What If You Dialed 911 and No One Answered?

This is happening in Cincinnati, and in other places. 911 Outages Imperil Public Safety in Cincinnati and Elsewhere

According to an internal city document obtained by NBC News, there have been 10 911 outages since June of 2016. The latest one, just this summer, lasted three hours and 30 minutes.

Usually when I write about the problems with calling 911, the delays are in the minutes, not hours. 3 hours (or more) is a very long time when bad things are happening. It could literally be a lifetime.

The powers that be in Cincinnati trot out the standard (though at this point very lame) excuse that it is all the fault of cellphones.

“These 911 systems have been designed and built for landlines,” said Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black. “Now we’ve got the proliferation of cellphones.”

While the modern cellphone can be dated to 1983, they really didn’t show up everywhere until 1991 when generation 2 technology became available and sparked competition.

1991 was more than 25 years ago, and they are still blaming the cellphone for their incompetence. Sorry, but I don’t buy it.

Since they know that no one is going to buy that excuse, Harry Black tees up standard excuse number 2, “It’s not my fault.”

Black blames most of the trouble on a private company called Comtech that runs Cincinnati’s 911 system. “We’ve got a service provider at that level who’s not been as reliable and dependable as we’ve needed them to be,” Black said.

But that contract – if it was written by anyone who has ever seen any contract ever – would have performance clauses and what would happen if a given level of performance is not met. Like penalties and withheld fees all the way up to contract termination. Which is apparently the stage they’ve reached, because Cincinnati is taking over its own 911. (What could go wrong by putting the .gov in charge?)

And of course Cincinnati is not the only .gov entity that signed up with Comtech, and they are not the only folks having problems with them.

In Connecticut, officials replaced Comtech’s system with a new company after a three-hour 911 outage hit 52 call-taking sites. And in South Dakota this year, officials temporarily suspended payments to Comtech, saying the company was “slow to fix several recurring problems found within the system.

So how did Comtech get to be so big in the 911 “industry” if they have so many problems? They didn’t answer questions for the linked article, so who knows.

The final “suggestion” is to program your local police/fire numbers into your phone in case 911 isn’t working. Works only as long as you never leave home. 911 was introduced so that if I am visiting you and you have a heart attack, I don’t have to search around for the number for paramedics. That is not as fast as me just being able to call 911 wherever I go. “In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there’s a difference.”

Calling 911 is a fine thing to do in an emergency. It can send police, and fire, and emergency medical personnel to help with whatever you are facing. If what you are facing is a violent encounter, you may not be able to call 911 before bad things happen, but in any event, if the ONLY thing you are prepared to do is call 911, then you might have a problem, when that system breaks down.

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What if you called 911 and waited an hour?

A lot of bad things can happen in an hour, and in this case it was a carjacking. CSPD response times going up as number of officers going down

So they burglarized a house and were walking down the street carrying guns. 911 was informed of this. But even so, it was long time before cops showed up – long enough for them to carjack someone and escape from the area.

Galer checked the call times. Police tell her the first 911 call came in at 5:33 p.m. It wasn’t until one hour and three minutes later — at 6:36 p.m. — the first two units responded.

Average response time in Colorado Springs is 12 minutes, which can still be a very long time. But an hour can be forever if something bad is happening.

I’m not sure that bystanders could have done anything in this situation, but the point is if your only plan to deal with a violent encounter is to call 911 (assuming you can call BEFORE bad things happen) then you might need to refine your plans somewhat.

What if you called 911, and had to wait for an hour?

A lot of really bad things can happen in an hour. Flint police response times approach 1 hour for most-serious 911 calls | MLive.com

FLINT, MI – The time it takes police to respond to the most-serious 911 calls in Flint has more than doubled over a six-month timeframe this year.

Wait times were 21 minutes in January for about 3000 priority 1 calls, and about 58 minutes in July for 2200 calls.

The definition of priority 1 calls:

Priority-one calls are categorized by dispatchers as the most-serious situations and include incidents like shootings, stabbings, domestic violence and other critical requests for help.

There are reasons for the delay, and they are spelled out in the article. But debating the state of law enforcement in Flint isn’t what I’m about.

Calling 911 is a fine thing to do, assuming you can call BEFORE bad things happen. (You need to be aware, but that is another story.) But if your only action is to call 911 and wait to be rescued, you may be waiting for some time. You may wait for the rest of your life. Calling 911 is a fine thing to do, but it would help if you had another option. It could be anything from pepper spray to firearms, but whatever your other option is, you need to think about it in advance.

911 Struggling Under Hurricane Harvey

Actually the fact that it hasn’t failed is kind of a surprise to me. Cellphone and regular phone service seems to be available. All of the 911 centers seem to be reachable, even if they are all overloaded.

It is hard to find 1 story that tells what is happening with 911 in and around Houston right now. But the stories are out there. ‘Need help’: Harvey victims use social media when 911 fails – KMOV.com

Multiple hour waits. Calls dropped. Something like 7 times the number of calls received on an average day. Thousands of rescues. First Responders who’ve been working for 48 hours and are becoming dangerously exhausted.

People are not prepared for the day bad things happen. And Houston is in Hurricane Country. You would think if anyone was prepared for something they would have been. But I saw the same thing in Florida often enough, and I never went through a major hurricane. And I still got the hell out of Dodge, when it made sense.

“We called 911 and it rang and rang and rang and rang,” Fuller said Monday after the water receded and she managed to return safely to her single-story home.

