Some Local 911 Calls Taking Minutes Not Seconds

Under-staffing and pocket dials are contributing to the delay in answering emergency calls

San Diego 911 operators get more than one million calls a year, but it seems some of those emergencies are not being answered in a timely fashion.

Back in January 2015, a member of the NBC 7 news team dialed 911 to report an emergency downtown. She ended up on hold and hung up after a minute.

This exposed something wasn't right in dispatch, which is under the San Diego Police Department.

When people call 911 they expect an answer within seconds, but some calls are actually taking minutes to be answered.

San Diego police admit they have missed the mark on some calls.

“We're frustrated every time when we have an occurrence where there is an extended delay like this,” Lt. Scott Wahl with the San Diego Police Department told NBC 7. “We have very high expectations and hold ourselves to the highest of standards. So when we miss the mark on a situation like this certainly internally it's extremely frustrating to us.”

The police department explained they are now working to make sure 911 calls don't end up in limbo resulting in a slower response to emergencies.

Earlier this month, however, a house fire in Allied Gardens showed the problem hasn't gone away. Residents called 911 and couldn't get through for several minutes. The call should have gone to Fire Station 31 in Del Cerro, but because there was a delay in dispatch the fire house didn’t even know there was a house on fire nearby for several minutes.

“We’re trying to get under ten seconds. We were minutes away. So that’s not acceptable,” Lt. Wahl said. “We’re frustrated every time we have an occurrence…It’s still an issue that we are actively addressing. There’s no secrets. We’re chasing 20 vacancies right now,” Lt. Wahl said.

Under-staffing at the call center isn’t the only problem in the numbers game. In one month alone local 911 operators were bogged down with more than 11,000 pocket dials.

“It’s a dramatic impact. Nearly a quarter of our call volume are these pocket dials,” Lt. Wahl explained.

Educating the public and filling the dispatcher vacancies are critical, police say, to fixing the problem.

Mandatory overtime is being required right now for 911 operators until the operator jobs are filled according to police. They are also looking at bringing in part-time employees to fill the void, and they are asking residents to do their part by setting up their phones so they don’t accidentally dial 911.

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