A Milwaukee councilman claims 911 callers are being placed on hold during emergencies. Terry Witkowski said he has received numerous complaints about the city’s emergency dispatch center. Instead of a live operator, the 911 callers were reportedly met with a recording and forced to wait on hold.
The councilman said he experienced the issue firsthand when he called to report an obstruction on the highway. Witkowski was concerned, as the debris could have caused an accident. When he called 911, he was immediately placed on hold.
Witkowski said the recording urged him to stay on the line while dispatchers attended to other calls. The councilman said he waited for at least one minute. He said some callers have waited up to two minutes for assistance.
In an emergency time is of the essence. One or two minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Witkowski said the current situation is simply unacceptable:
“I think we need to find out why this is happening. Do we have enough staffing there? That’s not the public’s expectation that you call 911 and wait a minute or two to get an operator.”
Although the situation is frightening, it is not unique to Milwaukee. In 2013 alone, several 911 callers were placed on hold during dangerous situations.
In May, Washington D.C. resident Kathleen Burke called 911, as she was physically assaulted by a home intruder. As reported by NBC News, she was immediately placed on hold. As the intruder ran out of her home, Burke was not further harmed. However, she was terribly frightened:
“What was really to me astonishing and terrifying was that the interval [on hold] was sufficient that if this intruder had a weapon, there was sufficient time for this to escalate into a life-or-death situation.”
In September, a 911 caller in Volusia County, Florida, died while waiting on hold. Although a majority of 911 callers are placed on hold for legitimate reasons, the Florida dispatcher was found to be at fault.
As reported by Daily Mail, an investigation revealed dispatcher Shauna Justice was using her cell phone while Bob Hill waited on hold. As she was distracted, Justice sent emergency crews to the wrong location. Hill, who was suffering a massive heart attack, died before emergency crews reached the scene.
Thankfully, these incidents are quite rare. However, Councilman Witkowski wants to avoid similar tragedy in Milwaukee. Witkowski said he is attempting to determine why the 911 callers were put on hold. He will also discuss the issue during a meeting with the Public Safety Committee next week.
[Image via World Now]