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Calls to 911 don't get answered, mayor says it's 'unacceptable'

San Diego 911 calls are not being answered in a timely manner and that has the mayor concerned.
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If you have an emergency and dial 911, it is expected that you should get an answer within seconds, but that doesn’t seem to be happening in San Diego.

A recent story from The San Diego Union Tribune reports on the time it takes for emergency dispatchers to answer 911 calls.

California emergency services would like 911 operators to answer calls within 10 seconds, 90-percent of the time. National City was able to do that last year at 90.5-percent, while El Cajon and Escondido clocked in at 92-percent.

However, San Diego fell short of the mark at 82-percent.

The Tribune story recalls one case where an infant was mauled by a dog and the desperate parents dialed 911 only to hang up because they were on hold for an extended period of time.

Lt. Scott Wahl told the Tribune that there are daily and monthly reports which chart the call and wait times for 911 operators.

This data showed that in 2015, callers could expect to wait no longer than 10-seconds, 86-percent of the time, but an April 2016 report showed that number had taken a drastic fall to 67-percent.

The record for the longest wait time was back in 2015, when one caller stayed on the line for 16 minutes and 23 seconds.

Thus far in 2016, the longest wait has been recorded at seven minutes and six seconds.

One San Diego family member, Paul Nestor,  whose father had taken a tumble which resulted in a bleeding head injury said, “Those long hold times are not the exception, they’re the rule now.”

Nestor continued to say that his father’s injuries were not too severe, but they could  have been worse.

The Union Tribune watchdog group has asked for monthly reports from the San Diego call centers to help better understand where the problem lies.

As of yet, they have not received any of the documents.

No federal department exists to set the standard for emergency call assistance, however many cities follow the National Emergency Numbers Association’s (NEMA) guidelines which include answering calls within 10 seconds.  

The San Diego Police Department said that part of problem is in understaffing. They are currently looking to fill 21 spots of a staff that is supposed to consist of 134.

“We’ve been proactive and have taken action to make improvements,” said Lt. Wahl, “but it is a complex situation that has many variable and many different parts, some of which, we don’t have complete control over.”

Capt. Dave Brown of the Sherriff’s Department said that the hiring process can take over a year due to cross-departmental training. 

“We never stop interviewing people,” He said. “We actually hire more people than we have spots for, just in case.”

Calling data showed that the Sherriff’s Department answered 66-percent of their 911 calls within 10 seconds.

National City Police communications supervisor Sgt. Steve Shephard told The Tribune that San Diegans will often call his department if they don’t get a speedy response after trying to reach San Diego dispatch.

“They’ll tell us that they’ve already tried calling San Diego (dispatch) but no one answered,” he said.

In the case of the infant who was attacked by a dog, it is documented that the father called 911 from his cellphone at 7:27 pm, but didn’t get an answer, and after 28 seconds hung up.

He immediately tried again, and after 34 seconds of waiting, drove his child to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Mayor Faulconer weighed in on the issue last Tuesday and said in a briefing, “When you call 911, there must be an answer. In the vast majority of the time, the call is picked up in a matter of seconds. But that's not always the case.''

He adds, “The longer 911 wait times that have been reported are unacceptable to me.”