Delays still happening at Austin 911 call center

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by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and photojournalist MICHAEL MOORE

kvue.com

Posted on October 18, 2013 at 6:23 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 18 at 6:52 PM

AUSTIN -- Imagine having an emergency and being put on hold when you call 911.

It's a problem KVUE News told you about three months ago, and it's still happening.

For more than 10 years, Austin's 911 call center's had just over 100 people answering urgent calls for help. It has become increasingly difficult to make sure callers don't have to wait.   

As the number of calls to 911 continue to rise, so does the concern.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday Patti Kelly and her boyfriend witnessed a car accident at Brush Country Road and William Cannon in South Austin.

While she checked on the drivers her boyfriend called 911.

“I was out there for about two and a half minutes. My boyfriend was still on hold with 911,” Kelly said. “They hadn't picked up the phone yet. It went straight to a recording. Two and a half minutes is a long time. That could be the difference between life and death.”

Austin's 911 call center is based out of the Combined Transportation Emergency and Communications Center in North Austin.  As Austin grows the number of calls for help are on the rise as well.

Last year 911 received more than 915,000 calls. The call center expects the call volume to be even higher in 2013.

Call center officials tell KVUE they have 84 people on staff to answer 911 calls. Of those employed, 7 are part time staff, 12 are temporary workers.

Assistant Communications Supervisor Ted Bradshaw says the department asked the city for additional funding and people during the last budget session.

“We requested approximately 10 additional call-taking personnel and unfortunately we didn't receive any. We just have to use our staff more efficiently when we don't receive those funds,” Bradshaw said.

He says 93 percent of all 911 calls in Austin are answered within 10 seconds.
“Typically, that two and a half minute hold time you're speaking of, that happens less than one percent of the time.”

Bradshaw says it's unacceptable for anyone to wait to have their call for help answered. Callers like Kelly agree.

“It just makes me question the city of Austin and where the priorities are,” Kelly said. “I mean, this is something that absolutely needs to be funded.”

Here in Austin the number of 911 calls answered within 10 seconds -- is above the national average. 

Department managers say they'll try again and ask the city for additional funding and staff during its next budget cycle.

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