant that will use data to combat the problem. Memphis is one of 16 cities worldwide, and four in the United States, to receive part of this year’s round of grants, which IBM values at $500,000 each. About 100 cities applied, an IBM executive said at the IBM Edge Conference.

“Our resources are limited so we have to do so much more,” Wharton told conference attendees. He said IBM’s assistance will help the city in “collecting, analyzing and storing” the information about non-emergency calls.

“Not only will we improve technology, but the most important thing is we will improve services to citizens,” said Wharton, who is seeking re-election in October.

Wharton has scheduled a 10 a.m. Tuesday news conference at a fire station on Lamar to tout the partnership and provide more details.

Among U.S. cities, Memphis joined Detroit, Denver and Rochester, N.Y., in receiving grants.

In a January news release describing the Smarter Cities program, IBM said it has worked with 116 cities in four years.

The Wharton administration’s media advisory for the Tuesday announcement said that MFD responded to 120,000 EMS calls in 2014, and about 25,000 of those were nonemergencies. The administration said nonemergency call volume increased by 10.5 percent in the past three years, driving up response time.

A 2014 city government efficiency study by Public Financial Management, commissioned by the Wharton administration, called for exploring alternatives to EMS such as privatization. It said that more than two-thirds of the fire department’s calls were for EMS/rescue, and highlighted problems the service has in collecting charges.

IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge teams, according to a January news release announcing the grant application process, “spend three weeks in the winning region analyzing all available data about a critical issue of the municipality’s choosing. Team members meet in person with dozens of members of the local government, citizen, business, and not-for-profit communities.

“In doing so, they gather diverse perspectives about the causes and potential solutions to the challenge at hand. At the conclusion, IBM presents comprehensive recommendations for improving the delivery of services to citizens. This is followed by a more detailed, written implementation plan.”

“City leaders from around the world have told us how IBM’s advice has helped them re-imagine how they can use data and analytics to help them solve complex problems,” Jennifer Crozier, IBM’s vice president of global citizenship initiatives, said in that news release. She introduced Wharton at Monday’s event in Las Vegas.

©2015 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.