“There’s just no agency in the world that could handle Harvey,” she said. “However, none of us were warned that 911 might not work. It was very frightening.”

It is actually a little surprising that the phone system is still working. Though cellphone batteries are going to be dying soon enough without power to recharge them.

Eventually you have to stop waiting for the government to save you. Luckily, people were looking out for each other. Houston Family Endured Harvey Until House Swamped

They called 911 and got in the queue. They tried to call the Coast Guard, but those lines were busy. Eventually via social media, a rabbi who was organizing some boats, got some citizens to them, and they were moved to higher ground. Then 911 got back to them.

It was the Houston Fire Department, calling to ask if we had gotten to dry ground — 16 hours after I had first called for help.

So what will you do when the 911 system fails or after the battery in your cellphone dies? Can you wait 16 hours for a response for your call for help? You might not have much choice.

Harvey made landfall at 10 PM CDT on Friday. That makes this the end of day 3. The .gov USED to say be prepared for 3 days on your own. They have since upped that number. In a regional disaster it will take more than 3 days to get supplies and response into the area. And at least FEMA seems to have learned something from Katrina and Andrew. They staged some supplies into the area ahead of the storm.

What If You Called 911 And No One Was Available to Respond?

See also the previous post (on dispatch center is San Francisco) Veteran Dallas police officer says is department understaffed – Story | KDFW

Shrinking size of police departments in major urban centers somehow doesn’t surprise me. Not given the past 3 years. What surprises me is how many people still want to be police in places like Dallas.

The current response time in Dallas to “priority” 911 calls is about 8 minutes. The officer who is the focus of article says it worse than that. The city stands behind the numbers.

Staffing is the issue.

[Mike] Mata [Dallas Police Association president] said the Dallas city manager’s budget looking to hire 250 officers doesn’t come close to matching the retirement rate.

“We’re easily going to hit 500 this fiscal year add that to the 350-plus that we lost last year, so you’re looking on the verge of 900 officers over the last 20-22 months,” Mata said.

I’m kinda surprised that they can find 250 recruits.

What is the point of city government if they aren’t providing what used to be called “essential city services?” That would be police and fire protection (and things like 911 dispatch centers that support them)?

What If You Called 911 and No One Answered?

It isn’t that bad in San Francisco, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it came to that. Lee’s urgent fix for SF’s 911 crisis remains hung up – San Francisco Chronicle

So in the world of 911, you are supposed to answer 90% of calls in 10 seconds or less. San Francisco is only doing that 75% of the time. (More statistics are not available, so it is hard to know how bad it really is.)

Usually my “Calling 911” posts are about how someone called 911 and nothing good happened, or I consider the wait time between the call and police arriving to do anything helpful. But a couple of things caught my eye regarding this story.

1. The city budget is 10 billion dollars. That is really a lot of money. What the heck is it going to, if not to provide 911 services?

2. Morale in the 911 dispatch center sucks. Doesn’t sound like it is going to be getting any better. And can you blame the folks who work there?

[One dispatcher who has decided he is leaving] said that other than during planned vacation time, he has not had a single weekend off in his 12 years on the job. He said he had to “jump through a lot of hoops” to attend his brother’s wedding in Hawaii this year, even with several months’ notice.

That sucks. It is mostly because there are 110 folks working in a 911 center that should have 165. They got 7 new dispatchers trained, and 5 people quit or retired this year. At that rate it will take a long time to fill up that staff.

They offer things like yoga classes at lunch, but only management has the time to attend. Dispatchers are stuck at their desks.

There are meetings and task forces and all kinds of things sponsored by the mayor of SF to raise morale, but you have to wonder if they are really serious about doing anything real.

Curiously, no dispatchers have been invited to attend the meetings and are not involved in crafting the plan.

What could go wrong?

Calling 911 failed. Survivor teaches that you must defend yourself.

Bre LasleyWhen you aren’t expecting something bad to happen, your first thought is that it can’t be happening. And if you’ve never considered fighting back, well if you plan nothing, then you will execute your plan. Attempted murder survivor tells women to fight back – The Daily Universe

First let’s deal with the failures of 911. Several people called 911 – including the two sisters whose home was invaded. (One of whom would be stabbed before the night was over.) The result was not as advertised.

Although both women and several neighbors called 911 during that time, none of the calls was dispatched.

Say it again. The result of calling 911 to report a home-invasion attack in progress resulted in NO cops being sent. An off-duty cop who chanced to hear the call for help, stopped and he killed the attacker.

So today, Bre Lasley teaches that women need to defend themselves.

After speaking to people in the police department following the attack, Lasley learned only 20 percent of women fight back against their attackers, leaving 80 percent of women to be raped, murdered or both.

Lasley said she fell into the 80 percent category in the beginning. She felt completely frozen while her attacker was beating her. It wasn’t until her sister came upstairs, screaming and swinging punches, that Lasley said she got the motivation to start fighting for her life.

So self-defense is mostly about attitude. “There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men” Heinlein wrote that in the 1950s (as part of Starship Troopers), so I guess we will forgive him for his leaving out half the population. I would include women in that.

But self-defense in the absence of the tools of self-defense, is a problem. (See the rest of this blog for my true feelings on the subject.) Still attitude does come first.

This statistic [the 80/20 split listed above] became the foundation of Fight Like Girls, a self-defense program Lasley started with sexual assault survivor Elizabeth Smart to help women everywhere fight their physical, mental and emotional battles.