Understaffed, underfunded and underperforming are some of the problems at Tulsa’s 911 Emergency Center, but leaders there are looking at any and all solutions.
Tens of thousands of 911 calls all across Tulsa are all answered at the center, but there are 16 fewer people answering calls right now than they need.
Richard Harkins said he is thankful he’s never had to call 911 in an emergency, especially when it takes more than 10 seconds to answer a quarter of the calls.
“That would be terrible. I just can’t imagine it. I mean, most places you call it’s normal to get put on hold, you know, but I can’t imagine 911,” Harkins said.
Director Terry O’Malley said it’s unacceptable, and he is looking for ways to fix the problem.
Step one is getting fully staffed. Eight call-takers are in training or about to start, and eight more will start training in August.
Step two is making the system faster. City officials recently discussed automated answering as an option until AT&T shot that down.
“They’ve indicated that they do not have voice recognition. We will never go to a situation where we have a citizen press a 1 or a 2 or a 3 in the middle of an emergency,” O’Malley said.
When you call 911, the call starts at the first of three steps, and it is determined whether police, fire or medical services are needed. The call is then sent to a call-taker who collects the information. Finally the call is sent to dispatch, where the information is sent
out to the proper responder out in the field.
The goal is to move the people from the first step into the step two group so that there are more people actually helping people in emergencies.
“We’re hoping that if we can change the way the calls come in first that we can change 10 to 20 to 30 seconds off of that wait time,” O’Malley said.
Funding is also an issue. Because so few people have landline phones anymore, $2 million a year was lost in funds collected on those lines. Officials are hoping the state Legislature will approve a measure to increase the fee on your cellphone bill from 50 cents to as much as $2.
“I’m part of the problem, because I don’t have a landline. So
, that would help, yeah, that would help,” Harkins said.
In the last few years, 911 also had a huge increase in people calling the emergency line with nonemergency questions. That makes the response to real emergencies slower.
Officials said people have called 911 asking for scores of football games and for reservations to a restaurant while people needing police or EMSA have sat on hold.